There have been many seasons that have ended out in the middle of a field somewhere, with me clutching an unused tag and railing at the heavens for the unfairness of it all. Then there would be the long drive home in the dark, trying to explain to myself how it was all still worth it. It would end up like the guy trying to marry the blond by telling her she’s pregnant, but it would eventually work.
Last week I spent a half hour in front of the freezer, trying to fit yet another doe in. Little white packages marked 06A and a surprising number of packages marked 05B had to be rearranged to make room for little white packages marked 06B. When the coolers were empty and the door was shut, I suddenly realized my season was over, and as usual I was behind on the leaves and rapidly falling behind on my Christmas shopping. I had to go soak my hands in warm water to get the feeling back.
Angus turned 8 this year, and never quite got the hang of shooting a deer rifle straight. He is an able bodied kid, however. Thursday and Friday, I took him out and we did leaves together. KYHillChick called it a bonding experience. I tried to tell myself my one unused tag was burning a hole in my pocket was not the only reason I did not want to be stuck around the house this weekend. The Savage 99 going into the back of the truck as we headed to the farm was just there for . . . for tradition. Yeah, tradition.
Wouldn’t you know, the alarm went off at 0430. How stupid of me? Oh well, I might as well get up. Gee, all those hunting clothes I had brought back down to store for the winter were just sitting there in the bag. In the history of mankind, I’ve never witnessed a man so skillfully backing into going deer hunting. If I still was not in complete denial over the event, I’d be patting myself on the back.
My not-a-plan went perfectly. By first light I was up in my best stand overlooking a major deer highway. We call it Newstand, because it’s . . . well we just put it up this year. We’ll probably have to come up with a new name next year, when I put up another. I’d taken a doe from there on opening weekend, so there was no way another deer was going to be stupid enough to come through. As the light came up, I pulled out a good book and started reading. This was it. This is what I secretly wanted all along: a morning on the stand with all the heat off, all the expectations over. I wanted a morning where I could just enjoy the morning and the hunt one more time without the hassle of the stinking deer bothering me. Yeah, that’s it: a non-hunt. That’s a ticket! Hunting without hunting-- I could just sit and read and enjoy the morning and . . .
Some doe must have come up from the north out of the bottom and seen me. She snorted and stamped from her secret location deep in the cedars. Oh well, she’s entitled to her opinion on my personal hygiene.
Yeah, you can bloody well eat me! I’m not really hunting.
Fine. Be that way! I’m just going to ignore you.
Eventually, my telepathic messages must have gotten through, because she gave one last snort and stomped off. A little later the wind shifted and I knew I would not be bothered by another interruption for a quite a while. The sun came up and warmed me to the point where I could open my parka a bit. I settled back in to my reading.
I really did not get all that worked up when I heard crashing coming from the opposite direction. For one thing, it was undoubtedly a doe or a small buck. For another, the wind had shifted and my scent was traveling directly over the noise. I hardly looked up from my book.
Note to shaman: It would be wise in future hunts to lower one’s expectations of the efficacy of one’s QDM practices or invest in a better set of binoculars. Either that or the shaman should seriously consider modern Lasik procedures. At very least, the shaman should keep his binoculars in some place other than the bottom of his possibles bag at all time and find a better way to store them so they do not become hopelessly tangled with his deer calls.
From quite a ways off, I could see the deer was a buck. Newstand is like that. Even though it’s in the middle of the woods, a hunter can see a good hundred and fifty yards of deer trail in either direction. After fumbling in my bag for my binos, I gave up and started to glass the deer with my rifle scope.
Note to shaman: Invest in a new saw for preparing better shooting lanes at Newstand before next season.
Newstand is peculiar in another way. The visibility of deer dimishes dramatically as the deer approaches the stand. Directly in front of the stand is a small stand of cedar with really not a whole lot of options for a bullet passing through, let alone an arrow. By the time I had the scope on the buck, he was well into those cedar trees, and I was having trouble sizing up his antlers.
I always have trouble sizing up antlers. It’s my long sad history of deer hunting that is to blame. I spent so many seasons confined to land that was not all that productive, that I never had a good chance to see really good racks. To me, there is :
“Is that a buck or a doe?”
“It’s got a rack.”
Then the sun glinted off one of the tines. The buck quickly moved into the latter assessment and I found myself taking the safety off the Savage 99. By this time, the buck had moved out and down and was now at seventy yards. He stepped into an opening. I put the crosshairs on a point just behind his shoulder.
The buck wandered off. He did not run. He just sauntered. However, he was into some brush within a few feet and I had no chance for a second shot.
For a moment I thought about just continuing to read. However, I was fully stirred from my reverie, and I wanted to at least see if I had left some sign. I took my time getting down and climbed out of my outer layers before following up the shot. I found where he had stood. I even found a small bit of log blasted where the bullet had traveled after exiting. There was no blood, but I had not heard him travel far after the shot. I scoured the ground for about forty yards.
There he was, bedded on the side of the hill. He was looking at me. I raised my rifle just as he lept to his feet and finished him. He was still breathing his last as I came up.
He was a magnificent, barrel-chested, big-bodied. . . six pointer. The shaman’s QDM program had just gone out the window, but that really did not matter. Nor did it matter that I would be spending a good piece of next weekend trying to fit little packages marked 06C into the freezer, moving aside 06A and 06B. The rest of 05B would have to be pawned off on friends—funny how Hubert the Wonder Buck was becoming surplus venison. I sat on my little bit of hillside overlooking my little bit of creek bottom, and I waited for the truck to come and my sons to come down with the cart. Life was good. In fact, it could not be any better.
I brought the laptop out this morning and wrote this while the sun came up, watching the fog roll into Hootin’ Holler and wrap itself back into the hillside that harbors the massive white oaks that fill the little shelf that hides Newstand. There was only one string of shots around 0700 as somebody unloaded a 30-30 in desperation This was the end of rifle season.
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