For many, the opening day of the modern firearms deer season serves as an unmarked national holiday.
It used to be like that for me.
When I was growing up in Alabama, the day before opening day was like Christmas Eve. Id ride to the hunting club with my grandfather that evening and get little or no sleep that night as I waited for the old, rickety alarm clock in our camper to go off a couple of hours before daylight.
Opening day was like another Christmas, and the full hunting season was better than the holiday itself because it lasted more than 24 hours and you didnt have to wait in a return line at the shopping mall.
But five years ago, the opening day of the firearms deer season morphed into something different for me – something a lot less fun, but something that serves an even greater importance.
Five years ago, on the opening day of the firearms deer season in Tennessee, I did something really stupid. I used a brand-new hunting rifle to kill three big, healthy does, and then I loaded all three of them (with a combined weight of 340 pounds) into the back of my truck without calling for help.
In the process, I ruined numerous discs in my thoracic spine and several more in the cervical region. Ive lived with varying levels of pain every day since then – and despite multiple surgeries, Ill probably have to deal with some degree of discomfort for the rest of my life.
Instead of serving as an annul unmarked holiday around my house, the opening day of the firearms deer season now serves as a reminder that humans, in spite of our big, fancy guns and expensive suits of head-to-toe camo, are still very much human.
Not only does it remind me that Im human, it reminds me Im another year older since my last reminder.
If youre getting on up there in years or you havent been doing the right things to keep yourself physically fit, you should save yourself a world of hurt and use this column as your reminder instead of waiting for some sort of life-changing injury.
Every year in January, I get a news release that details all of the hunting-related accidents that took place during the previous season.
It lists mostly tree-stand falls and an occasional accidental shooting. But I often wonder about the hunting-related deaths that didnt make it onto the list because they were only indirectly related to the sport.
I wonder about the 48-year-old guy who did a horrible job taking care of himself from January through October and then dropped dead of a heart attack back at his camper after a particularly grueling opening-day hunt.
I wonder about the 52-year-old guy who tried to drive on two hours sleep – just like he did when he was 22 – and crashed his truck into a 100-year-old hardwood before he ever reached his stand on opening day.
For a lot of us, hunting season isnt just our first chance to hunt since the previous season ended eight months ago. Its the first time weve done much of anything as physically demanding since the last time the calendar said we could legally hunt.
Olive Branch, Miss., hunter Pat Pitt is one of the toughest guys I know. From his gray/white beard to his throaty southern drawl, everything about him says hes all man.
But a couple of years back, he got a sharp reminder that he isnt as young as he used to be.
He suffered a heart attack in an Arkansas duck field – and if it hadnt been for his two sons, Id be writing about him today as the late, great Pat Pitt.
After that incident, Pitt will tell you in a heartbeat that being tough means nothing if you arent also smart – and a big part of being smart is knowing your limitations.
So when the modern firearms season begins, be sure you know and respect your limitations.
Remember, there are two lists at the end of every hunting season – the list of folks killed directly by a hunting accident and the list of folks who just happened to fall victim to their own unhealthy practices when hunting season was open.
You dont want your name on either list.