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Pants on Fire

September 18, 2012

It’s Oh dark thirty on opening day of deer season and we’re vertical. I’m not sure both my eyes are open, but I’m on my feet. What an ungodly hour to get up. It won’t be daylight for hours.

Now, I’m married to a man who has a passion for hunting. To say the least. He could write a book on the subject. According to him, we need to be in our stands sitting perfectly still in plenty of time for the woods to settle down before dawn. Like an hour before dawn. Which means we get up in the middle of the night, like right now.

I’m not sure I’m going to like hunting…who gets up in the middle of the night for fun? Now, I used to think staying up until dawn was fun, but getting up at dawn is another matter entirely.

I’m going to be spending most of the morning in a deer stand, a three foot square platform fourteen feet off the ground. No railings, no walls, no roof. And it’s twenty two degrees outside…and I hate being cold. Drinking more than two cups of coffee is out of the question. I’d have to get out of my stand and that would disturb the deer, too. A definite no-no according to Jim. Especially first thing in the morning on opening morning.

Those precious deer are probably nice and cozy in their beds…unlike us. I’ll bet they’ll wait for the sun to warm them before they rise.

We’ve got snow this year, too.. Probably close to a foot. And, just my luck, my stand is the furthest one back from the road…about half a mile. One thing’s for sure, I’ll get my exercise. I might not smell too good by the time I get there, but I’ll build muscle.

Snow is both a blessing and a curse for hunters. It’s great for tracking prey; blood on snow is unmistakable, and deer prints in the snow are easy to spot. But it muffles noise. We can get away with making a little more noise on the way out to our stands, but it’s harder to hear the deer, too. And it’s cold. I hate being cold.

So, I trudge through the snow back to my stand, taking a few breathers along the way, to avoid getting all sweaty. Finally, I reach my stand, way back in the woods. And, it’s higher than I remember. And it still doesn’t have railings.

I’m going to have to talk to Jim about stand construction soon. Railings or half walls would make it so much safer, and warmer…it would break the wind. And a roof would keep the rain and snow off…that would be nice. Jim always says you have to be comfortable to sit still. So far, that’s not working so well for me.

I already had a heater that I lugged back and forth, but having one of those Mr. Heaters would be really nifty. I hate being cold, so a heater‘s a must. Especially in years like this one. Below normal temps with a stiff breeze from the north.

Once I cool down from that hike, I’m sure I’ll be freezing.

So, I tie one end of my rope around my Ruger .44 mag and the other around my wrist, sling my backpack on my shoulders and start to climb. Good thing I had Jim make short steps on this ladder. That’s something he’s not used to thinking about, being over six feet tall. And I’m just over five feet, with much shorter legs. One size does not fit all.

I tried to get into his favorite stand once, and my legs just weren‘t long enough. The steps were miles apart…or so it seemed. I’d had to brush up on my gymnastic skills to be able to climb up that ladder.

All right. I have arrived. Now to get situated. I leave my gun on the ground, with a rope tethering it to my wrist…no sense in having it up there while I’m trying to set up housekeeping. and knocking it back to the ground.

My denatured alcohol heater comes out first, heat is very important to me so I want it handy. The lighter’s ready and waiting in my pocket. Right next to my hand warmers and mini Snickers bars.

There are some things I’m just not willing to give up here…if I can’t have coffee, I’m having chocolate. Coffee would be warmer, but chocolate‘s okay. Actually, I’d prefer both, but that’s not an option.

‘See, Jimbo,’ I think, ‘I can do this…keep the chocolate coming and we’ll be fine.’

So finally, I’m set. At least I think I am. It’s still dark, so I don’t really know, because I can’t see a whole lot, but I think I’m ready. Time to bring up the gun. Preferably without bouncing it off the trunk of this tree or the ladder. Wouldn’t be good to whack it on the way up and knock the scope out of adjustment. And that’d probably disturb the deer. We can’t have that.

I carefully pull it up to me, and all goes well. As soon as I’ve got it in hand, I sit down and insert the clip, cycle a round into the chamber and put the safety back on.

The darkness is slowly lifting…sky is more gray than black and I can make out more trees and bushes. And I’m getting cold.

I can’t feel my fingers anymore…I have to start the heater. So, with an ungloved hand, I flick my Bic, and it lights. I put my homemade heater, in its metal coffee can inside a five gallon bucket to help conserve heat. Otherwise the wind blows the heat away before I thaw out. The bucket hides the glow from the fire, too. Very functional.

It’s barely dawn when I hear a twig snap behind me on the left. I freeze and listen intently. Another crack, not as loud as the first, but distinct. Slowly, I turn my head toward the noise.

This year, I got drawn for a doe tag, so I can go with the ‘brown and down’ philosophy. Nice. I’m new to this, so I don’t always remember to check for antlers. I get excited. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

So far, I’ve lucked out and haven’t shot anything I couldn’t tag. Maybe someone’s watching over me. I’ll bet that‘s it. With so many things that could go wrong, and yet nothing more serious that forgetting the Snickers actually has. There could be slips, falls, accidental shootings, getting lost, frostbite; so many possibilities, and yet we come home unscathed. It never ceases to amaze me. There’s got to be something bigger than me involved, here.

I see it…a bit of brown winding its way through the bushes. Brown against the snow. And it’s coming my way…I think.

But then it turns…it’s going to walk behind me. And I think to myself, ‘Think…can you pull it off?’ I have a small window of opportunity…it’s now or never. If I let it go too far, I won’t get a shot at all.

I still don’t know if it’s a buck or doe, but with my doe tag, it really doesn’t matter. I’m good with that. It’s nice not to have to remember to check for headgear.

So, I grip the heater between my boots. Otherwise, I’d probably knock it down and scare the deer halfway into next Tuesday. I twist to my left, using the poplar for a steady rest. And to stay in the stand. Fourteen feet off the ground. The frozen ground. At least there’s a cushion of snow down there…if I wasn’t wearing my nifty seatbelt, I’ve might needed that.

The deer’s almost directly behind me. And there’s that adrenaline rush again, messing with my breathing and giving me the shakes. But, on the upside, it sure warmed me up…right down to my toes.

So, I squeeze off a round…and at the same time, I desperately hope my pants aren’t burning. I was a little generous with the denatured alcohol this morning, and the flame was pretty high when I first lit it. Maybe the excess burned off by now. Just in case, a little prayer couldn’t hurt.

I try to concentrate on the deer and how it reacted to the shot. Kind of hard to do when you think your pants might be burning. But I try

I watch through the scope, and it’s hit. Hit good. Right behind the shoulder. So I follow it with the scope. She stumbles and falls, and stays down.

I get another adrenaline rush…even faster heart rate, and I’m really shaking. Full body shakes this time. So I sit. Probably the best place for me until I settle down.

At least I remembered to engage the safety this time. That’ll make Jim happy. Especially since he’ll be walking through the brush toward me any minute now.

I lower the gun to the ground and then start to climb down myself. About halfway down, I see a speck of orange meandering through the woods toward me. Jim…and his timing is perfect. As usual.

We easily follow the blood trail. She’s dead. A small doe. Not a fawn but not old enough to have fawns of her own, either.

Not bad, though. The meat will be tender, and she’s the first harvest of the season.

And it’s the one and only time I ever filled my tag before Jim.

I took a moment to bask in that glow…even then, I knew it wouldn’t happen ever again. I didn’t need it to. I had my moment.

  1. You are such a good wife. There is no amount of chocolate or coffee that could entice me to sit in a cold, dark, deer stand. Not even the coffee that some animal pees on that is supposed to be the most expensive coffee ever. I wonder if there was a husband hunting season if I would feel differently about sitting in a stand!!!!

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