Standing in the still dark of a fall night, calf deep in cold tea colored water I felt a bead of sweat roll off my nose and drop onto the flat calm water of the pond. What a day this has been I thought. Before climbing the short but steep hill for the third time back to the big Lake to get my last and final load before crossing the pond to to home I sat on the bank and let my mind wander...on the day and even further back....
The day started like many others since my retirement. Would I hit the woods? Should I get a little workout in? Eventually I opted to spend some time with Mary, she was home as it was Saturday. I figured I can hunt any day so on her day's off I'd spend my time with her. During our morning coffee we became aware that it was 9 years to the day that my best friend, best hunting bud, and Dad had passed away. She suggested it would and should be a day in the woods. What better way to salute the decades my dad and myself spent in the woods and at our camp?
It wasn't long before I was packing my gear and loading up the canoe for an early afternoon hunt. I choose my most remote and hardest to get to stand. Not because it was the most active...but because of the energy required to get there, and the beauty of that distant hardwood ridge. High on the ridge the view is outstanding with the lake in the backround. Peaceful. Healing. Just what I needed on this anniversary .
Sitting there that beautiful Autumn afternoon all seemed right. All was right in my world. Time heals. My thoughts and memories were all happy and warm. The sadness and grief of this date are gone. All that's left are a half a lifetime's worth of time spent in in the outdoors with a good man. Period.
I was deep in my thoughts when I first caught movement through the orange hardwood leaves. There was no doubt it was a deer. I snapped out of the past and into the present in a heartbeat. I slowly reached for the yew selfbow and nocked a cedar arrow.
The next movement I saw was a wet yellow antler glistening in the afternoon sun. It was maybe 12 yards and coming. Once I peeled my eyes off the bone, I was looking for the shot....the buck stopped and turned in a heart beat....he didn't like something. He turned and started to walk away. I was silently screaming "Nooooo".
He was a smart buck. He got to grow in a heavily hunted area by being smart. His one mistake....as he was leaving he was slowly angling to offering a bit more of a broadside shot with each step. Problem was, this little selfbow was only good for 15 yards and under. It lacked the snap and authority for anything longer.
At a tad over 15 he stopped broadside with his head behind a large tree. I was drawing the second he stopped. My middle finger found its anchor. I became aware of a second buck moving behind him. I shot quicker than I normally like. I saw the big log like arrow strike home. Penetration looked good, those big white feathers were buried deep. I thought it looked a bit low perhaps. But it happens fast. My gut told me it was a solid hit.
The buck did that big high rear leg kick like they often do when heart shot. I watched him run off. The smaller buck just stood there for a second dumbfounded but after a second ran back from where they came.
I could barely contain myself. I fought with my inner demons to climb down and have a look. I know my Dad would have said to stay in the tree and wait a half hour. So I think I compromised and waited 20 minutes.
I took a deep breath and swung my shaking leg onto the first rung of the climbing sticks.
I hit the bottom and unhooked my bow from the rope I used to lower it. I was nervous...so I spent another 5 long minutes at the base of the tree.
I found blood and lots of it right from the start.
My confidence skyrocketed. Enough to send out a txt or two to a couple friends saying I just poked a good one. I was happy to have a couple txting conversations. It would kill a bit more time. And it helped calm me down. No matter how many critters I arrow, I'm not the calm cool dude after the shot...I get pretty pumped up. I'm ok with that...as long as it doesn't make me do stupid things! I actually enjoy that out of control rush...as long as its able to be kept in the bottle. If that makes any sense.
The blood stayed heavy. I never had to kneel down to find it. I could simply looked a head and follow it. I thought each step brought me closer to punching my tag.
I had just taken a step around a maple tree and I spied him laying prone. I slipped back behind the big maple for cover and peeked out to have another look. He was done.
I walked over. I had to sit down. What a beauty. What a day. My Dad never owned a cell phone...but I had the weirdest desire to send him a text. I collected my thoughts. I collected myself.
The work was just beginning. I was 400 yards to the canoe. Two lakes away from home. A couple tough hills to lug the canoe, buck and gear.
After a bit I was at the canoe and ready to start the first and longest paddle. I took a sip of water. I loaded the buck in the canoe. I took another sip of water. I thought about the date again.
Imagined or not I may never know but despite it being a dead calm evening....a gentle soothing breeze picked up. It blew across the mirror like stillness of the lake...passed me...and up the hardwood ridge towards my stand and beyond.
I'll always find comfort in believing that was my text message to my Dad. I headed home...