November 22, 1987:
The woods were silently still that morning. A fresh snow of four inches had littered the landscape overnight, drastically altering the scenery from just one day before. Gone was the obnoxious crunch that accompanied every footstep. In its place was a wintry morning doing its best to act as a silent film.
I followed Dad down the trail through the timber, mainly open hardwoods, with patches of green ferns, more prevalent in some places than others. Not much was going on, save for random squawk of a blue jay, a bold chipmunk protesting our presence on his land, or the unassuming trickle of the occasional brook. Yes, the setting was quite peaceful regardless of the void of action.
With every step, my mind began to wander more. Homework, friends, girls. The lack of anything suggesting that deer were indeed on this mountain at all afforded me the opportunity to daydream so. Ah, but I was about to learn a lesson, one that Dad had attempted to teach before.
He stopped suddenly, cocking his head to get a look up the steep mountainside. I turned my head sharply to the right to get a look. What was he looking at? I frantically scanned the ridge, at any moment expecting to see movement. Nothing. Must’ve been a branch blowing in the wind or a bird flying away. These sorts of things happen frequently in the deer woods.
He pulled his rifle up, carefully adjusting the scope. He sees something but what it is, I have no idea. For what seemed like an hour, but in reality, lasted about a minute, he kept pulling the gun up, desperate for a more superior vantage point. Apparently, it never came. His shot woke up the sleepy forest and startled me out of my boots.
My eyes traveled in the direction of the bullet. To my amazement, I still saw nothing. Dad injected another shell, put on the safety, and took off up the hill. Totally confused by this point, I followed, my teenage body struggling to keep up with a middle-aged man on a mission. We reached a thin shelf on the ridge and Dad began to search for something. I asked him what the heck he was shooting at, and he stopped, looked straight at me, and asked, “Are you serious?”
Fresh deer tracks blanketed the shelf we were standing on. Of particular interest was the five running tracks scampering up the mountain. Once we followed and determined that his shot was a clean miss, Dad brought me back to the shelf and showed me one deer track in particular, that which was made by a huge deer. Dad was stuttering a little as he tried to justify in words the size of the rack this deer was carrying. “It was frigging huge,” he kept saying over and over again, flabbergasted that such a beast would find its way into his scope. Further study of all the tracks, including the path of travel each deer took to get to this spot, suggested that this brute was mingling with four does.
I turned and looked back down the mountain to where we were standing at the time of Dad’s shot. A thick undergrowth forced me to take several steps to see the trail we were previously on. We could determine that Dad shot at this deer through whippets and a small stand of thin trees from approximately 150 yards away. Most surprisingly, I never saw any of the five deer before or after he shot. The degree of difficulty that he faced proved to be too much.
I learned two valuable lessons that day. The first one was the aforementioned theory that just when you think nothing is happening, it’s about to go down. The second lesson was that even on a white landscape, deer have the uncanny ability to blend into their surroundings. These lessons (and countless others) have helped me become a more patient and successful deer hunter. Thanks, Dad.