It's over. At least for me. I'm not elated. I'm not sad. I hunted a lot more days this year, and a lot more deer in my scope.
I got out late yesterday afternoon. Things just did not go smoothly. I left the house late, I got to camp late. I had trouble finding my gear. I had brought down a couple of extra deer guns, and I was having trouble choosing. I finally grabbed the Whelenizer, figuring there was no reason not to. It was colder than usual. It was windier than usual. I thought about just staying by the fire, but this afternoon deserved to be pushed. Saturday morning was going to be down around 15F. If I did not like the conditions now, tomorrow was going to be worse.
Then I went through the gate and started out for the stand, and it all changed around. There was a beautiful light bathing the trees. In the few days I had been gone from camp, a lot of the oak trees had shed their leaves. It was stark change-- bare limbs against a blue sky. It was well after 4PM when I saw the stand at Midway and I remember looking at my watch at 4:33 after I chucked the bolt on the Remington 7600 and checked the safety one last time. I could not stop looking at the trees. I had hunted the better part of the previous week with the pastures rimmed with oaks that looked like a mauve Berber rug had been thrown over them.
When you hunt from a stand it is never a good idea to get fixated on one spot for too long. You hear a noise, you get ready. Your attention stays on that spot until something else jerks it away--very bad ju-ju. The unenlightened hunter is forever surprised. The wise hunter always keeps his attention dancing, his eyes moving. He turns his head imperceptibly, like a tree trunk twisting in a breeze.
I guess I was unwisely staring at the entrance to Knowlton's Corner too long. It
is a break in the fenceline where generations of the previous owners had driven
their carts. On one side is the way to Heartbreak Ridge, another heads off for
the campground, On the other side there is the way to where I sat stared at the
bare sentinel oak trees. Many times deer use Knowlton's Corner to pass from the
cedar thickets to the East out into the open pastures.
I had been watching these two deer since September. They came to the same place in the same plot about every other day about an hour before dark. Sometimes they would eat and bed, sometimes they would munch for a while and go back the way they came. Sometimes they continued on. For all the times I had watched them, I had never thought about sitting in judgment on them. It was now the last weekend of season. Either I was going to finish filling the freezer or not.
Addendum 11/27/2008 (from the weblog)Let me try and take this from a slightly different perspective. First, let me toss out the biblical underpinnings of this discussion so we have a foundation:
-- Genesis 9:2-3
It's at least somewhere to start. Here is where the Judeo-Christians are given license to eat freely of all living things. I have qualms about this. You have qualms about this. We all do. We want it to be different somehow. We want to feel we do not have the burden of eating off the lives of others. However, no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try to sanitize the issue, the ground burger in the store leads to the same basic truth as the deer in the field, which is the same as the salad under the sneeze-shield, next to the croutons and bean sprouts.
Life is sacred, so sacred we need to consume it to survive. We can try to play ethics games and try to deny the truth. One guy only kills bucks greater than 120 inches. Another only kills with a bow. In the end, we are just trying to keep the mashed potatoes away from the meat on the plate or not letting the gravy touch the peas. My son is 10. This year, he bagged his first deer. This year he asked for an adult dinner plate for Thanksgiving. He doesn't want the kiddy plate with the built-in divisions anymore. He is finally willing to realize that it all ends up in the stomach the same.
This does not mean that we need to kill indiscriminately, but it does mean each time we kill, it has meaning. It has deep meaning, profound meaning. It just so happens I bagged a button buck this year. I did not mean to. There were three deer out in that field. The big one offered the first best shot. I held. She appeared to be the dominant doe, and I figured she had the better chance to survive. I was angling for the second, smaller doe, but I had a moment of indecision. Just then a third doe, larger than #2, came out into the field and I decided to concentrate on her. After about 10 minutes of waiting, I got a good broadside shot and took it. I got down, walked over to the carcass and gave thanks. It was only then I saw she had only one teat. Then it hit me: I'd taken tail-end Charlie.
Rule of Thumb:
Don't take the front doe, she's probably the dominant one.
Don't take the last doe, she's probably a button.
Take the middle doe.
This doe group had gone from 2-3 to 5 to 7 over the course of the fall. I was expecting more deer. It had not dawned on me that #3 was the last in line. I just figured there were more coming.
On the one hand I was mad at myself. Although I think of myself as just another schlump with a deer rifle--another naked ape in an orange vest-- at least a few people read my stuff and respect me. I was bit peeved with my God for putting me in this fix. In fact, we had a good long one-sided conversation out there in the field.
I really had tried to do everything I could to do the right thing. Now here I was with a dead deer and no going back. No answers.
Then I remembered the old German saying I'd shared with Mooseboy when he bagged the spike:
"Sie können Geweihsprosse nicht essen"
(You can't eat antler.)
Yep, that's about it. Somehow the gravy got on the peas. Time to throw out a hearty "Wiededanke!" to the woods and go looking for the truck. About an hour later, I was finishing up at the meatpole. Moose, Angus, and KYHillChick had arrived and found me up to my elbows in deer. 'HillChick started on dinner, Mooseboy left to haul the gut bucket out to the field. I came in the house to wash up.
"What's that on your face?" asked KYHillChick.
"You got blood all over your forehead." she said. I looked in the mirror and saw it. It looked like I'd been marked just like a kid after his first kill. I thought about the hand of God, and realized I'd been answered.
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