The leaves aren’t the only things that turn in this neck of the woods once Fall arrives. In our barn, upstairs in the hunt/fish lodge, the fishing gear that has been sitting in various states of take-out and put-back for the past four-or-so months has do-si-do’d with my hunting gear. Chest-packs and tackle boxes, rods and kayak paddles have changed places with tree stands and goose blinds, compound bows and camo clothes. A bittersweet swap, this season, leaving one girl at her front door while another waits in the truck honking the horn. Fortunately, my wife is remarkably understanding.
While my annual shift in pastimes is essentially no different than it ever has been, there is one welcome addition to the mix: the boys. Their enthusiasm for all things wild and fishy is not new. I’ve told many a story about their outdoor revelry in previous posts. But this past weekend brought about an outdoor first for them. And a bit of perspective for me.
Saturday morning was windy and cold. Not creep-into-your-backbone-make-you-have-to-pee cold, but cold enough. Like a headlamp with fading batteries, the exactly-half moon cast the woods in a soft light under a cloudless pre-dawn sky. The deer would be moving and, in the dark of ten minutes to six, my gut was telling me that they’d be moving in my direction. At ten to nine a big doe made good on my gut’s intuition.
Broadside at 35 yards, but walking. I drew, put my 30 yard pin juuuust a touch high on her shoulder and let loose an arrow which found the heart of a very big shag-bark hickory behind her. That tree didn’t stand a chance. I lost sight of her at about 80 yards as she headed into a thicket. Figuring my arrow found a twig or branch somewhere between my bow and where she had stood, I counted it a clean miss and hunted for another hour or so. At 11:30 I started my walk out, heading to my trophy hardwood to retrieve my arrow.
When I got there however, the arrow told another story. It had found it’s mark prior to finding the tree. Considering the doe’s unhurried retreat, I figured the shot was probably good but not stellar. I decided I’d better let her be for a little while longer, left the woods and went home to get my blond bloodhounds. No sooner had I told them I had a deer down and needed their help tracking her, every piece of camouflaged clothing they owned was on and they were yahoo-ing their way to the truck. They’ve only ever seen the deer in the back of the truck when we brought them home. This was their first time to actually be a part of the hunt.
Holding his homemade stick-and-string bow, Jonah, told me, Dad, I’m gonna bring my bow in case there’s another one around. Followed by, can I use one of your arrows? I don’t have any.
Cam demonstrated a make-shift karate kick-chop that he would employ if the wild-animal need should arise.
We were off.
My dad met us for the search. I gave the boys the lay of the land.
You’ve got to be quiet and whisper when you talk. If she’s still alive we don’t want to spook her. Make sure you stay behind Papa and me. And if you see something, I added, give me a psssst!
They started right off into the brush ahead of us, jabbering away. In a short while they got the hang of the search. Pointing things out to each other, giving me a pssssst! every now and again to point out a red leaf or show me a cool new stick that was perfect for another bow. We followed the trail for a half-hour before I spotted the doe.
I see her! said Cam, following the direction of my point.
So do I! said Jonah, not really seeing her yet.
After a holy cow and she’s-a-big-one and the obligatory can I touch her eye? I got to work. The next half-hour was full of more anatomy and physiology questions than timeouts in the last 2-minutes of a college basketball game. My guess is that when they get into dissecting frogs or pigs in Biology class, the girls will be scrambling to have them as partners. We got the doe in the truck and took her to get set for the freezer. On the ride home, the boys were both off out the window with their thoughts.
The next day was Halloween. After trick-or-treating, I got a text from my dad that he needed my help. He had been out in his stand that afternoon and had shot a big buck around dusk. Dad saw him go down. Thinking the jig was up, he made his way over toward the deer only to have it jump up and bound off in the direction of a 40 acre swale field and thick stand of pines. Night settling in, along with snow-showers, he decided to head home and get a hold of his own bloodhound. Cam wanted to go with me, but bedtime won out.
As I hope they boys and I will, Dad and I have tracked many, many deer together. Our purposeful zig-zags covering acres and acres of fields and woods, day or night, regardless of weather. We strategize and hypothesize about likely directions and how far they might have run before lying down again. We joke and talk about life. We learn more about each other with every deer we find. It’s a big part of why I enjoy hunting as much as I do.
Snow-showers turned into good old fat, wet flakes. I could see from his headlamp, Dad was slogging his way through a stand of cattails. I was working my way back down through the swale field toward him, shining my flashlight back and forth from over my head, when I caught sight of the buck’s antlers.
Got him! I hollered. Right up here, pop!
ALL RIGHT! was the response, followed by, OK. I’ll be there in a second, bud… I’ve gotta say a little prayer.
He was a beautiful deer. A big 9. Needless to say, we took a few breaks on the drag back out to the truck. On the ride home, we were both off out the window with our thoughts.