When I was a younger man I worked nights, usually twelve or fourteen hours at a stretch. If I was lucky I got home in time to see my kids before they caught the school bus in the morning. I resent the time we lost.
In autumn, I felt doubly cheated as hunting season rolled around. I needed sleep, but I needed that walk in the woods, I needed to sit and soak up the outdoors. I used hunting as an excuse to spend time there.
Some mornings, I would get home to see my boys for a half hour before the bus came, then grab my gun and spend a couple hours in the woods. It was very calming. On those days, I crawled into bed feeling right with the world.
Other times, I would sit under a tree, and doze off, not necessarily a good habit while hunting. One beautiful day, I found a cozy spot under a large thorny bush at the edge of a clearing. I squatted very still, my twelve-gauge resting across my lap. When I woke, there were a dozen chickadees within arm’s reach, one of which was on the bill of my hat, another stuttering his chick-a-dee-dee song, clutching the forward site of my shotgun.
I tried to get up, disturbing my little friends. It took a while, my legs were asleep. Any deer that showed up at that moment would have had to wait a while for me to shoot. I didn’t know how big a problem that really could be.
A week later, I was in a thick grove of evergreens. They had grown very close together, lower green bows made a canopy four or five feet off the ground. I couldn’t stand, so I squatted on the ball of my left foot and on the knee and toe of my right leg and foot. It was a good stance from which to fire a gun, or so I thought. The tree behind me was at a handy height to lean against, I soon slept.
I dreamed, memories from one of my first jobs, I groomed horses and mucked out stalls for a paycheck. A horse snorted and stomped his hoof in the packed earth of the stable floor… Wait- I wasn’t in a barn; there was another snort and a thump. I opened my eyes a crack, a huge deer 15 feet away blocked out just about everything else.
It looked like you couldn’t have passed a hula hoop over the massive rack on his head. He stomped again. I don’t know how long he had been kicking and snorting. I didn’t want to move, but my heart was beating so loudly by now, I was sure it would cause him to jolt at any moment.
When I tried to move, he snorted again, nostrils larger than any I ever noticed on a deer. He tilted his head forward, the massive antlers parallel to the ground. He flew. Rack first, all strength and speed and shine through the low trees. He was a graceful high-speed piece of muscular performance art.
Meantime I was performing slapstick. I tried to stand up; my legs were dormant from squatting, inoperable. I fell forward landing on my elbows, managing to keep the muzzle of the gun out of the dirt.
I floundered again; still no feeling in my lower extremities. I fell, onto my right side and shoulder.
The buck was still in range, but had turned from a full broadside target to a retreating backside. The way I landed, the two fixed shotgun sights were about in line with my right eye. I pulled the butt of the gun to my shoulder, lined my sites on the retreating animal.
There were milliseconds in which to make a decision, I was in a prone position, but not a great stance. From where I lay, there was a chance I would only wound him. The thought came to mind that I didn’t hunt for trophies. Most years Emmy reminded me that was good, because I never brought home anything resembling a trophy buck…
My kids are grown. I have more time these days; I don’t need an excuse to be in the woods. If I stop to reflect under a tree, I still keep one eye open for that buck.
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