Savoring the Hunt: A Reflective Journey

I recently learned about the Japanese expression, “Ichi-go ichi-e”. It roughly translates to, “Once in a lifetime”.  It’s about recognizing and treasuring the unique beauty of the present moment. It’s an understanding that all the events and experiences you’ve had up to this point have conspired to create this exact moment. This moment will never happen again in all of time and history. It is an unrepeatable experience. Even if you get all the same people together in the same place again, the current moment cannot be replicated. 

I’ve been reflecting on ichi-go ichi-e as it relates to hunting experiences. I have hunted pheasants on the same private ground in Winner, South Dakota for over twenty-five years. And yet, each of those trips has been truly unique. The land has changed and I have certainly changed as well. No two trips are ever the same.

I am now about the same age that my dad, and his friend Curt, were when we started pheasant hunting in South Dakota. Back then, my buddy Doug and I called them “The Old Guys”. It appears that I have now joined the club.

Becoming one of the “old guys”, has led me to the realization that I’m not immortal. One understands the basic concept of mortality from a young age, but you don’t quite believe it applies to you. And then life happens. Years become decades and suddenly a 50-something dude is staring back at me in the mirror. 

Hunters are well acquainted with mortality through our dogs. Their lives are all too brief. When your hunting dog gets north of about nine years old, we never know when we will have our “last” with them. There will be the last time we strap on their dog vest and e-collar while they shiver with excitement. A last time in a sunkissed field with a rooster exploding from the grass in front of their nose. A last walk in the grouse woods on a beautiful fall day. 

We are all going to have many last times. Even though we may not realize these moments for what they are at the time, there will be a last time. One day it will be your last time slipping a grouse into your game vest. One day it will be the last time hunting with a friend or your dad. We all think there is going to be another opportunity, another trip, another season, but the future is not guaranteed to any of us.

While it seems a bit melancholy to write about mortality and the last time doing something, my meditation on the subject stems from a sense of appreciation and gratitude. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found that I am much more present in the moment. More appreciative to be alive, doing something that I truly love to do. Recognizing that each time I get to go hunting is a gift. 

So, the next time you go afield, wholly savor the experience. Soak it all in and be truly present in the moment. Be fully alive in life’s fleeting magic and enjoy it. This moment is unique in all time and history and will never be repeated.