How it took the COVID-19 pandemic for this hunter to fully explore the upside of heading afield alone
For those who enjoy it, heading solo into the woods is not about conquering or proving something. Instead, it’s about returning to the familiar. As the silence settles, there’s a sense of calm relief. Many of the loners I’ve been privileged to join afield over the years always seemed to be more enthralled with their surroundings than the hunt itself. For them, the sights, sounds and smells offer all the answers to any of life’s silly modern questions.
One of the finest deer hunters I’ve ever accompanied had a funny habit of just leaning against a tree trunk for the first few days of the hunt. He simply sat there listening, not hunting or even looking for a spot to set up. After two days, I finally asked what he was doing, and he gruffly replied that he was “reacquainting.” In short, the woods needed to be courted respectfully before any serious hunt could begin.
Such fans of the solo experience encompass the entire sporting world. I’ve met waterfowlers—generally the most sociable of hunters—who crave hunts with no other sounds than those of incoming birds. Lone deer hunters are not that uncommon, but some take it to the extreme, sleeping rough to touch and taste the solitary life to their satisfaction. A relative of mine, for example, once told me he would be put out if he heard a gunshot, grumbling even if it was distant and barely audible.
When this world seems off balance, there’s no better time to go past the pavement and step alone into the world of woods and water
My paternal grandfather was a decided loner, with more time spent afield by himself than with a partner. He’d head off with a few supplies, crossing watersheds and ridges, amassing a lifetime of memories but leaving little record behind. That’s the way of the solitary hunter—few words and fewer tracks—but an unimaginable level of satisfaction that not many people would ever know.
Despite being sociable, I am also happiest when I’m the only person for kilometres around. Good fortune blessed me with a partner who understands this affair with wild places. She has never questioned my love for the forest solitude, and has generously allowed me to court the far hills and trees without jealousy, knowing this solo hunter will always find his way back home.
Things are pretty strange right now, perhaps the strangest we’ll ever see. But when this world seems off balance, there’s no better time to go past the pavement and step alone into the world of woods and water—a tonic requiring no prescription, and one that you alone can administer. Head afield confidently this autumn with the knowledge that, if only for a moment, you are alone and at peace in a very unsettling world.
Regular contributor Cary Rideout remains hunkered down in Carlow, New Brunswick.