Hunting season is hectic in our household. We pack, we head up north, and we unpack and hunt intensely for the weekend. We then pack up, clean the cabin, head home and start on the laundry. Four days later we repeat the process. This continues from opening bow season until we either shoot our deer or collapse the night before Thanksgiving in sheer exhaustion from the long hours spent alert and edgy on tree stands. Hours spent in anticipation of "the big one", time well spent optimistically and enthusiastically awaiting our own very special moment of truth. Time which has, like the honking geese and the trilling sandhill cranes, flown and disappeared. Where has fall gone? When did it disappear? How could it have gone so quickly?
Immersed in the soft rustlings and hushed wind gusts of the Wisconsin woods, I lose track of time when I hunt. I forget the calendar and the deadlines and the frantic pace and focus on the little things. My attention is averted to the gray squirrel busily stashing away acorns and reinforcing his nest for the dark days ahead, the deer crunching noisily on acorns just yards away from my tree, or to the silvery streak of a coyote’s thick pelt as he flashes by some one hundred yards away, worming his way among the thick marsh grass in search of dinner. I become fixated by the chickadee hanging upside down over my head from a tree limb, pecking, pausing, and then "chick-a-dee-dee-dee-ing". A calm, content smile and a deep breath, full of moist soil and damp autumn air fills my lungs and feeds my soul.
My thoughts mimic the environment surrounding me as I begin to quietly and serenely reflect on the past several weeks. The young fawns feeding alongside their mothers, the does which showed up like clockwork at the old white oak. The doe I stalked on "The Big Ridge" and shot at a mere twenty yards, only to make a bad hit in her shoulder. Then there was the solid, white-antlered eight-pointer I pursued for four days straight the last weekend of early bow season, only to watch him walk away from me, just out of bow range at 35 yards, on my final day of hunting.
I think of the warm amber glow of a crackling fire in our tired, old blackened wood burner, the smell of rain-soaked dogs as they chased one another around the cabin, kids shouting and running behind them, adding to the confusion. I recall dim lamps and dozing hunters, smart talk and late, boisterous nights of pinochle. Aunt Kathy’s walks with the kids on the railroad tracks, pumpkin carving on the picnic tables and the bear attacks at our bird feeders. I think of Colin’s first visit to the cabin at the tender age of 5 months, and sadly miss the company of my father-in-law Al, 89 years old, whose hip could no longer last in the deer woods; whose Smith & Wesson .30-06 I carried this year, in my first gun season. But above it all, I recall the laughter, always the laughter, as everyone would gather in the kitchen, sharing our encounters, relating a joke, revealing a secret, relaxing with drink in hand and family at heart. For 20 years now I’ve hunted, but more importantly, I’ve enjoyed the laughter of this family.
No , I did not kill a deer this fall. I failed to bring home fresh venison. I’m experiencing post-season blues. But I’ll always hold the memories harvested this past fall near and dear to my heart, essential to my hunting soul, to my life. These are the harvests hunters truly treasure.
© November 2003