Gratitude and Thanksgiving
I missed him clean.
Laying belly down in the snow that I had waited so long for, he had caught me in the open. I had panicked when he charged in and stopped directly below me yet out of my line of sight.
Two weeks ago I recommended that deer hunters hold out, that they seek out the silent places and if they did, that amazing animals were about. In June, I told readers to get their grin on because this season would show hunters harvesting record book caliber trophies. But back then, I couldn’t be certain that I would be among those able to hold out or find such a trophy.
Even with temperatures finally dropping at night, I hadn’t yet felt my hunting blood. I had needed a little snow and a few less flies buzzing around my face. The bucks had been cooperative during the season opener. So unaware that they were being hunted that it wasn’t sporting. On day one, I had to leave my gun at home for fear that I might shoot one of the great bucks that I had already seen rather than wait for a true giant that might descend from the forest.
I had scouted them closely during archery season. My hunters had taken the good instead of waiting for the great so all of the bucks on the short list were still around; the one with twelve-inch brow tines, the beautiful five point like matching candelabras, the wide six.
Then, finally, we were blanketed with snow. I shouldered my rifle and pack, cameras and bipod and revisited my decades old obsession and hiked in to the base of the peak.
It was so still.
I thought I heard a flock of cranes circling overhead. They should have all migrated through weeks ago. I imagined that these must be stragglers. As I strained my eyes skyward looking for their silhouettes against the dusky clouds the sound changed pitch. I tried to hold my breath to hear them call again and narrow my search but the faint chirping only came when I exhaled. There were no birds. The crane calls were emanating from inside my own chest and the slight wheezy rasp was the remnant of a fall flu bug I thought I had beaten weeks ago.
I’d found a place so quiet that you could hear the trail of a two-week-old cough.
The rut was on in earnest and I soon began seeing bucks chasing does. Familiar deer, I had passed them or ones of their caliber all season. With only ten minutes of light left, the intensity heated up and one of the largest of the bucks below me began to grunt. This proved to be too much temptation for an animal I hadn’t seen in three weeks.
I knew him as soon as he stepped out of the timber and may heart began to accelerate. It was a buck I called “candle sticks”. His advance brought him on a string to a pair of does that held fast just below my position. The shot would be close, too close. As I adjusted to compensate, the whitetail caught my movement and bolted back towards his security cover. I called to attempt to stop his flight and he turned at two hundred yards. I missed that first shot.
That he gave me a second was fate. He bolted from view and the long minutes between shot and recovery left me anxious. My anxious walk up to the fallen animal left me once again in silence, gratitude, and Thanksgiving. My best whitetail ever in over forty years of hunting.
So once again, if you have yet to fill your tag, hold out. I saw one even bigger on way back home.