Friday, November 25, 2011

The Drainage Ditch Of Dreams
The setting is a farm in rural, Western NY. The cool, Fall morning was peaceful. A light fog was lifting and the trees were starting to materialize. It was archery season for whitetail deer and I was standing beside a drainage ditch because my gut told me that this is where I needed to be. I stood, unmoving for a half hour after the sun rose, waiting and watching. Suddenly, it appeared one hundred yards away, upwind and walking straight towards me.

I was fourteen years old and I was out hunting by myself. My brother wasn't yet old enough to be hunting with me and my dad was at the house because of a prior commitment. In order to hunt, I had to go out on my own that morning.  

I knew the farm well as I had been helping out here for two years and knew every nook and cranny for the deer to hide. My dad had taken me out multiple times hunting with him and had shown me how to hunt the elusive cervid known as the whitetail deer. He had spent countless hours showing me how to properly shoot a bow, breathe properly and just when to release my fingers off the string. Up until this day I had always been accompanied by him on our hunts, but this day he felt I was ready to hunt on my own.


As the deer continued toward me I felt my heart thumping in my chest along with each hoof as it hit the ground. I saw that the deer was a large buck and that made my heart beat even faster. Steam shot out of the bucks nostrils as he breathed and then smelled the air. He had no idea I was there, but I was extremely concerned. I was not in a treestand, nor a ground blind. No, I was standing in an open field, right in his walkway as he walked closer and closer. I froze.

Would the buck see me against the backdrop of our overgrown pasture? I was only wearing my camouflage coveralls and boonie hat picked up from one of the local department stores. I had no pack, no rangefinder or handy gadgets like we have today. I had my antlered-handle hunting knife on my belt. In my gloved, left hand was a Bear compound bow given to my earlier that year by my dad. I have no idea what the draw weight was set at. My sight pins, all three of them, had a little dot of paint at the tip of each one. Fiber optics were not something widely thought of in 1989 for bow hunters. Even a release was a new topic of conversation. Adorning my right hand was a well-worn leather glove covering three fingers just waiting to grip the bow string.


Baling straw on the farm.
 
My target all summer long had been a paper rifle target on straw bales, stacked three high, with the barn as a backdrop. My dad, my brother and I took turns sending $3 aluminum arrows into the paper pretending that each one was a kill shot on a deer. The hot, humid summer did not deter us. Neither did working long days of baling the straw we were using and stacking it in the barn. This was our stress reliever and bonding time. My dad was already an accomplished hunter and all I wanted to do was to make him proud.

What seemed like a lifetime, the deer closed the distance. Fifty yards, forty...thirty...twenty. I drew my bow and he abruptly stopped at ten yards facing me head on. I saw points, but was taught not to count them. Instead, I was taught to focus on the animal itself and not take anything for granted. Our stare down lasted only a few seconds as I anchored, found the crease in his front leg and sent the arrow on its way. It buried itself in the exact spot where I had aimed and then the buck bolted West, up the hill.
I watched the deer run away from me and suddenly drop sixty yards from where I shot him. One kick in the goldenrod and he was done.

The intensity of the moment had my mind whirling. Had I made a clean shot? Did I really see my arrow hit like it did? I stood in my spot stunned and in awe of what had just happened. To be honest, I was in disbelief. I had just killed my first deer ever and it was a buck. Best of all, I had done it with archery equipment while on my first hunt alone.

Having no idea how to field dress a deer I didn't even walk up to the buck. Ten yards forward I marked the start of the blood trail with an arrow. I knew I would need the help of my dad, so I said a quick prayer and began the long walk back to the farmhouse. I had about a half mile walk back and the entire way I tried thinking of the best way to tell me dad about what I had just done. Every scenario in my head disappeared when I walked in the kitchen and he asked me, "So? How many arrows do you have left?" I just showed him and then proceeded to tell the story. His eyes lit up, huge hugs and cheers erupted in that small farmhouse kitchen. I'll never forget my little sister asking me, "Did you catch a deer?" I could only respond with, 'Yes, yes I did!'

We hopped in the truck and drove to the drainage ditch. Even though I knew where my deer had dropped, I brought my dad to the spot of the kill. The blood trail was like a super highway. We followed it, so I could learn how to follow a blood trail, but it didn't take long to find my buck. My dad reached down, gripped the antlers and raised him up. We counted the points together and I couldn't stop smiling. There were seven, perfect tines pointing up and I was thrilled. Not that it was a buck, nor that it was a seven-point buck, but that I had made a quick, clean kill and that my dad was proud. The look on his face said it all. 


Together, we field dressed the buck and brought him back to the house to show my siblings. My brother was just as excited as I was. After seeing the look in his eyes, I knew he'd grow up to be a hunter himself.  He helped us hang the deer in the barn as I told the story once more. We started a continuing tradition that day as we feasted on the tenderloins for dinner that evening. To this day, we continue to enjoy the fruits of our labor on the day of a kill.

Of all of my hunting memories, this one is one of my favorites. There is nothing like being alone in nature and bow hunting whitetail deer with the scent of corn and apples filling the air. Feeling the cool mist as it is lifting off the ground and seeing a mature, whitetail deer appear. The anticipation as he walks towards you, the moment of truth when you make every second of the time you spent practicing count, and the feeling of sheer happiness when you see the look on your dad's face when you tell him your hunt was a success.

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–This is my submission for the Sportsman Channel Writing Contest for Hunters hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.

3 comments:

  1. That is a great story Al!

    My gosh, it was like I was standin' right there next to you in that field... (and my knees were knockin' too!)

    Nicely done!

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  2. Great story Al. Made me reflect on my past hunting trips. Well written!

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  3. I too am very proud of you. This story is fantastically written and I know you will always remember the experience. It;s probably a good thing I diden,t know you were hunting alone. I probably would have had a heart attack..lol You were and still are a fantastic writer and I am very proud of all your accomplishments.

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