Jensen Afield: Time marches on | Weekend Magazine


There was a time, not that long ago, when I took it all for granted. Yes. Good health, a strong body, able to lift more than 100 pounds of whatever … those days are long gone.

Now, I must be careful when doing any strenuous activity. That includes lifting and carrying anything with good weight. That means more care when operating the chain saw. It also has a big effect on any outdoor activities, mostly when it comes to hunting deer and wild turkey.

I once shot a very nice, 9-point buck that went over 150 pounds in Maine. To get where we hunted, we had to run our pickup trucks along nearly a mile of nasty back road. There were huge boulders, here and there, exposed over years of traffic and erosion. The going was slow.

After we parked, we had a walk of another mile to get to my place, a ground blind with a big, open view of hardwoods to my left and a good, elevated ridge protected by thick cover, just above me. I was confident that, if a buck passed by that stand, he would almost certainly stay in that thicket as he went along on his business.

A little after 9 a.m., I saw movement, then saw the brown of a deer, only to have that deer get gobbled up by the thick cover. He was on the move and, in a small clearing, I saw good antlers, pulled up ahead of him in a little opening and waited. The opening wasn’t much more than double the size of a basketball and, when he stepped into that opening, I touched off a shot. He hunched up, spun around and bounded off. I watched him run for about 80 yards and then collapse, a bullet through his big heart.

I field-dressed the buck, tied a rope around his antlers and to a dragging limb and began the long drag back to the truck. It took a very long time; how long is impossible to say but my guess is that it was probably more than two hours.

These days, I would dare not venture out into that kind of deep country alone. And the fact is, while I hunt in a general area with a few other guys, including my sons, I tend to head off on my own. That said, I cannot expect to drag any buck, of any real weight, any great distance. So, I park the truck and venture no more than a half-mile into the woods. Of course, should I manage to tag a really big buck a half-mile in, I always have my sons or a friend or two to help me with the long drag. But that is a burden on my hunting partners, one that I find distasteful.

Even my turkey hunting tactics have slowed down. While it was normal for me to push those big ridges in Pawlet for hours on end, I can no longer take that up-and-down ordeal. And it is not only my stamina or leg strength. I have been known to trip over rocks and limbs out there. Now, I have to be very careful where I step. One fall, another tear on that repaired rotator cuff and I might have to call all hunting quits. Don’t want that.

So I’ve changed my approach to going into the woods. But, truth be told, I still head out, almost every day I can, with the same enthusiasm that I carried when I was a younger man.

Aging has been difficult. In my 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, I worked and hunted without any thought of fatigue or worry. But something happened after 60; I simply could no longer do the things I once did. It was, of course, inevitable. With age, our bodies break down. Looking back now, I cringe about how I took all of that for granted. But, I suppose, that is only human nature. I must cease looking back, only ahead.

But that does not mean that I have given up. I still work the woods with a chain saw, still split wood with the old splitting maul. I am digging up roots, from smaller trees, in a place just above where I stack wood, for a new garden next spring. I just have to take it easier now and rest more often. But the work goes on. I even took a long hike up Camel’s Hump with my youngest son, Matthew last year so the legs are still functioning.

There will come a time, of course, when I will become even more limited, in terms of what I can and cannot do in the woods and on the waters. But I have already begun to adapt. I have one good tree stand in a great place but, a few years ago, I built a ground blind about 80 yards from that tree, which is even better strategically, in terms of wind direction. I shot a nice deer from that ground blind just last year.

Time marches on. What I am experiencing is as old as the human species. I could go on about all of that now, but I have some big ash chunks that need to be split and then put up in the wood shed.

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