The morning darkness was cold and blinding yet we walked onward as dirt road transformed to deer trail. We softly muttered words hoping that the animals wouldn’t hear as we wondered aloud whether we would be blessed on this fine morning. My hands were frozen, and all I really wanted was for the sun to peak over the mountain bringing that sweet warm sunshine. All adventures require sacrifice I remind myself. After a mile of walking we go our separate ways, Ross to the edge of a field and me to my tree stand.
I have learned that hunting is a hobby of patience. There is the skill required in taking a well aimed shot and strategy in where to go, but overall it is a game of sit and wait. In many ways it reminds me of hitchhiking. Find a good spot, cross your fingers, say your prayers, and hope that it all works out.
The morning turned out to be a flop, and so I moved my tree stand to a big dead tree with branches that overlooked a highway of deer trails. I sat in a janky tree stand that was (probably) bought for ten dollars at the Saturday morning flea market. The stand consisted of a narrow metal ladder that you strapped to the trunk of the tree, and at the top was a metal grate and seat. Perched high above the ground I bit my nails thinking about the safety of my setup. A crappy treestand that is bound to a rotting dead tree. Totally safe right? I pictured myself losing my balance and falling to my sure and immediately painful death. After seeing how easily my collarbone snapped earlier this year, I have no false hope that I could survive an 18 foot free fall. I would be vulture food by nightfall.
After fretting about falling for the better part of an hour I decided to crawl down to a lower branch. The tree stand would lead me to an early death, but this lower branch was large enough for me to stand upon. I could place one foot on the branch and than wrap the other foot around the tree stand ladder for balance. Once I found balance I notched an arrow in my bow and stood in this wonderfully comfortable position for the next hour as my feet ached and my mind wandered. Are trees the only organism that continue to stand once they have died?
90 yards out a doe walked into a clearing to graze. My mind focused, and I stood silently hoping that she might enjoy some of the tasty grass beneath my tree.
I watched and watched and watched, but the doe made no move in my direction. A 90 yard shot was impossible for my level of skill. She would need to walk much closer. I continued to watch the doe, and just when I thought my luck was bad I heard a noise to my left. From my peripheral vision I could make out 3, maybe 4, deer walk from the bush and walk DIRECTLY under my tree. A doe lead the pack, and I couldn’t make out the rest. She was 7 yards below me, and she knew that something was up. Perhaps she smelled me as she stood uneasily looking around. I knew that I had to make a move or they would leave. My heart jackhammered, and as quickly as I could I pulled back the bow. She heard me, and jetted. I aimed at her, but she was gone. But there was one that hesitated farther out. He stood for only a second, and that moment of hesitation cost him his life. He was the first deer I have killed.
The rest of the story is that my dehydrated friend Ross came over, and helped me drag the 140 pound beast through the darkness as our veteran hunting guide led us through the night. It was terribly exhausting. Ross was snappy, I lost my cell phone, and our guide heckled us the entire way. By the time we got back to camp my arms were spent, my hands were smeared with blood and dirt, and I smelled like death. What a great adventure it was.