“You got three days. Come home with a deer or don’t come home at all,” Hazel says to me as she pops her head into my office.
“I’ll see what I can do,” I smile at her as I shut down my computer.
The smile wasn’t returned.
Shit. She’s might be serious.
With family coming for the holidays, the list of wild game recipes stacking up on the fridge and the way we blow through meat like a socialist blows through other people’s money, I was taking this as a threat, not a suggestion.
“Let me rephrase that. Can do,” I say as I kiss the kids goodbye and headed for the packed truck.
Three days, a snowstorm coming, a tag in my pocket that has the ghost of four previous misses on it and I didn’t need much more motivation. But I received it anyway.
I gas up the truck up and look east to the wall of steel grey clouds building over the plains. The smell of cow manure clings to my nose hairs. Any Denverite knows the smell all too well. A surefire sign that snow is coming by the winds screaming across the cowtowns to the north.
An hour into an eight hour trip and I’m already in four-wheel drive at a breakneck speed of twenty-five miles an hour.
This may take a while.
I pass the time by looking for roadkill as a backup plan as Hazel’s last words echo in my head.
The extended drive time due to the ice skating rink that I’m now driving on also lets me replay ad nauseam the multitude of misses from my previous South Dakota foray a few short weeks ago. Certainly not long enough to let the wounds to start scabbing over.
Deep down I knew I needed to prove to myself that I wasn’t building a bad habit of folding under the pressure of a kill. There was a bit of redemption attached to this trip, but mostly it was way more simple than that.
I. Love. To. Hunt.
Plain and simple, I love to hunt. I don’t care if it’s chasing rabbits with my bow, pounding the mountains with my bird dogs or hunting big game. This is why I am here, this is what I planned my life around and this is what I do. I hunt.
Thirteen hours later and I’m looking for lodging. Being that it’s fourteen degrees out, the bed of my truck isn’t looking too appealing. I look for a hotel where even the cockroaches are afraid to sleep, you know the type of hotel where you sleep with your boots on. My kind of place, cheap.
The next morning I slip and slide my way to the killing fields. I don’t want to set a stand in the dark so instead I sit on a hill and watch where the deer make their way back into the security of the trees.
They leave the salad bar in droves. Noticing the first one make it in safe, they relax and follow suit.
The fresh snow makes it even easier as I follow them in a few hours later. You might as well of highlighted a trail on a map for me.
I set my stand as high as the climbing sticks will allow. There’s no cover since the leaves are down and being that these whitetails walk staring at treetops more than the ground, I know I’m going to be put to the test to control my fidgeting self.
I plunk myself down and zone out. A half hour before sunset the woods comes alive. On cue the herd makes their way no more than twenty yards from my stand.
They pile through and on multiple occasions I start to draw back on my bow. Death is twenty yards from them and they never know. I let them all pass, doe, fawn and buck alike.
“You see any today?” Hazel asks as the Campbell’s soup comes to a simmer in my Jetboil.
Did I see any? I think the Miss Whitetail South Dakota pageant was held today and the runway was right under my stand.
“Uh, yea a few I suppose,” I reply sheepishly. “How are the kids?”
I throw out the smoke screen. Safe for the moment at least. I know she has faith that I’ll get it done. Me on the other hand I’m not so sure. Passing up a couple of chip shots might not have been the wisest move. I’m on a meat run, not window shopping at the mall.
“I’ll knock one down tomorrow,” I tell her before hitting the sack.
Hell, I still have two full days to redeem myself.
Day two is a bit more challenging as the winds shift to a less optimal direction and the deer decide to visit a new trail. Just far enough away to not be able to get a clear shot, but close enough to reveal themselves and taunt me and my decision making skills.
The sky fades to black and I call an audible. I break down my stand and shift locations for the mornings hunt.
“Nothing came close today,” I murmur as I flick a unidentified bug off of my bed. “I’ve got them dialed now. Don’t be alarmed if you hear a victory scream waking you up in the morning all the way in Denver. That’ll be me as I celebrate the two-hundred inch whitetail I’m standing over.”
“Riiiiighttt,” comes the drawn out response from Hazel.
Stop dicking around, it’s go time.
Damn it. Fifty yards off. Right location, wrong tree. A midday relocation and I’ve got my relationships stability hanging from a tree. I either made the right choice and go home to a happy woman or I start to question how I’m spending my free time.
I settle in and suck in my breath to thin myself against the small trunk behind me. I’m not overly happy with the position of my stand as it puts me smack dab in the middle of the game path, but no other nearby tree was sufficient to accept the temporary residence of my stand.
I throw every layer I own on, knowing that the shivering that will ensue is not going to help my chances.
Stay still, draw your bow back slowly and close this deal.
First I need a deer to walk by.
This comes at the predicted time in a ball of full with legs protruding out like a centipede. They’re clumped up and moving my way, eyes fixated on the green fields behind me.
I pull air in through my nose and slowly exhale through my mouth, slowing my heart rate in the process. With the speed they’re moving this could be tight on time as the forest turns a deeper shade of blue.
All does. There’s got to be at least one buck still thinking he’s got a chance of scoring around here.
They move closer.
Don’t look up, don’t look up.
Poof! She smells my fear and acts on it. A doe’s head rockets up like a periscope and her eyes lock on me.
This grabs the attention of her lady friends and everything goes still. They know something is wrong but not wrong enough to blow out of there.
The head doe gives a few stomps on the ground like she is packing in dirt around a fence post. You can feel the tension in the air and it doesn’t look like this is going to go my way.
How are you going to explain this one to Hazel. A herd of deer not thirty yards from the stand and you can’t kill one?
The drama continues as the doe tries to get a better angle on me, tries to figure out if I’m just a lump in a tree or something there with more nefarious reasons.
Some of the does have enough and decide another trail close by would be the better option to get to the green fields that I’m cutting off. Why chance it?
I catch movement deeper in the woods, a large bodied deer making his way with his head down.
That has to be a buck.
Not just a buck, but my favorite kind of buck, a clueless one. He has no idea what is going on and makes his way to the front of the herd. He moves on as if this theatrical scene hasn’t been playing out for the last ten minutes.
Lights almost gone and this is your last chance. The time for caution is long past.
I lock onto him and slowly raise up my rangefinder. I pick a clearing he is on a trajectory for and angle myself for the shot.
The does don’t like this once still lump moving on them and they let everything within earshot know it.
They scatter, snort and throw a temper tantrum to rival any three year old toddler.
The buck freezes, still not knowing what the drama is about. According to him there has been nothing odd going on and the drama queens behind him are stopping him from a mouth full of green clover.
Come on, come on!
The dark blues of the forest let me know that time is very short now. His vitals are comically located behind a large tree trunk as if he were framing this story with the necessary suspense.
Time moves on and not a twitch from him. So much so that I’m starting to question if I was just seeing things and I’m standing there like an idiot staring at a stump.
I no longer can feel my fingers as the cold works through the bows aluminum riser and seeps into my hand.
Just one more step and this will all be over.
And it is.
He transforms from a stump back into a deer. In one smooth movement my bow is drawn and the arrow is loose.
I hear the telltale “thwack!” as the arrow punches through hide.
With the dimming like and shaking from the cold I’m not sure of the exact location of the shot but I know deep down that it will suffice. A huge exhale is released along with the tension of the pressure to get this job done.
The woods is silent as I pull my cell phone up to my ear.
“You got one?!” I hear on the other end of the line. It startles me hearing a human voice in an area where human voices typically are avoided at all costs.
“Yes ‘mam. Now I just need to find him. I’ll let him sit the night and find him tomorrow. I’ll be home by dinner,” I reply with obvious relief in my voice.
I can imagine her flipping through more recipe books as I’m relaying her the information.
“So I can come home?” I ask knowing this will get a rise out of her.
“I suppose this will get you a free pass through the front door,” she kids back.
I break down my setup in the dark and as I do so an odd feeling creeps over me. I feel like I’m not alone in this woods. That there are thousands of others around me that have done this same exact thing a thousand other times for the same exact reasons.
They were here to provide. To them perhaps they didn’t analyze what they were doing as much as we do these days, but there is a simple connection. We are here because there are people we love elsewhere depending on us to be successful.
// Fred Bohm