Full Circle

Posted on December 12, 2017

4


When I was a boy of ten,

antlered deer and hunting gear were all I cared for then.

 

 

“Wow”, I thought, “what a rub.” And as I have always done, I immediately began to imagine the size of the buck, his antler mass and tine configuration. The plot began as I started putting together pieces of information that would hopefully lead me to this fine stag.

On snow this task is simplified markedly as the sign is etched on a parchment of white, readable without the aid of glasses. On ground of brown, the clues are much more subtle, requiring a sharp eye for minute detail.

 

So here I was, mesmerized by this rub, when the young man who I was helping in his fledgling deer hunting career came up from behind and forced me back to reality with a question of how fresh the raking was. For him, it was mostly about getting his first deer – hopefully a buck – along with gaining knowledge. For me, it was teaching him how I hunt and hopefully getting him onto a deer. But as we all know; deer hunting is really an exercise in humility mingled with hope and few enough positive results that it keeps us getting out of a warm bed each November to tramp after the desired prize.

As we moved about over the two-day period, I was hunting as If I were solo, gathering info, putting pieces together and making educated decisions based upon the observed deer sign. Along the way I would explain what I was doing, and why, to my new student.

Half-way through the second day I drove us around to a location very close to where I’d hunted as a boy; my proving grounds. On this side of the river the sign posts left by competing bucks were both prominent and very prevalent. Scrapes and rubs of assorted sizes littered the landscape. And then there was a track, a very good track, that was left by a very big buck. However, daylight began to wane signaling that there would be no deer taking a final ride in the truck bed today.

Driving home thinking about what I’d uncovered the last two days, and its proximity to where I began my hunting career 49 years ago, reflections of those formative years began playing out in my head. Those were rich, entertaining memories that seemed as though they happened just yesterday. I could recall with clarity the tree I sat against next to my dad when I shot my first deer, a buck at the age of ten. And then there was the spruce grove where I, alone in what seemed to a youngster’s mind like an endless wilderness, killed my first eight-pointer. As I would later learn, Pop was just out of sight, but he had led me to believe he’d be miles away.

 

 

Further recollections were now flooding my mind. There was one of a huge buck on the river bank where a barrage of rifle fire was necessary due to the beast not staying dead. In that volley I unfortunately shot off part of the buck’s left main beam. I could go on and on.

When I arrived home, I gave my dad a ring and shared with him what I’d found, where I found it, and then asked if he was up for a couple of days of hunting. I told him the only time I had available was Thanksgiving morning and the day after. Needless to say, he was as eager as…well, a ten-year old boy.

Thanksgiving morning proved two things: I was not as close to where I thought we’d hunted forty plus years ago, and the scrapes and rubs were just as abundant the further north I traveled.

 

I just knew we needed to get back to that magical field where we’d parked on hunting days-of-old. Pop assured me that come the next and final day, he’d direct us there. With the exception of a few missed turns, and a very bumpy ride, I eased the pick-up into a field, the very field I so wanted to be back in, the field that held such savory images of bygone days… I was inwardly gratified. A boy and his dad, back at the very location from 49 years earlier.

“Which way do you want to go?”, I asked. Pop said, “You pick.” “I’ll head into the spruce, cross-cutting the wind and then swing south along the river,” I told him. “Okay, then I will walk down the road and hunt back either along the river or the opposite side of the road on the ridge,” Pop exclaimed. “Do you still have your radio,” I asked. Pop replied yes, and with that we departed in separate directions. As we are walking away I’m thinking, fat chance he turns it on if either of us shoots.

“When are the deer coming, where are they,” asked a little wide-eyed boy unwrapping another piece of trick-or-treat candy. I’d like to tell you what Pop told me on that morning, but his responses to my many inquiries escape me. This and other fond recollections from my boyhood were dominating my thoughts as I slipped along this ancient ground. It literally felt as if I had been transported back in time, that is until I came upon a huge rub, which served to snap me back to the current hunt.

 

 

As I was preparing to photograph the sign post, a shot rang out, a single shot, close enough to be from only one person. It was a shot that literally served to reverse our roles from 49 years prior.

To my great surprise- shock may be a better adjective – seconds after turning on my radio I heard the following transmission, “Are you out there?” Due to our distance and proximity in the wood, most of what I was hearing was scrambled.
The next clear communication was, “Nice buck down. Meet you at the truck.”

It didn’t take long for me to make my way out, beating Pop to the truck. As I stood peering down the road, watching for him like a parent waiting for the school bus, he finally came sauntering along with a certain grin on his face.

I had questions; he had slow responses. “How far in is he?”
“Not too far,” Pop said. “I’m going to leave my rifle in the truck, and it’s not so much distance as it is where the buck is laying,” he replied nonchalantly.
“Okay, so what does that mean, where exactly is he?” I asked. “I know you brought a lunch, but did you bring any water with you?” was my next inquiry.
“Nope, forgot the water.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I brought an extra bottle. You know, this is like taking care of my grandson, yesterday I had to give you a watch, today water, what else do you need,” I joked.
Taking a sip of the water, Pop asked, “Do you remember the steep banks above the flats along the river?”
“Yes,” I answered hesitantly.
“The buck is at the bottom of that ravine.”
“Well…okay, let’s go get him, you lead the way,” I intrepidly uttered.

 

 

Indeed, it was steep, almost what seemed a 90-degree pitch downward, which by-the-way, made for an incredible shot by Pop. Thankfully, there were a few small trees to grasp as we side-stepped down the incline. Upon reaching the buck at his final resting place, I spent a considerable amount of time documenting the scene with my camera. (I only wish that had been done with my first deer.)

 

 

“Pop, I’m sure you are more than eager to field dress this deer, but I’m going take care of that task for you today. All I need you to do is hold his leg.” He was more than willing to allow his son to perform the ritual that he had performed for me those many years ago. Once accomplished, the real work was about to begin.

 

 

I knew that getting this buck up that slope and eventually out to the road was going to be all me; there was no way a 77- year old was going to be pulling on this buck up that incline. And yes, it was grueling and difficult pulling a buck that field dressed 183 pounds nearly straight up a 150-foot bank, just in case you were curious. That task alone took me 45-minutes. Once I reached the top I told Pop, “While I may have been the runt of the litter, I can still pull my weight and more.” As I looked around I then asked: “What did you do with my rifle?”
“I didn’t bring your rifle up, you told me to leave it with you,” Pop said.
I guess I was going to get some more quad work whether I needed it or not. Back down the embankment I went, grabbed my weapon that was resting against a tree and made the hike back up yet again.

 

 

Getting the buck to the road seemed like child’s play after the assent of pulling him top-side. Pop sat down on the opposite side of the two-track admiring the buck. He looked content, happy with a boyish gleam in his eye. It was as if he, at this moment, was a boy of ten. I said, “Why don’t you stay here and keep your buck company while I go and retrieve the truck.”

As I took that solitary hike up the road I came to the realization that what had begun 49-years ago between a father and his son had now come full circle, with the roles completely reversed. This was a moment in time that you cannot plan, predict or orchestrate. It just happens by grace and I did not want any of it to slip away without drinking in all the elixir, right down to the dregs.

 

 

In the book by Reata Strickland, Interview with God, the question is posed, “What surprises you most about humankind?” God’s response is, “That they get bored with childhood. They rush to grow up and then long to be children again.” It would be impossible to account for Pop’s mindset that day, however, I believe by his reaction to this whole experience that he was indeed reveling in the return to a bygone era. Some things need no further explanation.

 

Lots of life has been lived since that notable day when, as a boy of ten, I became a deer hunter. Numerous bucks have found their final resting place at the feet of both Pop and myself over the span of time; some of immense proportion, but none any more significant than this one. Had I just shot the new world record whitetail, it could not hold the same significance or personal sentiment… not on this day… not in this special place.

 

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer