Self Discipline, and other lessons learned from deer hunting

Today, it seems as though traits like self discipline and self control have become attributes to be mocked and ridiculed, instead of being admired and respected. But when I was 15, I learned a valuable lesson in self discipline.

I was hunting with my dad at a deer lease in south Texas in Gonzales county, which is roughly 80 miles east of San Antonio. I don’t remember the acreage, but the area we hunted was an open field that was about 300 yards square. It was fenced on all four sides. A county road ran along the east side.There was a small hill that ran the entire length of the field along the south side. The north and west sides of the field were bordered by heavy woods and brush.

There were three deer stands on the property. There was a ground stand that once served as a cattle pen on the southwest corner of the field. It didn’t offer a very good view of the field, but there was always a lot of deer movement near that stand. There was a standard above ground deer stand on the west side of the field about 200 yards down the fence line from the ground stand and the two stands were was separated by a small hill, so there was no line of sight between the two. There was also a tree stand on the southeast corner of the field, and it was the one I preferred because it gave me an unrestricted view of the entire field, as well as the other two stands.

About two weeks into the season, dad and I were out at the lease. It was early afternoon and we figured we’d stay out there until the sun started to go down. We agreed to split up to better our chances of taking a deer. I went up into the tree stand and dad took the above ground stand on the west side. He had to hike several hundred yards to get to his stand and he didn’t want to cut straight across the open field in case there were any deer nearby. So for that reason, and for safety, it was understood that he would walk down the fence line on the south side of the field to the ground stand, and then proceed down the west fence line to his stand. You have to know where your hunting partners are at all times.

We’d been out there about an hour when I spotted movement along the west fence line about 50 to 60 yards north of dad’s stand. It was on the other side of the fence back in the brush. I really couldn’t make out a shape, so I couldn’t tell what it was. But when I put the scope on it, I could make out the color. It was brown, so it had to be a deer. I watched it through my scope and followed it as it moved north, away from dad’s stand. It stayed back in the brush just a few feet on the other side of the fence, and it was behaving just like a deer. Dad didn’t have a shot, but I did. Or I would… soon as it stepped out into the clear. The thought crossed my at that point to go ahead and take the shot, but that’s where discipline came into play.

From an early age, I was taught not to shoot unless I was absolutely certain I knew what I was shooting at. There was no doubt in my mind that I was tracking a deer. But the discipline and instruction had kicked in. I remembered how dad had always said “Never shoot unless you know what you’re shooting at.” But I just knew that was a deer moving along that fence line. What else could it be? It was headed toward a clearing and as soon as it popped out into the clear, I was going to take the shot. Dad wouldn’t be in any danger. At this point it was now about 90 yards to the north of his stand. Just a few more feet, and it would be in the clear. And as it moved into the clearing, I put my finger on the safety and got ready to click it off. But as I did that, I was suddenly horrified by what I saw in my scope. The “deer” I had been tracking……….. was my dad!!!!! For reasons known only to God, dad decided to go for a stroll in the woods. I had been mere seconds away from taking his life. In those days, we didn’t wear bright orange and yellow safety vests. Dad was wearing a brown jacket that afternoon. It’s funny, but before that moment, I hadn’t even noticed what color his jacket was.

And I think at that moment, every bit of the color drained from my face. I remember shaking and breathing hard as if I had just run a marathon. Initially, I wanted to come down out of my stand and go run across the field and just yell at him for putting himself in danger like that. But I didn’t want him to mistake me for a deer and shoot me! So I stayed put. I unloaded my rifle and watched him through the scope as he turned around went back toward his stand. I had no intention of losing track of where he was and at that point, I was done hunting for the day. He walked on by his stand and made his way back to where I was, backtracking along the path we had agreed on earlier. When I told him how close his unplanned walk came to getting him killed, he could offer no answer as to why he was somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be. In fact, he said nothing as I chewed on him, which I did in a very careful and respectful way I might add. After all, he was still my dad.

When he stepped into the clearing, dad was out of any real danger because I knew it was him at that point. What really had me rattled, what shook me up more than anything else, was that instant when I thought about shooting that unidentified shape moving through the brush that in my mind, couldn’t have been anything but a deer. What if I had made the decision, in that one brief moment, to ignore everything I had been taught? The consequences of that decision would still be haunting me today.

Everything I’ve shared in that account is completely true. It happened in the fall of 1973. And it’s an excellent illustration of the need to obey God’s commandments and teachings, and what could potentially happen if we choose to ignore them, even if only for a brief moment. What happens if, in one brief moment, we choose to ignore Biblical teaching and we make that questionable business deal because of the financial gain it promises, and it ends up bankrupting the company? What if, in a moment of weakness, we tell that little white lie that gets exposed and ends up destroying someone’s reputation, as well as our own? What if a partner in a marriage decides in a brief instant to meet that old boyfriend or girlfriend for coffee, and ends up in an affair? You see, when we fail to exercise self discipline and ignore what we’ve been taught , we can make decisions that can totally devastate our lives in an instant. Even though I may have eventually found peace through a relationship with Jesus Christ, had I pulled the trigger that day, my dad would have still been gone. If God is willing, the consequences of our decisions might be minimal, but more often than not, the consequences last a lifetime.

I would have had no excuse that November afternoon in 1973. I knew what I had been taught. Thank God I made the choice to wait. And as Christians, we have no excuse because we know how God expects us to live. So when you’re faced with a decision that could be life changing, pause for a moment and ask yourselves, “What has God taught me?” And then then have the discipline to use what God taught you, before pulling the trigger.