The Heritage

Firearms deer opener is always exciting, but it had a certain sadness to it this year.   My father died two days before opener at age 78 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.    He was an avid fisherman and hunter back in the day.  His mother and father were both avid outdoors people too.  When my son was a little boy, Dad had taught him to fish and of my Dad’s four children, I had inherited his hunting gene.    We had his old yellowed tanned deer hides at deer camp this year to reminisce.    His first hide was so full of holes it looked like Swiss cheese.  His last was blemish free having been a head shot.   I wept silently on my deer stand in his memory until the silence of dawn was shattered by a very close ear splitting kaboom !

I was sure the blast in the near distance was one of our hunters.  It sent chills of excitement down my spine because I was fairly sure it came from my daughter-in-law, Felicia.   She had hunted only one time three years before right after major back surgery but she didn’t last very long in her ground blind back then.  This year was a challenge for her too, but she was determined to get a deer.   You see, Felicia turned up with Lupus several years before, and has suffered greatly from that and a back injury.  Just sitting in a stand for four hours necessitated a quadruple dose of ibuprofen.    Last year she had an ileostomy and this year she had part of her intestines removed.  That she could even have the gumption to hunt or crawl into a deer stand at all amazes me.   At 10am I slipped out of the woods and back to camp.  I had tagged out for archery deer so I was not concerned about getting a shot myself.  I just wanted my other hunters to have success.
Felicia Burch with her two year old buck taken opening morning.  It's tines were broken off from fighting.

Back at camp, Felicia was so buzzed with an adrenalin high, I knew she had a deer down.   I also knew that I had a convert.   She and I together went back to the kill site, took photos, loaded the deer on the ATV cart and took it back to camp.  There I dressed it out while the guys made lunch for us all.  She shared with me that she had prayed as she watched the beauty of the sunrise in the woods, that she could harvest a deer and also prayed that if Grandpa Art Kistler could hear her, could he put in a good word to God for her.  She wanted to get a deer in his honor.
Arthur R and Lucille Kistler - best friends, lovers, avid hunters and anglers.
Deer camps have been a part of our family for five generations and women hunters have been as well.  My great grandpa, Dr. Arthur S. Kistler and his wife were avid anglers and hunters.  My grandpa Arthur R. and his wife Lucille hunted ducks and deer together and grandma could even outfish her husband.  The made the society pages with their outdoor pursuits a number of times.  Grandma was an elegant lady hunter when she was not involved in politics, and dressed in leather lace up knee boots, jodphurs, leather coat and a sport tie.  My father followed with the family hunting tradition and while my mother didn’t hunt, I inherited the passion for it.  I passed the tradition on to my son and his buddies – and now his wife.
Dr. Arthur S. Kistler with a fine harvest of ducks.

After brunch, we garbed up for the afternoon hunt.  I changed into ASAT leafy wear which, to a new hunter might look decidedly comical in and of itself, but when you add my doing the funky chicken as an entrance to show it off,  Felicia and the others laughed heartily.   We share many laughs at deer camp as well as many memories.  She grabbed me with a broad smile and sparkling eyes and said “I just love you! This is SO much fun.  Thank you for introducing me to this sport and teaching me how to hunt. I am hooked! “ 

A tear welled in my eyes through the levity as I thought of my heritage, and of my Dad.  As we walked out for the afternoon hunt, Felicia stopped me while the guys walked ahead.   “What?” I asked.  She grinned, “I look forward to the day when you teach our kids to hunt and it’s our whole family doing this.”   I was speechless, something that doesn’t happen too often.

Years ago I wrote a song called “Face of My Soul” about hunting, being in the forest, and my own sentiments concerning it.  Now it reminds me of my Dad:

Here in this place, my soul has face,
In the grace of a deer, in the water so clear,
In the smell of the earth, when I walk in the dark,
With a million bright stars, shining down on my path

When I’m gone, I’ll live on, in the rustle of leaves,
In the forest at dawn, In a crisp winter breeze,
In a gossamer moon, on a warm summer’s night.

Indeed, my Dad’s spirit is with God now, but his memory is alive in our hearts and will indeed live on in the rustle of leaves and the forest at dawn with the outdoor heritage he received, and then passed on to us.

My grandmother in the 30's with her 6 pointer.
My Dad (on right) and Grandpa after a successful hunt.