My day is October 1.
I have been waiting for my thing since 5:02 pm on January 17th, the precise time when the sun slipped below the horizon and closed the door on whitetail archery season in Illinois. The day was brutal cold, eeking out only 13 measly degrees, and yet I dragged my gear out to the woods, hoping and praying for one final shot, one last chance to fill an archery tag during my first season. Sadly, I walked away empty handed, replaying every mistake from the previous three and a half months. Had I checked my level on that first doe, I would be able to feel my fingers right now. Had I used my rangefinder on that second doe, my feet wouldn't feel like lead blocks, tingling with every step back to the house. Had I waited just a bit longer on that last buck, tempted him in closer with a bleat or call, I wouldn't have ice crystals at the corners of my nose. I left that season with scales balanced between great experiences and heavy regrets, two sides of my hunting coin that I slipped into my pocket to revisit throughout the upcoming weeks, flipping it between my fingers to pass the time.
In my off season, I trained like I had a paycheck riding on it. Weekly league nights. New equipment. 3D targets. Weight training. Competitive shooting. Research. Distance shooting. Bigger. Faster. Stronger. I watched does and fawns from the tractor as I mowed field edges, enamored with their quiet movements and mentally estimating how far they were away. Seven an a half months passed in the blink of an eye, and as the weather warmed and I added fishing as a distraction, I almost lost sight of the calendar as my thing quietly approached.
What snapped me back to reality was a smell, all too familiar, and gone for all too long. As I drove through town one sweltering September evening, windows down despite temperatures still in the 80s at 9 pm, the smell of fall was suddenly, briefly, in the air. We all know that smell--something sharp, with a hint of woodsmoke, and the promise of cold winds under stars snapping bright and clear. The smell of endings and beginnings as summer's heat gives way to winter's chill. The smell of hunting season.
That smell pushed me to action. No longer was my countdown an arbitrary thing marking a day too far away to be real; I was past the month mark, rounding the corner on two weeks, reading the signal to head for home on a day count that could almost be done on two hands. The past few days have been spent on final details--the broadheads that needed sharpened, the field pack that required reorganizing, the quiver that didn't fit quite right on my bow. The scent-free chemicals came out of storage, and every piece of camo fabric in the house was appropriately removed of traces of my human stench. I spent an embarrassing amount of money in a moment of weakness on an array of equipment to improve my chances this year (or at the very least, improve my comfort). It was time.
As the calendar flipped from September to October, I drove to my family farm, ready to start a new season. The weather really was too warm for good hunting, and 2016 is predicted to have a later-than-usual rut. None of this mattered. I headed to the woods with a friend, mentally flipping my 2015 season coin in my mind. I'm sure this year will bring its own bevy of successes and failures, some I can expect (my lack of food plots and trail cameras are weighing heavily on my mind at the moment) and others that will come as a surprise. But I take it as a good omen that we had a doe appear behind us at five yards, practically in our laps, and settle by us for 45 minutes until she and her fawn bounded across open ground, heading for the only corn field in the area. On day one, I picked the right field, the right time, and the right direction. Although my Opening Day didn't lead to a kill, I'm still fairly certain the coin has landed heads up.