The Zen Art of Being Still

As with all who love to hunt, the greatest thrill is to embark on new adventures chasing new species.  I have long wanted to chase my first longbeard.  Alas, I got that opportunity this spring.  In preparation for this hunt, I studied up on the habits of these great birds, checked patterns on my new Remington 870 and packed up my gear.  I was ready.

I joined Prois Pro-Staffers Barbara Baird and Jennifer Barvitski, along with Amy Brown from Bear Marketing Enthusiasts for this expedition.  We arrived in Gallatin, Missouri to hunt with Buffalo Springs Outfitters.  I was ready to embark on this new adventure and was well prepared.  After years of scaling the rugged Rockies in pursuit of elk and muleys, I looked forward to what I considered a more leisurely hunt.  However, after three days of hunting the elusive Eastern.  I quickly found that I could have best spent my preparation time in an entirely different way.  I discovered this to be one of the toughest hunting experiences I have encountered to date – but not for the reasons you would think.

Stillness, defined by Webster as “A state devoid of motion”, is not at all a state of inactivity despite its simplistic definition.  Rather, stillness is a state of utter mind and body control perfected only by the  Dali Lama or Spock.  The word ‘still’ once evoked images of serenity and calm.  I have, since my turkey hunting experience, found that the word ‘still’ now stirs a primal Pavlovian response that closely resembles the ‘fight or flight’ phenomenon.

Sitting still – not as easy as it sounds.

Day1.  I set out at 5:00 am with my guide, Bob Peetum.  A quick truck transport and brief jaunt through thick Missouri fog got us to a great clearing where Bob had recently spotted numerous birds.

We set up to wait.  I knew stillness and concealment were the keys to a successful turkey hunt.  So, I sat still.  For about 10 minutes.  Thoughts were rampant.  Could I permanently lose function of my left leg?  How would I get back to the truck without the motor capability of my lower extremities?  Who would carry me?  What would my husband say upon the discovery that I was permanently maimed from, well, sitting still?  Could I wage a lawsuit for pain and suffering from stillness?

My shifting about earned me a few sideways glances from my dubious guide.  I soon discovered that I could perform some very strenuous toe flexion exercises with no detectable exterior movement.  I then devised some new quad flexion exercises while making a mental note not to carry water bottles in the pack I was using as my seat.  Man, this was going to take some work.

Stillness is tough.  Within an hour, we had a nice Tom working his way in our direction.  His drumming and gobbling were directly behind us.  Now, I realize I should have been discouraged by this but I saw it as my way to become unstill.  Eureka!  The Tom took his time and responded nicely to Bob’s calls, but a shot at this bird was not meant to be.  Despite Bob’s disappointment, I was quickly up on my feet ready to feel all 10 of my toes.

Day 2.  I now had full awareness of the challenges that lay before me this day.  I mentally prepared with a focus unparalleled.  It was cold and wet, very cold and very wet.  I knew my ‘sitting still’ skills were going to be seriously challenged this day.  A choice spot was given to me beneath a hearty tree.

Perched on my pack, (which was now devoid of any water bottles) I did a quick prayer to the ‘Sit Still Gods’ and set about the exhaustive task of, well, sitting still.  I practiced my invisible maneuvers learned the day prior in efforts to maintain any pulse activity in my feet.  This ploy was working as I felt not a single pin or needle.  Well, at least for the first 20 minutes, at which point something akin to rigor mortis seemed to be setting in to my lower extremities.  My attention was quickly diverted by the fact that I was now sitting in water from the rains that had set in on the area.  In fact, there was quite a rivulet funneling this unwanted rain directly under my tree.

While attentively monitoring the horizon for birds, I commenced work on building a moat around my body with absolutely no visible foot movement.  The water was initially flowing in faster than my imperceptible movements could manage.  That said, I soon created a moat and ditch system that would make the Army Corps of Engineers proud.  All this without a single sideways glance from my guide.  Problem solved – or was it?

Bob soon relocated us to a ravine that was something of a honey hole for unsuspecting longbeards.  We began to hear some gobblers circling in around us.  The wind and biting cold continued to torment us.   We were settled in and waiting for the birds to close the gap and come within shooting range.  I worked my invisible exercises and scanned the horizon.

Soon, however, the elements caused my nose to run in torrents that rivaled the rivulets of rain under my tree.  Initially grateful for my face mask, I soon realized this would only be a band-aid to a far greater problem.  I began to invent new invisible nose-wiping-while-sitting-still moves.  I mastered the ‘left shoulder-shrug nose rub’ and intermittently worked in the ‘upward gaze head tilt’ in efforts to quell the Hurricane Katrina of post-nasal drips.  Now, if I could only form a moat for my nose.    I began to wonder if anyone has ever drowned in these situations before.  Because I was sitting still, would Bob even know if I died?  If I did die, would my face even be recognizable from the intense excoriation resulting from my imperceptible nose-wiping maneuvers?  Once again, I began to realize the multitude of ways one could meet his/her unfortunate end from, well, sitting still.

Day 3.  I received a glorious gift from the gods.  As we crested a hillside in the early morning darkness, I could not believe what sight beheld my eyes.  A Double Bull Blind was perched at the edge of a clearing of trees with an ethereal light casting down upon it.  Ok, not really, but I truly could not contain my excitement.  As we entered the blind I became giddy with joy when I spotted IT.  IT was a chair.  IT was calling to me.

I instantly realized I would not have tedious hours of invisible exercise and excavation.   I could actually readjust my entire lower body at will.  I moved in, sat on IT and set out to sit still.  Eureka!  This was true bliss.  Was that tingling in my feet?  No worries, I could simply shift my weight.  No problem.  It was not long until a gorgeous Tom began to make his way toward us.  Quickly, he closed the gap as a result of Bob’s calls.  I began the arduous task of raising into shooting position while, you guessed it, not moving.  How could moving while not moving prove such a tedious task?  Eventually, the bird had a change of heart, or actually the will to live.  He began to move away from us in hot pursuit of some hens down a ravine.

While this hunt was not a success in terms of getting birds down, it was a great experience.  It became a new level of enlightenment, an exercise in control.  I have discovered that sitting still is actually not the absence of movement, but rather a series of precise, kinetic functions.  This is clearly a well-known fact to the experienced turkey hunters proven by the fact that there are not legions of crippled, wet, nose-running men and women parading about the woods in camo.  With strict training and discovering the mind control that can bend spoons, I too will become one of the few, the proud, the still.

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