With two fully scheduled days ahead, Thursday afternoon was my last opportunity to hunt deer in 2012.
It had been a fabulous hunting season for me: a moose hunt with my friends the Pineau clan, another great week of hunting pheasants in North Dakota with an awesome group of guys, an upland bird hunt on my birthday with good friend Bill Pierce and his wonderful dog, and four weeks of hunting deer with my 89-year-old Dad, our 52nd year of hunting together, a very great privilege.
I’d seen 23 deer, many of them close enough to shoot, all of them small, none of them the big buck I seek in November.
But I did think about shooting the spike horn that sauntered up to my tree stand the last afternoon, getting within 20 yards. Then I made an appointment with him in two years, same time, same place.
Getting serious about shooting a deer in the muzzle-loading season, I had two misfires and one delayed fire, doing no damage and reminding me that I still had a lot to learn about this weapon. But the afternoon of hunting with Ed Pineau, in which I saw 14 deer, including a group of 8 that walked right up to me, was amazing. That was a misfire I will never forget!
With no regrets, I arrived on the last hunting day at 1:45 pm at a nearby farm where I’d been focusing my muzzle-loading time, and headed into the chopping. Finding no deer there, I hiked to one of my favorite places to sit and spent 45 minutes eagerly anticipating that every snap of a twig or rustling of leaves was an approaching deer. Mostly squirrels, except for a grouse that walked within 20 yards, never noticing me seated nearby.
At 3:15 pm, I had to head for my vehicle to attend a memorial service for a friend. I took a trail along the side of a ridge, thinking about my friend and his wife. My friend was diagnosed with cancer – a difficult to treat lymphoma – in mid-June and died on December 1, a week before his 42nd birthday and two weeks before his wife was scheduled to deliver their third child.
I was thinking about that and them, thinking about how fragile life can be, when a group of deer took off somewhere in front of me. I couldn’t see them but they were tearing up the ground in their haste to escape and I was able to follow them as they ran along the same trail I was on, across the ridge.
I scrambled after them and within sight of the barn where I had parked my vehicle, I heard them up to my right on top of the ridge. Slowly stalking that way, I could hear them moving along the ridge, so I stepped up my pace.
I asked God to let me see those deer. And suddenly, there they were. Turkeys. Turkeys to the left of me, turkeys to the right, turkeys straight ahead. Several dozen, all moving now to get away from me.
With a smile on my face, I reflected on this appropriate ending to my deer season, often dominated by the sounds and sights of great numbers of turkeys in the trees and on the ground.
I lowered the rifle and moved up the ridge about 10 steps to get a better look at the turkeys. And suddenly, there they were. Four deer, about 30 yards beyond the turkeys, sprinting away from me up the ridge.
They were the same two does and two lambs that greeted me on my first afternoon of deer hunting in November. With about 5 minutes of shooting time left that afternoon, they sprinted across the field, passed right in front of me, and then stopped just before entering the woods, to turn and look at me. I had the biggest doe in my scope, but didn’t shoot.
Then their white tails waved goodbye to me and the season they’d kicked off for me weeks earlier.
I turned and trudged down the hill, got in my vehicle, drove to church, changed into my suit, and took a seat in a pew, turning my thoughts to more important things than deer hunting.