A non-hunter might think it strange that much of a deer hunter’s time is spent waiting and watching. In this hustle and bustle world, this quiet, passive time is both a chance to stop and return to the past and to reflect on long-gone hunts and those who have entered and left our lives.
We might do little more than think of past hunts, big bucks we have downed, or the big failures when a trophy escaped, wagging its tail like a white flag as it departed.
As we lean on an oak tree, we might regret changing jobs, or, for that matter, wives. Of course, the reverse can also be true.
Sometimes, we think of parents that are long gone or still with us to encourage our endeavors or offer support when it is needed. There is much more to a deer stand than the big buck we long for.
Don’t get me wrong, the desire to take a massive-antlered buck is important, but so are the comraderie and other aspects of the hunt. It might be the boy asking, “Hey dad, if I see a porcupine, can I shoot it?” Or it might be a doe that sneaked up from behind, snorted and scared the heck out of you, causing you to jump out of your orange pants.
The mind might wander as you sit and wait.
There was a great shot made a couple of years ago, but there was also the nightmare of an easy miss as well. We don’t talk about the misses as much, but the only hunters who don’t miss are the ones who don’t shoot that much.
I remember a fellow telling me that every deer he shot dropped in its tracks. I looked at him and replied, “You haven’t shot many deer, have your?”
It’s like shooting a one-hole group from the bench rest. It’s easy if you only fire one shot.
Like many others, I can enter my game room full of mounted heads that bring back memories. But as I age, I realize the greatest trophies aren’t in that room. They are in my memories.
Two of my grandsons hunted, and I was there when both bagged their first deer.
Both were anterless but were trophies in their own right.
Those 12-year-old boys insisted on dragging their own deer from the woods while grandpa carried the rifles. To both, the deer were a light load.
There was an archery hunt long ago when snow was the ground cover instead of leaves. My wife, Eileen, was on a stand not far from me, and as the light faded, I went to where she was sitting.
I asked her the normal question, “Did you see anything?”
She told me she had a doe standing just 10 feet from her stand eating apples. When I asked her why she didn’t shoot it, she told me the poor thing was eating those frozen apples and looked cold. How could she shoot her?
During all of the years we hunted together and all of the bucks she downed with her .270, I can only remember her taking one doe. It was for a needy family and she couldn’t resist taking a 400-yard shot another hunter told her was too far.
The mind is a funny thing, and now and then, it allows us to peek into our most important memories.
I, like others, spend time just thinking while I wait for that once-in-a-lifetime buck.
This is the first of my deer seasons without Eileen. Last year, she was in a hospital, but I could go see her.
In her better days, she would still ask me if I had seen anything.
Now I still lean on the oak and watch, and over the years, I have learned much about my friends, the animal and myself. Some of what I learn is good, some is not so good.
Deer hunting has caused a rise in my self worth and done an equally fine job of bringing me back down to earth. Yet there is something missing.
Maybe it is that question when I return home: “Did you see anything?”
George H. Block writes a Sunday Outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter.