The snick of the safety seemed loud in the still air. The boom of the rifle seemed quiet. Odd what the excitement of the moment can do to us !
I would hunt what we called the short loop. It would take me along the St Mary's River for a bit. It would then have me skirt the edge of the old farm before taking me up and over the hardwood ridge. Hopefully, I would have a deer before I reached the top. If not, I would continue on to the edge of the big barren. This is as far as I dared go on my own. Any farther back and I would risk not being able to get any deer back down to the camp or nearby logging road where I could get the truck.
Dressing lightly as I knew I'd be on the move for the morning hunt, I slugged back the remaining black coffee and stepped into the cool dark air.
Two deer bolted from underneath the apple tree in the backyard. Even in the darkness I could see their white tails flagging. The morning was off to a good start I remember thinking to myself.
Before long I was halfway up the steep hill on the west side of the river valley. Looking down upon the fields below as white wood smoke curled out of the camps and farm chimneys was a sight to behold, sure to stir warm emotions in any hunter's heart.
Going another hundred yards or so I leaned against an ancient maple. Not wanting to rush this hunt on the short loop ( as we called it) I was looking forward to my father and brother coming down to the camp later in the evening. As much as I enjoyed being at the camp alone and solo hunting, nothing compared to hunting with those two. Meals seemed better. The coffee was better. Their conversation sure was better entertainment than the one TV station we could get. Evenings flew by.
A slight rustle in the frosty leaves snapped me back to reality. I moved only my eyes, scanning the ridge top. Nothing. Minutes ticked by. I began to think I imagined it. Perhaps just a busy squirrel going about his business.
I stayed put as long as my 20 something year old legs would permit. Just as I was about to return to my ascent of the steep hill, I heard it again. This time however, there was an audible snap accompanying it. Instinctively, I dropped to one knee. My thumb resting on the safety, ready to push it forward if need be.
The crunching drew closer until I finally saw movement. It was early in the season and I was going to pass on any does or small bucks. Even from 100 yards though, it was evident he carried a nice rack. The snick of the safety seemed loud in the still air. The boom of the rifle seemed quiet. Odd what the excitement of the moment can do to us !
The buck dropped in its tracks. In my eagerness to punch my tag I went to collect my deer. About halfway to him, the buck regained his feet. I worked the bolt as calmly as the situation would allow me. I placed the crosshairs on him for the second time and squeezed off another round. Down again
This time I was a little wiser and less sure. I racked the bolt. I steadied the gun against a nearby tree. I could not see the downed buck but I knew he went down and I did not see him get back up. A third shot was not required.
Leaning the unloaded rifle against a tree I admired the nice deer. This was before cell phones. There were no BBD txts. Just me and a nice buck high on a ridgetop over-looking a beautiful river valley. I fished out my tag and did the paperwork.
I knew I had a long morning ahead of me getting him back to camp. I looked forward to it actually. I wanted more than anything to have that buck hanging when my father and brother pulled in the camp yard.
Getting him off the ridge was the easy part. Once I hit the level is where the real work began. Youth and excitement carried the day though. After two hours the finish line was in my sight. Another hour and he was hung high and washed out.
Sitting in the kitchen of the camp eagerly waiting to see the headlights of their vehicle coming up the dirt road was a moment I will always remember. When they did arrive, I remember thinking it can't get much better than this. It was a truly great night in camp.
Perhaps its an age thing. Perhaps memory tints things more rose colored. Perhaps each year we lose those folks who make such moments so wonderful . Perhaps as we take more game as the years click by and maybe each individual animal becomes less special. I don't really know.
What I do know however, is now, whenever I'm out hunting with a friend, I try each and every time to take a second and try to deposit a particular moment from the day into my memory bank. Even when no game is bagged or tagged. I know I can't remember everything from the day. I more just make an effort to remember a specific moment, conversation, shot, animal or laugh we shared.
I never want those memories and images to fade with time. There isn't a mount or photograph that doesn't pale compared to a great memory.
Just recently I pheasant hunted with two good buds. I remember saying we will limit out before we get through the first field. Big mistake. We didn't take a singe bird. The take from the day was how these two enjoyed themselves completely and the laughs we shared. I have a specific moment of that day in my mind. I'm sure one day it will find its way to paper. I have no idea when or what will trigger it. I suspect it will come back easily though.
Twenty years from now, I want to be able to relive a hunt I go on today just as clearly as I can the buck in this story from years ago. If I can do that, they will always be as good as they actually were.
I find some comfort in knowing those memories and hunts will stay with me long after myself or someone I share a hunt with are not able to take to the woods.
Take a moment and make a memory.....