November 15, 2014
I climb over my carefully constructed ground blind and settle in. My watch reads 5:24 AM. A quick gulp from my water bottle temporarily quenches my thirst created by the ambitious journey to this point from the truck. In ten minutes or so, Dad will be perched in his spot just 200 yards over my right shoulder.
This is the pinnacle of the deer season for me. It won’t be daylight for another 40 minutes or so. That it is opening day only heightens the fire in my belly for another season to commence. I counter the added adrenaline by quietly taking in the tranquility that is the pitch-black wilderness.
The darkness slowly begins to lift, giving me some semblance of a landscape to look over. The rawness of the early morning air knocks away any façade of sleepiness I may have carried in with me. The local songbirds warm up their voices, with the curtain to drop at any moment. The day’s first critter peeks out from its natural place of shelter; a red squirrel about to launch into today’s obligatory gathering of its winter bounty.
Down below, and slightly to the right, I catch movement. It’s a deer and it’s coming this way, right up the customary deer trail that has been used for years. I squint to get a better look through the timber, mainly hardwoods with a mix of impenetrable underbrush. It has horns! He has his nose to the ground, undoubtedly seeking someone to spend the day with. He cocks his head and displays a couple of points on his left side. He’s a legal buck! He stops just behind a sizeable beech tree. C’mon buddy, take one more step! Boom!
The old 35 Remington has a thunderous roar. The deer kicks its back legs and runs back the way he came. It’s a good sign. He must be hit. I look at my watch. It’s 6:31 AM. I wait a few excruciating moments and climb down the hill, heading for the exact point of impact. I’m not sure if my boots hit the ground.
To my surprise, there’s a scantling of deer hair and a drop of blood nearby and not much else. I call Dad on the handheld and ask him to give me another sets of eyes. We follow the known path that the buck took and locate a couple of more drops of blood, maybe the size of a nickel. This is not encouraging.
As is our custom, Dad and I follow the deer’s trajectory of travel for several hundred yards, finding where he crossed a small brook and scampered up the steep gully on the other side. He passes over a wood road and into another thicket of hardwoods. A few tiny drops of blood, painstakingly searched for and located, the only confirmation as to where he went. The telltale sign that he is not mortally wounded is when he crests a steep bank and out of my life.
Crestfallen, I plod back up to my stand, while Dad heads to his, leaving me alone to wallow in my self-pity. Of course, over the next nine and a half hours, I will replay that shot in my mind, bemoaning how I had a chip shot right in front of me and came away empty handed. The enthusiasm I exhibited just two hours ago has suddenly gone truant.
Over the next several hours, my dark mood lifts somewhat, at least to where I can feel some resemblance of my earlier gusto. After lunch, I begin to appreciate my surroundings again and understand how fortunate I am to be able to do something I love. Finally, I can accept what had happened and relish the thought of another opportunity. I won’t have to wait long.
He appears to my left, sloping the hill that I am situated on. He is walking at a steady pace downhill, quartering away from me. He has a strange basket rack on his head. Not the prettiest set of antlers in the woods, but good enough for me. This shot is much more difficult than the first at an approximate distance of 100 yards. Given his brisk pace, I need to act now or watch him slink away. I fire. He stops, most of him hidden perfectly now behind a clump of trees. Only his backside appears. Not an inviting or ethical target.
He whirls and bolts back the way he came. I take another crack at him, realizing the situation is in need of substantial fortune from the hunting gods. In a flash, he is gone.
I climb down for the second time this day. Unlike in the morning, I am less than encouraged by what I will find. It doesn’t take long for me to comprehend that I am about to be disappointed once again. The cold sickness I felt earlier is now doubly grievous. This time I don’t bother to ask for Dad’s help, instead call him. “Don’t bother.”
Thankfully, it is already 2:45 PM. Only a couple of hours of misery separate me from a hot meal, refreshing shower, and my beautiful pillow. I can certainly feel sorry for myself another two hours. I’ve done so for most of the day.
I can make out Dad’s headlamp at 125 yards. It is dark. Mercifully, it is time to go. A rotating sense of emotions come over me. On one hand, I did see two legal bucks that are still in my area. That’s an adventurous day for these parts of the country. On the other hand, however, I shot at and did not get either deer. I know as I trudge out of the woods this evening that my dreams will be dominated by these two scenarios.
With any luck, I can reverse my fortunes tomorrow………