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Reflections on another deer season
Jan 09, 2013 12:00 am
Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were anticipating the opening of deer season, guns cleaned and oiled, gear sorted, bouncing out of bed grainy-eyed and groggy when the alarm clock exploded at 4 a.m.?
And now it’s over.
Long-awaited November and December vanished in a blur. How come they whiz by, while dreary January and February drag on and on?
But even though the season is over, the memories endure. Here’s some of my favorites:
Dawn, Nov. 3, opening day of muzzleloader season. A giant buck chases a doe across a field bordering my ridge-top stand. I decide to stalk closer. As I ease down the ridge a sleek forkhorn steps out into the open. Too tempting. When the black-powder smoke clears, my Opening Day buck is on the ground.
A week later on the same ridge. Cedars rubbed raw, fresh scrapes everywhere. The big buck is still in the area. I get to my stand an hour before daylight. A deer wheezes in the dark. Busted. But just at daybreak a 9-pointer comes slipping through the trees. He’s 15 yards away when my muzzleloader belches. He drops in his tracks.
Fast-forward. I’m hunkered beneath an ancient gum tree bordering a field of winter wheat. It’s bitter cold and the field sparkles with frost. At dawn a flock of turkeys glides into the field, cackling and strutting, feathers jet-black against the silver frost. At nine a 7-point buck walks into the field and saunters toward me. I shoot and he drops. Hunting buddy Clarence Dies arrives in time to supervise the field-dressing.
Move to Cumberland County in a shooting house with cousin and boyhood outdoors accomplice Jerry Hedgecoth. We sit there from dawn till dark. I don’t get a deer but I collect a wealth of whispered hunting yarns. And the potato salad created by Jerry’s wife Carolyn is worth the trip.
Another pre-dawn morning finds Roy Denney and me climbing a mountain on property he owns in Difficult, just down the road from Defeated. Roy thinks he hears a deer wheezing, but it’s just me. We finally get to the top, take stands on a logging road, and watch the sun peek over the peaks. We don’t get a deer but we’re treated to some of the most rugged and majestic scenery in Middle Tennessee.
Later on I swap my muzzleloader for a 30-30 rifle – a 50-year-old birthday present that’s now considered a collector’s item. Hunting buddies Brownie and Barry Stricklin and I head to Indian Creek in Hardin County. I’ve limited out on bucks, and am doe-hunting. (How does the 8-pointer that strolls past my stand just after dawn know that?)
Shortly afterwards a doe drifts out of a pine thicket and into the clearing. The 30-30 cracks – just like it cracked the first time I fired it in 1963 to drop my first deer. I field-dress the doe and take her into nearby Savannah to check her in. I return to the woods that afternoon and collect another fat, tender doe.
I’m not a trophy hunter, but I must admit the 9-point rack will look good on my den wall. And the freezer is almost full of venison, although a considerable amount has already gone the way of steaks, stews, jerky and – my favorite on a cold winter day – spicy venison chili.
But big antlers and a freezer-full of venison are not all that remains of deer season.
There’s the memories: the crunch of frozen leaves, the sparkle of frozen diamonds on a frosty morn, the heart-thumping excitement of seeing a deer sidling through the woods.
Memories never go out of season.