He must have had the patience of a saint. Who? My Dad, you see I and my nephew Kevin had been pestering my Dad for about two weeks for him to take us with him to his deer stand, we had all but written it off without really knowing why he wouldn’t take us. Later in life we found out that it wasn’t because he didn’t want too it was because he knew all too well that we could not sit still to save our lives. I was all of about eight years old and my nephew was approximately twelve. My Dad had taken us small game hunting several times, and even during them times we weren’t able to sit long enough for the beagles to bring the rabbit around to us. Yes, many times we spoiled the hunt with our juvenile antics. But that’s not to say that my Dad gave up on us. No, not at all the fruits of our pestering worked and the faithful day had finally come.
It was about six o’clock in the evening when Dad gave us the news. He said, “Boys; you will be going with me in the morning to the deer stand, so you better get to bed early.” To bed early, “Right, like we were going to get any sleep.” We were so elated and ecstatic that we didn’t sleep a wink instead we lay awake talking about our impending adventure. I didn’t know it at the time, but where I come from this would mark my first real adventure; not as a kid, but as a young man. To most of you reading this you understand what I am talking about, however, some readers won’t. If you’re from the city I suppose you could compare it to riding the subway for the first time by yourself. Or if you are a virtual person you could compare it to sending your avatar into a battle for the first time. Exactly, you never really know what is going to happen, but you can be sure it will be dangerous.
The morning arrived and Kevin and I are up, dressed, and headed to the breakfast table, as this is where mom has breakfast cooking. During this time of year (Oct-Nov) breakfast typically consisted of; fried venison steak, pancakes covered in real butter and smothered in homemade maple syrup that was made the previous winter, and a large glass of ice cold milk. It is was so intently palate pleasing that even now thirty-seven years later, I begin to salivate while writing about it. Dad finally emerged from his bedroom donning a pair of blood red trousers stained from years of wear, a blue button up shirt leftover from his days as a security guard with General Motors. He sat down at the table and began to sip his coffee; you could have heard a pin drop if it wasn’t for Kevin making a most annoying sound as he slurped his milk and gobbled his pancakes. After his second cup of coffee he began to speak, “Boys, I will have to ask you to try hard and do your best to stay quiet and sit still. Be sure to use the bathroom before we go.” We both nodded in affirmation of his request. He finished his coffee stood up and said, “Come on boys lets go” we jumped up and ran outside ahead of him. My dad paused for a moment on the front porch pulled on a bright red sweater and placed a blood red hand knitted cap upon his head. He then extended his hand towards the deer slayer; a model 94 Winchester Rifle in the caliber of .32 win special. This rifle in the hands of my father had slain many white-tailed deer. He then exited the porch and began to load the rifle with six rounds. It could hold seven, but full load will weaken the spring over time, and with a lever action you can’t afford to have a bad spring; in case for some reason you actually needed a second shot. Keep in mind I rarely heard of my Dad needing more than one shot. And when he did need a second, it was like the first because the first actually had to clear the brush for that second shot.
It was about a quarter past eight in the morning as we headed out. Bear in mind that both of my brothers and any other adults that were at our place hunting had already gotten up before day break and headed to their deer stand. At their deer stands they would find carefully prepared offensive positions, complete with a framework of pine boughs for camouflage. And usually they would dig down into the earth a few inches to allow for small movements, and to lower their profile for a better shot; kind of putting themselves on the same level as their quarry. Oh! But not my Dad, he was the kind of guy that could get up later than everyone else, sit wherever he saw fit, without any preparation, usually for a very short duration of time, kill his deer and return to the house well ahead of everyone else. Of course he would leave the deer until everyone came in, so we, young men could drag it out, bring it back to the house, and hoist it up on the buck pole.
By the time we reached the place where my Dad would make his stand it was about nine O’clock in the morning. Our stand was by a big maple tree overlooking a small cut between the pine plantation and a hardwood plot, probably about two acres or so. My Dad scraped the snow off of a log stump next to the tree and sat down. He said, “Boys, scrape the snow and leaves off a spot in the ground next to the tree and sit down, because it is here where we will make our stand.” We did as he said. He positioned us all around the tree so we would have eyes in all directions.
After about twenty minutes of sitting Kevin and I began to wiggle around and lose interest. Plus we were getting a little chilly. Dad saw this and without getting upset, he said “You boys asked for this, and if you expect see anything you need to settle down, stop moving, and remain quiet.” His firm but calm voice settled us back down and we intently gazed into our own fields of view. It was probably another ten minutes when all of a sudden I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, I had a microsecond to identify what it was. But before I could say something to my Dad, the deer slayer’s report rang loud and deadly. I saw the bullet pass completely through the front shoulder of the deer. As I turned to see if Kevin saw it, he was on his feet and in hot pursuit of this wounded deer; Dad yelled “Kevin get you’re A** back here and sit down.” Kevin returned and sat down. While we were waiting, my Dad’s long time friend, and co-worker from General Motors came up to talk with my Dad. He had heard the shot from his stand and recognized the report of the deer slayer. He had known my Dad long enough to know that when the deer slayer sounded usually a deer had met its demise. My brothers were now at our deer stand, and were discussing a strategy to search for this deer; which turned out to be a two year old six point buck. For westerners that may be reading this, the buck was a three point or a three by three.
The buck had run into a nearby pine plantation, so we all traveled to one end of the plantation and began to move up the rows. My Dad and Joe (Dad’s friend) posted themselves on the opposite end of the plantation in case the deer hadn’t expired, and tried to make a break for it. Kevin and I were only a row apart as we moved towards the end of the plantation. We were just about to the end and came to a small opening. Kevin was a bit ahead of me but I could see him well, as he neared the end of the opening. All of a sudden the mortally wounded buck made his final dying lunge in Kevin’s direction; not to attack Kevin, but merely his last movement as he bled out. This scared the proverbial crap out of Kevin and he thought for sure this buck was attacking him, he started yelling “Grandpa, Grandpa, Grandpa, the deer is attacking me.” Now my Dad was where he could see this event unfold, and needless to say he was laughing his backside off. I never did see Kevin again; it wasn’t until we got back to the cabin that we discovered where he had run off to. We retrieved the buck from the pines, loaded it into my Dad’s old Chevrolet pickup, and drove it back to the house where we hung it up on the buck pole.
At this stage and in the middle of my life, I know, I will never forget this day. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I came closer to understanding the meaning of the word “Man” that day than any other for years to come. In my mind the games of childhood halted for a moment, and the reality of life, death, quest, adventure, and fatherly acceptance came to be. I was welcomed into my Father’s world and was accepted. I hadn’t failed when placed in danger’s path. It was on this cold November day in the shadow of that maple tree, and under the protecting watch of my father’s eyes I started a journey; where it was heading was still a mystery. All I knew was one day I would hold the deer slayer in my hands; I would have one shot and it needed to count. Even now I keep asking myself “Do I have what it takes.”