The temperature was 25 degrees and as I looked out of my house and into the darkness, I was reluctant to head to my favorite deer runway for another nine hours of sitting, waiting, and watching. Further thought may have had me back in bed, snuggled into the warmth of the blankets, but that's not how it works with me. I laced my boots to a nice snug fit, put my gloves in my pocket, and tied my coat to my pack with the intention of waiting until I got to my destination to sit. I loaded the .308 rifle with 5 cartridges and after chambering a round placed the rifle on safe and headed out into the wind. There was a very dim light in the horizon to the east and I knew it was going to be light out in about an hour. I made may way along the fence line that would lead me all the way to my destination and found myself wiping a tear as the wind burned at my face.
Part way into the woods, I heard the blow of a deer that obviously had gotten wind of my scent and I didn't let it bother me, knowing that the chances that this same deer would be by me later were pretty good. When I arrived at my spot I put my cushioned seat on the ground, pulled my coat around me, switched to my fleece hat and put on my gloves. I checked the safety on my rifle to make sure it was still in place and comfortably sat down. I pulled leaves around my legs and positioned myself for the greatest amount of warmth, remaining camouflaged.
The hours passed and occasionally there would be a distant gunshot. I watched the squirrels, the blue-jays, the chipmunks and found myself glued to the Pileated Woodpecker that was "jack-hammering" into the side of a stump with speed that blurred the movement of his head.
"You're giving me a head-ache just watching that," I mumbled under my breath.
My mind drifted for a moment back in time to when my father, uncle Jimmy, my grandfather and I sat around the wood-stove talking about deer hunting and all of their past experiences. I wondered how much I had learned from them that had helped me fill my own resume with thirteen deer to date. I had missed hunting during my military years, and now found myself realizing I had missed another decade of hunting since I had left Vermont the year after 9/11. I wondered if that thirteenth deer was unlucky and was I now jinxed?
"Do I still have it? Do I still know what I'm doing and will I still see deer like I used to?"
I heard a movement and turned my head very slowly to the right and watched two deer moving tward me. There were no antlers on either, but they were beautiful. They continued their approach and my heart pounded with excitement as they got to within ten feet of me. They looked me over, and I consciously moved my eyes only when they moved. I didn't allow myself to blink, and I slowed my breathing to a point where there was no movement. They studied me, knowing I was not suppose to be there, but they didn't seem scared. Young and inexperienced in their own lives, I smirked a bit knowing that this time next year, those same two deer would have become very aware and a whole lot smarter. Staring at them, I thought back once again to that group gathered around the old wood stove. It dawned on me that I was the only one of the group that was still living, and at that moment a tear streamed down my wind burned cheek as I watched the pair walk down over the hill.
I sat back, realizing there was still four hours until dark. I took it all in, and found myself basking in mother nature's little events of the day that take place in a world where many humans will only witness while watching some documentary on TV. I finished up the season not getting a deer this year, but I found myself filled with a different sense of satisfaction. The satisfaction that I was keeping alive a family tradition that may very well end with the day I pass on to be with that group, I had remembered from so long ago. I sit here writing this now, not far from a wood stove. The smell of wood smoke is comforting. It's cold outside. Yet, within me is a warmth I shall cherish in a way that goes far beyond any explanation I could give to those around me who may not understand. I feel good. Very good!