I was reared on a farm in upstate New York where “everybody!” hunts deer in season, so when Nance and I purchased our lot in Goochland County, Virginia, I was ecstatic to learn that our nine acres were surrounded by over twelve-hundred acres of prime wildlife habitat. Another piece of trivia not wasted on me was that in VA a landowner need not purchase a license to hunt his property.
Needless to say, shortly after the house went up a permanent tree stand appeared at the back of our lot with about thirty yards’ visibility in all directions! Since I taught full-time in another county, I knew my hunting would be limited to weekends, plus Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, so I set my expectations low.
Amazingly, my meager efforts have been rewarded with almost a deer-a-year, and one year with two. The fact that I couldn’t participate with a group of like-minded souls has also proved less of a restriction to the enjoyment of “the hunt” than I had anticipated. In Virginia, hunting dogs are permitted, so one can enjoy the thrill of “the hunt” by merely listening to the sounds: baying hounds, gunshots progressively changing directions, and exclamations of nearby hunters. This year proved to be the best of all. The fact that our immediate plans include downsizing to a village home made it most meaningful to me. Prepare yourself. Here comes another one of those much-maligned “deer stories”.
One morning about midseason, I stood at the southeast corner of our wooded lot when I heard another hunter pull up and drop off his hunting dogs along the south road. As I pondered the situation, I heard a rustling in the woods from that direction. Anticipating a deer running ahead of the hounds, I raised my gun, only to be disappointed as the dogs scooted past. Moments after I watched them fade out of sight a shot rang out from that direction. Moving stealthily towards the scene, and aware that a missed shot could send a fleeing deer my way, I was rewarded almost instantly by the sound of approaching movement. As I stood poised to shoot my heart jumped then sank when those pesky dogs came scampering into view.
They ran up to me like they had expected me to do something, but I was more upset with them, since they had failed to bring me the game I wanted. As we briefly stood in mutual discontent, I was startled by a buck jumping to his feet about ten feet behind me! (Where he was when the dogs passed, earlier, I have no idea!) Frozen in time, I could recall an almost identical Norman Rockwell picture with dogs on one side of a hunter and a deer on the other. Apparently, the dogs hadn’t seen him, because as I turned to watch him disappear without a shot they left just as suddenly the other way!
Another day, I sat in my stand listening to different hunting parties running dogs in all directions when the yelping to the north began to intensify. Soon, one dog’s bark grew closer and simultaneously more animated. As I trained my sight in that direction his barking became so frantic I surmised that he was barking directly at the deer. This proved true. To my amazement there was the dog screaming at the top of his lungs while the buck faced him, antlers lowered in a threatening manner as if to say, “You’ve been chasing me all day, and I am sick of it!”
Apparently rethinking his predicament, the deer left the dog and again began to run – right past my perch. As I took aim, I noticed that one bar of antlers was missing; not a prime candidate for a trophy. Nevertheless, I couldn’t pass up a shot at a large buck running right past my stand. BANG! Down he went, behind some bushes. Hurrying down the ladder as fast as I could, safely with gun in hand, I approached the bushes, hoping to administer the kill shot as I have done so many times before.
To my surprise and dismay, the dog (with a big “500” tattooed on his side) arrived first and spooked the buck who, it turns out, was apparently more exhausted than hurt. As he jumped to his feet and resumed his escape, I shot again. He dropped about sixty yards ahead, again in ground cover. I was running, now, trying desperately to beat “old 500” to him. Nope! You guessed it. Same scene, repeated. Only, this time he made it into the woods and was gone! So was “old 500”.
I attempted to follow, hoping to find the buck passed out in a heap, but to no avail. I had to quit for darkness, so I returned the next day, choosing to not leave a wounded deer unclaimed. I never found him or even a sign of blood, so my theory is that I subconsciously wanted to miss the imperfect trophy, which I did. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
Then, on the last day I was determined to stay in my stand all day, if necessary, because I was not just a little upset for going unproductive all season. (I had seen a doe, but refused to shoot, because I hadn’t got a buck, first. Also, my wife would have disowned me, if I had shot her pet!) I spent most of the day there, reading a paperback, critical of the Church by Michael Brown, entitled “How Saved are We?”, only taking short lunch/bathroom breaks.
The woods were quiet all day with only an occasional shot heard in the distance, until about three o’clock when a hunter dropped his dogs at the south road. I put down the paperback and decided to focus on hunting, especially since the sun was getting lower in the sky and this would be my last opportunity, perhaps forever, to hunt from my home-made, personal tree stand. Shortly, I heard something approaching as I had, early in the season, when the dogs came through.
Would this be a repeat, or would my final season here end with a fittingly dramatic conclusion? As I watched and listened, I could hear the footprints drawing ever closer. Still unable to see it through the low trees, I strained my eyes for the first glimpse of what it was. I held up the gun; then put it down, when my arms shook with nervous anticipation, just like a young hunter with “buck fever”. I chastised myself, “Calm down, you have taken dozens of deer in your life. Quit acting like a wet-behind-the-ears kid!”
When the rugged four-pointer finally appeared I was back in my normal frame of mind; dropped him with a single shot, followed by the finale. Once down from the stand, I observed the buck as I approached: he only had one bar of antlers! I know he had a full set when I shot. Was my aim so bad that I had shot off one side? Turns out, the bar was so weakly attached that it had dropped off as he fell. (In fact, the other side came off, later, as the deer-cutter was pulling the deer off the truck!)
Talk about an exceptional season! This one was such that I felt compelled to write it down. This meant more to me than is immediately apparent. I felt the closeness of my personal God who understood the significance of my last season of hunting from my own piece of Paradise, and provided me with truly with “A Season to Remember!”