Sleep Deprivation & Bowhunting


Sleep Deprivation and Deer Hunters.

Twenty-three years of guiding big-game hunters conditioned me to function relitively well on very little sleep, but that "skill" seems to be fading with age. I haven't guided in quite awhile, though minimal sleep is still an unavoidable part of hunting. 

I've never really enjoyed waking early, though I do get into patterns where it becomes nearly automatic with no alarm clock required. During elk seasons and its associated 3 a.m. wakeups, I'll pop out of bed easily after a couple days. Of course, the 8:30 p.m. turn-ins to make that possible makes me a very dull boy; according to Wifey.

By early, of course I mean O-Dark-Thirty early. In Northern Idaho where I live, that's pretty difficult during summer fishing months, since I'm situated on the eastern edge of the Pacific Time Zone and only three hours from Canada. Sunrise arrives at 4 a.m., sunset about 9:45 p.m. during mid-June (when our spring bear seasons still open).

Which brings to mind my first summer here, legally bowhunting my own bear baits -- a new and novel enterprise. A friend and I sat both early mornings and evenings, because it had turned unseasonably warm and bears weren't appearing during typical evening business hours. We might have napped during midday hours, but the trout fishing was too damned fine. We might have skipped evening hunts, but felt compelled to be on hand, just in case. It took four days of three-hour nights until we crashed, literally in the case of my friend, who drove his truck off the road on the way home after shooting a trophy bruin that morning, packing meat and heavy hide out of a nasty place and driving three hours homeward. He was luckily unhurt.

That's my point here, I guess. Hunting, tagging a monster whitetail, really isn't worth killing yourself over though I've pressed the issue many times. I've been guilty of pushing homeward after a weekend of virtually no sleep to make work on Monday, driving to morning stands after too much bragging around the campfire, shaking myself awake all the way. 

When I travel eastward to bowhunt (invariably since moving to Idaho), transplanted suddenly two or three hours outside my accustomed time zone (and usually following a couple weeks of whitetail hunting and 4:30 a.m. PST wakeups to punctually access stands), morning wakeups really take on new dimentions. The night before it's been all too easy to be talked into "just one more," because I was wide awake, living in my PST bubble. But when that alarm sounds at 4 a.m. CST, it's deepest REM sleepy-time at the home I've just left.

So, ladies and gentlemen, be careful out there in the hectic months ahead. I've lost a couple good friends over the years to car wrecks, men en route to hunting on snowy roads or headed home after a long week. Get your sleep. Stay alert and stay alive.