First off, I was never a hunter. My father was not a hunter. I was not exposed to hunting as a child. In fact, the most direct connection that I had over the last twenty or thirty years was at a graduation party for a friend of mine's son when my wife and I were served venison without our knowing it. When we were told what the delicious meat was that we were so voraciously wolfing down, my wife in a rather rare lapse in grace and decorum spit the meat onto her plate and instructed me to do so. We spent the rest of the meal picking through the Caesar salad. When I questioned her about it, she muttered something about not being a party to eating Bambi, something about cannibalism and told me to hush because the dessert was coming around. Imagine my surprise almost five years later when she suggested that I take up hunting myself.
I had been retired several months from Woolman College where I had taught English for thirty years. Throughout those last few years I looked fondly to the time that I would be cut loose from the old yoke and made a little mental list of things that I could do with my new found freedom. I could finally have a vegetable garden. I could actually read for pleasure, and the wife and I could travel like we always talked about and then there was my golf game. I figured if worse came to worse, I could learn to make ships in bottles or collect arrowheads or stamps.
The first few months of the rest of my life went well enough. I got a card at the local public library and read to my hearts desire. My wife and I visited our son and his family for a week in Charleston and began scheduling a trip to the British Isles. Then spring rolled around and it was time to start on the garden.
After six months of staring at a barren patch of dirt, golf was looking more attractive. After half a dozen broken windows and a member of my wife's bridge club being carried out of the house on a stretcher, I went down to the library for a field guide on the location and identification of arrowheads and similar antiquities. A couple of days later my wife made her rather startling suggestion.
"The knot on Ingrid's head has gone down and she can see straight now." She told me as I stood in our driveway and compared one of the blue rocks that lined it with a Shoshone spear point. "Anyway, she said that her brother Walter is retired and that he hunts. Says he really enjoys it." I must have looked at her like cauliflower was growing out her nose, because she started defending her suggestion before I had even questioned it. "It wouldn't hurt to check on it. You don't have to commit to anything do you? Maybe the first time you could carry someone's gun or take your camera and snap some pictures."
Within the month I found myself sitting in a deer stand at six in the morning with a brand new 30.06 across my lap that I had absolutely no idea how to use. Out of chronic boredom I was shivering and going over the words to I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry in my head when something, call it a luck, call it a hunch, hunter's intuition whatever, told me to look up. There standing at the tree line bathed in the gray light of a new day was a huge buck. He was enormous, looked to be the size of a city bus with antlers as wide as the dilapidated old truck that brought us there was long! He looked in my direction, but did he see me? I froze where I sat until he lowered his head to pick through the leaves at his feet and then I raised my rifle to my shoulder. Just as he raised his head again I sighted and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. I waited for a few seconds longer, the end of my gun barrel starting to quiver, until he turned his head. Then I reached up with my thumb switch! ed off the safety, sited, held m y breath and squeezed the trigger. A loud crack rang out which sounded as though it were a sonic boom in the early morning quiet. I had shut my eyes at the sound, and when I opened them again, the buck lay in a heap on the ground.
I wanted to yell but I didn't. I wanted to jump up and down or dance a jig but I was in a deer stand. I struggled down to the ground all the time watching the deer where it lay not twenty yards away. I walked to it slowly, reverently, in awe as if I were about to bow down and worship it. I stood staring for a good five minutes before I approached it and counted the points out loud.
"ten...eleven....twelve. Twelve points! A twelve point buck my first time out! I laid my rifle across the massive rack atop its head and stood back to admire it once more. That was when I shouted. Calling to Walter. Calling to the other fellows, whatever their names were, to come and see, just shouting for the sake of shouting. I did the little jig that I so wanted to do in the stand. I strutted, I swaggered I danced around in a circle and when I faced the deer again it had raised it's head. It was looking at me. It accused me and shamed me with its eyes and it let out a snort as it shook its head and started to get up onto its haunches. Was it going to charge? Were deer vicious? Would they attack? Nobody had told me either way and as it got its feet and snorted again I took a couple of steps back and held my hands up in front of me as if that would halt the charge of such a monster. It didn't attack. It did not lower its antlers in an attempt to gore me. It turned around! and it was then that I remember ed that my rifle was still stuck in its rack. I got one last look at my brand new 30.06 just before the deer took off and disappeared through the brush.
When I got back, I told my wife that I would never go hunting again. I expected an argument, I wanted an argument but got none. I was hooked on hunting, but dumb pride would not allow me to set foot in the woods with the specific purpose of hunting and killing anything. The sight of that deer's fat rump disappearing though the underbrush was burned into my eyeballs, and I can still hear it laughing mocking me as it took off with my rifle.
I tried golf again although my wife made me go to a driving range rather than teeing off in the backyard and I started going with my friend Gary to look for arrowheads. I had a really good time at both although my interest in the later took a nosedive when I was exploring an old riverbed and had even found a couple of rocks that looked promising. Then I heard Gary call back to me something about seeing a very large deer with a gun in it's antlers. At least there was golf, and I started to go to a nearby hobby shop, buying ship-in-bottle kits all the while staring across the street at Coo-Coo's Hunting and Fishing Supply. One drizzly day as I was coming out with a Chinese Junque in my arms the pull was a little stronger, so I deposited my model into the car, swallowed my pride, pulled myself together, crossed the street and went inside.
I would have preferred to have skulked around the store, looked at a few things, got my fix and left. That would not happen however. The minute I stepped through the door the old man behind the counter, Coo-Coo I presume, who recognized me from when I bought the 30.06 gave the kind of greeting that Norm got at Cheers.
"Well there he is." He called. "I've been wondering when we'd see you again. Ol' Walt told me about what happened with you and that big buck." He stopped to chuckle a little at my expense and nudge a short round fellow standing at the counter with what looked to be a large kazoo and small container of doe pee. I just looked up at the ceiling and prayed that it would fall on my head while Coo-Coo explained to the customer, who was obviously clueless as to what the old man found so amusing, the circumstances as to how I had lost a brand knew rifle. Both men shook with wheezy, whistling-sounding laughter and I would have backed out straight into traffic, but Coo-Coo stopped and gave me an understanding look while he reached under the counter.
"Oh man. We're just picking with you Hoss. Say, uh, does this look familiar?" He pulled a rifle, a 30.06 I thought, I didn't know guns that well, still don't, out from under the counter. It looked new except for a few scratches along the stock.
"Is that mine?"
"Yep. Sure is. Somebody found it out in the woods somewhere and brought it in to try and sell it. I checked out the serial numbers and found out it was yours. I tried calling Walt just this morning and couldn't get him. Good thing you come by when you did."
"Yes it is." I said taking the rifle from him and looking it over.
"So uh." He said after awhile. "You gonna head right out and see if you get anything now that you got ya gun back?" He winked at the other guy and their shoulders started shaking as they chuckled silently.
"I don't know." I said. "I don't know if this hunting thing's for me or not."
"Well don't let one slip up turn ya off of it. Like riding a horse just jump back on."
"Well Walter hasn't been out much since his wife got him in the toes with the weed eater, and I wouldn't dream of going alone."
"Well find you somebody else." He said, blocking every attempt I made to bow gracefully out of the hunting world. "Sam here's a beginner and he was just telling me that he was looking for a partner himself. Do you know Sam Hill?" I greeted Sam and shook his hand. He just nodded at me, chewing on something while Coo-Coo made the introductions. We all chatted, both men double-teaming me for the better part of an hour. I sidestepped their questions and advice all the while wanting to hit the woods right then, but the little deer who stood on my shoulder on its back legs with a still smoking rifle in its antlers kept saying:
"You're only going to embarrass yourself. Don't go." I left only after exchanging numbers with Sam and agreeing that I would think about it.
Just enough time went by that when Sam did call I had forgotten all about our little agreement and for awhile I didn't know who I was talking to. It didn't take me long to remember everything and contributing it to a moment of weakness it didn't take me long to agree to go this time, my little deer friend was conspicuously absent.
"What will we be hunting?" I asked making one last excuse. "The season's just about over for everything isn't it?"
"Not for turkey."
"You want to hunt turkey?"
"Yeah man. You like a nice juicy turkey don't you?"
"Well yeah, but have you ever hunted turkey?"
"No, but I read some articles on it. I bought a couple of turkey calls. I mean you've seen pictures of those ol fat, slow turkey gobblers. How hard can it be to shoot you one of them?"
The big 'ol fat turkey gobblers that Sam Hill spoke of were not around when we first went hunting turkey nor were they present the next three times. What was in their place was a smaller, thinner, faster prototype who seemed to be able to hear your heart beating in your chest and had the uncanny ability to know your next move even before you did.
We hunted bi-weekly, sometimes more, and as turkey season came to a close our fondness for hunting became an obsession to once and for all shoot one of those god-forsaken spawns of the devil himself. We decided that the last day of the season we would go out bright and early, get our heads on straight and not leave the woods until we got a turkey.
We checked around and learned of a spot that was ideal for shooting wild turkey. We obtained permission from the owner of the land and got out one Saturday, as I said before, bright and early. Well I guess at this point I should say that it was early but not particularly bright. In fact the sun had not come up yet and dark clouds were so thick across the sky that it was black as pitch as we drove out, but we both had confidence that it would lighten up soon enough. We had decided that our best odds of shooting anything would be to split up. Sam drove us out, dropped me off along a dirt road and then went a mile or two farther down. We had scouted the land a few days earlier and had decided that we would start separately, moving towards one another and meet in the bottom of a hollow about a mile from the road.
As I tripped and cursed my way through the woods bumping into a tree what felt like every two feet it wasn't getting any lighter. The wind was picking up and the air started getting that wet feeling like it did just before it started to rain. I remembered that the grade down into the hollow was a pretty steep drop the minute that my right foot went over the edge and I tumbled head over heels hitting every stump, sapling and rock on the way down. I laid there for a little while in a bed of wet leaves listening to deer laughter before I started crawling around on the ground feeling for my gun.
Great! I remember thinking to myself. Lost it again! I had just decided that this particular gun was cursed and made a note to self to buy another one when we got back when a strike of lightning brought the light of noon day to that section of the woods and I could see my gun just a few feet from where I was. Then it was dark again, darker than it was before but I was able to find the rifle just as lightning struck again, this time bringing a huge clap of thunder. I didn't know what to do until my eyes grew accustomed to the dark again so I felt my way to a large tree that I had seen before and planned on staying there until it got light enough. Once I was there, leaning my shoulder up against it, I decided that I might as well do something constructive while I was there so I got out one of Sam's turkey calls and started blowing it. I figured that if I could attract some turkey's that they'd be there when we had enough light to shoot them. Well the first time I blew it a ! turkey answered! I couldn't be s ure from the thunder and the wind so I blew again and it answered again! Three times a charm and again got an answer! I thought to myself: If I could only keep it where it was! Good Grief where is the sun! Just my luck to have a storm today. Called again, got an answer. Oh if we only had a little sunlight! I would learn later that Sam was having much the same type of luck calling from where he sat against another tree that I would later guestimate was about thirty or forty yards away. If you haven't already figured this out, then it's with no small amount of embarrassment that I will tell you that we were calling and answering each other.
I slowed everything down as we finally started getting some daylight so as not to scare the turkey away, but I would still call every ten or fifteen minutes and I was still getting an answer. At one point when as it was getting even lighter and the woods around me were getting more and more detailed the hand that had been holding my rifle went to sleep. I laid the 30.06 against the tree, made another call, got an answer and started flexing that hand to get the circulation going. I could still barely see my hand although it was getting lighter. I could barely see my hand but a big owl sitting in a tree in the direction of Sam's turkey calls could see it much clearer although to him my hand looked like breakfast. At the point that the owl left the branch that it was sitting on and silently began gliding toward me a bobcat that had been stalking what it thought to be a turkey or some sort of edible creature left the ground where it had been crouching a foot or two behind Sam! . Our cries rang out at roughly the same time, and now that I look back at it they were roughly the same key and they blended nicely while they were bouncing between the walls of the hollow. I had a huge owl clamped onto my finger and as we started to struggle he let go but I was too scared to so I ran in circles with him flapping above my head and me screaming even louder grabbing for the tree so he wouldn't fly away with me.
The bobcat had initially grabbed Sam by his right elbow, but when he tried to get up, it sunk it's teeth into his rear end and grabbed him around the waist with it's front paws. Sam would tell me later that all he could do was run. That was perfectly understandable because when I couldn't grab hold of the tree I chose that particular course of action for myself. We ran straight toward each other and just as we collided we lost our perspective passengers and while they were running/flying away we were doing a strange sort of dosy-do before racing each other up the embankment, out of the woods, and out into the road.
We left our turkey calls, we left our guns, we left Sam's truck and have no plans of going back after them. The garden is progressing nicely, amazing what happens when you apply water. Sam comes over every now and then and we've tried hunting for arrowheads but we're still a little shaky about leaving the sanctuary of the city. We like making ships in bottles, but Sam keeps breaking the bottles so we have to be satisfied with just making ships. We have a tee time in fifteen minutes but there's a pretty big bird sitting on the power lines outside my house. Look's like an owl.
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