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Lone Huntress

August 28, 2012

Just got off work…a double shift. I went to work at 2:30 pm yesterday, and had to cover not only my shift but the night shift, too. That’s what happens when they schedule a skeleton crew and someone calls in sick. Union rules say the least senior qualified staff person must cover the shift unless someone with more seniority volunteers. No volunteers. Lucky me.

And it’s deer season to boot. So, since I’ll have to give up the evening hunt tonight, I decide to go out after work…I’m kind of wired, anyway, having drank coffee all night long to stay awake. I wouldn’t sleep anyway. May as well hunt. And I think to myself that I sound more and more like Jim.

So, I wave good-bye to the boys as they head down the driveway to wait for the bus, and I head to the left and my stand on the edge of the field.

I cover the short distance to the stand quickly; my backpack slung over one shoulder and my Ruger 44 mag on the other.

Now, I’m all about safety when I’m hunting…the last thing I want to do is shoot myself or someone else. So, I tie one end of a rope around the stock, the other around my wrist, and double check to make sure the it’s unloaded and the safety’s on before I climb the ladder up to my perch. Once I’m there, and situated, I carefully pull the gun up, insert the clip, and cycle a round into the chamber as quietly as I can.

I can hear the boys talking as they wait for the school bus. Funny how far voices carry out here.

This is my first time hunting alone. I’ve always gone with Jim, but since he’s working, that’s not an option. I fantasize about shooting a deer all by myself. Boy, wouldn’t that be something?

So, I indulge my dream…I do my best to remember every step he’s taught me so far…no sense in being careless here. It’s my third year hunting, so it’s not like I’m doing this on a whim or anything. I’ve had plenty of practice walking to a stand, climbing up, pulling my gun up, sitting quietly and freezing my backside off until it‘s time to go back in. Then, I repeat the process in reverse and go back home. Sounds like a good way to relax and let the caffeine wear off so I can get to sleep.

Jim’s been teaching me to hunt…and since I’ve been held up at gunpoint, he’s taking it slow with me…teaching me one step at a time. So far, so good, I think. I’d like to graduate to the next step though…actually shooting a deer. Haven’t been that lucky yet, though. And I’m not holding my breath about this time, either.

I scan the field carefully, moving my head as little as possible, lest a Whitetail be watching. Then, slowly, I check the section line. There’s some major deer trails down there…I’ve seen them when we were doing our pre-season scouting. And the section line’s not very wide, so deer can be easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. I can hear Jim reminding me to keep my eyes open…watch here, watch there. Don’t move. I do my best.

I hear the bus rumbling down the road, downshifting as it makes the corner. And soon I see it pass the section line and pull into the driveway. I can even hear the door squeak open. And I glance at the field, and then the section line.

And there stands a buck. I think…at least I don’t think I’m dreaming him up.  I scrunch my eyes shut tight, then open them again and he’s still there.  A real live Whitetail buck. I’m not sure how many points he‘s got, but this guy’s got headgear…not a record book buck by any stretch of the imagination, but I can see antlers.

And I think of the significance of that…that I actually know this deer is a buck before I try to shoot it. That’s never happened before. Every other time I’ve thrown lead, I’ve just seen deer. Jim has always asked me what I’ve shot at and I’ve always shouted ‘deer!’ It’s the same old thing every time…he says ‘Buck or doe’ and I say ‘DEER!’

Then he feels obliged to run through the rules…again. He reminds me that I need a doe tag in order to legally take a doe. And that I do not have a one this year. ‘You’ve got to follow the rules, Hon. The DNR will have something to say about it if you screw up. They don’t really understand shooting a doe when you don’t have a tag.’ I try, I really do, but can I help it if I get a little excited?

So, this buck is looking in my direction, like I said. I’m pretty sure he’s looking under my stand, but I’m taking no chances. I freeze. I’m barely breathing, much less moving.

It takes forever, but eventually, the bus shifts gear, and the buck turns to look off in that direction.

So I quietly lift the rifle to my shoulder, snug it in tight, and find a good solid rest. Just like Jim said. Then I crank my head over and look through the scope; I shoot right-handed, but my left eye is dominant. It’s awkward, but it works for me. I’m careful not to breathe on the scope…that would fog it up at the worst possible moment and I wouldn‘t be able to see through it. Not good, not good at all.

I take aim, just behind the front shoulder, centering the shot from top to bottom, And I let out a slow breath and squeeze the trigger, trying my best to keep my eyes open. And to watch the animal’s reaction.

YES!  I hit him…right where I aimed! He falters a bit, then bolts for the brush.

My heart is pounding, and I’m drenched in sweat in spite of below freezing temps. I gather my thoughts and try to remember what I’m supposed to do next. Since I’ve never gotten this far before, I have to really think. ‘Now, what would Jimbo do’.

I’ve heard plenty of hunting stories, from him as well as others, so I think I can figure it out. I’m most worried about the tracking. He’s so good at it and I’ve always followed along in his wake. If I don’t do this right, I could really mess it up and make it a lot harder, or even impossible to find my deer. I‘d feel terrible…to shoot a deer and not recover it. I think I’d be sick to my stomach.

So, one step at a time. I calculate my movements and take things slow. Shoulder the gun, barrel up, just in case, and start down the ladder carefully, one step at a time. S-l-o-w-l-y. Carefully.

Finally, I reach the ground. I stash my pack under the stand and check the gun…and discover that I’d forgotten to put the safety back on…oops! Thankfully, nothing went wrong. I breathe a sigh of relief and offer thanks to God.

So I put the safety on and start out, cautiously creeping down the trail, trying not to make a sound. I get to the spot where my buck was standing. I turn left, where I think he bolted into the woods.

And there’s a bright red swath of blood on a sapling. Not just one drop like Jim usually looks for, but an eight-inch smear of blood on a tree. I guess God figured with me being a rookie at this, he’d give me a sign that I couldn’t miss. And the deer bounced off one tree, then another and yet another, leaving an unmistakable trail that even I could follow, as he ricocheted through the woods.

It wasn’t more than twenty yards or so before I saw him, laying in a heap. And I think about what Jim would do next…Check the eye, I think he said. If it’s closed, the deer is alive and you need to shoot him again, probably in the neck or head. If the eye’s open, that’s a good sign, but you still need to keep your distance and toss a small rock or stick at him…and be ready to shoot, just in case.

So I pick up a handful of small stones and plunk them one at a time at the buck. Nothing. No reaction whatsoever. So, I’m pretty sure he’s dead. Now what?

Okay, go back to the house. Call Jim. Ask him. He’ll know.

So I run back home. As fast as I can while I’m carrying a heavy backpack and have a rifle strapped to my back. Between the coffee and the deer, I’m way to excited to walk.

I dial the phone. It’s answered on the second ring. And I try to breathe while I ask for my husband. I have to repeat myself three times before I’m understood. Geez, all I want is to talk to Jimbo…am I that hard to understand?

Finally, he’s there. So I rattle off my story. And he doesn’t understand me either. What’s up with that? Slow down, he says. Speak clearly…I thought I was.

Okay, deep breath…again…and another. Try again. ‘I shot a deer!’ I say.

‘Oh…buck or doe? Right about then, I think he was praying. Probably to the Patron Saint of Hunting. If there is one. Not being Catholic, I don’t have a clue.

And now I hit him with the big surprise…’BUCK’ I squeal.

After a long pause, he says ‘Really? Are you sure? I can hear the apprehension in his voice.

‘Yup, a buck.’

I visualize him finger combing his hair like he does when he‘s thinking. He tries to weigh his next words…‘I’m at work…’

I know, I think to myself, I called you.

He tells me he needs to think about it and I am to stay in the house and wait for him to call back. An eternity passes before the phone rings.

‘Okay, here’s what we’ll do…Gordy said I can leave for an hour, so meet me by your stand. Are you sure you know where he fell?’

‘Yes…I tracked him!’

After another sizable pause, he responds ‘This I gotta see…deer usually aren’t that easy to find.’

Twenty minutes later, he pulls into the yard. I’m jumping up and down like a five-year old on Christmas. He takes forever to get his orange jacket, and hat on. Then he searches for his knife and drag rope. By this time, I’m convinced he’s stalling on purpose. ‘Hurry up‘, I say, and he responds with something about the buck not going anywhere if he’s really dead. Oh really.

I can barely contain myself. If he isn’t ready soon, I’ll explode!

Finally, we walk across the yard. Well, actually, he walks; I skip like a little girl at recess.

We reach the section line and make our way down the trail. And as we reach the blood trail, I make a flourish with my arm ‘Ta Da! I told you!’

‘Wow, they never bleed like that for me.’ He said. ‘Congratulations! This is going to make one heck of a story back at work’.

So I lead the way to my prey. He mutters something about him being damned, and I’m pretty sure he’s proud of me, even if he hasn’t actually said the words.

We field dress the buck and drag him back to the garage where we hoist him up. Jim says he’ll be fine until he gets home from work.

Back inside, he cleans up for work and I try to figure out how I’m actually going to sleep.  Turns out adrenaline, coffee and sleep don’t mix too well.

My big buck turned out to be a 4 pointer. He was my trophy, and I was now a seasoned hunter. I had a story to tell.

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