The smell of wood smoke in the air trips some normally dormant trigger in my brain. The early morning chill urges me to get my hunting gear sorted out and replenished. Looking at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries numbers, I see that hunters in Virginia took almost 18,000 fewer deer last year than the year before. I wish someone had taken at least one more, if it would have eliminated the one I hit with my truck on the Ben Venue road last week.
I’m not sure where this hunting thing is going to end up. I had always hoped the experiences I have had would be here for my children and grandchildren and on and on. That may not be the case. As the demographics of the county change, many of the old ways are pushed aside. It serves no useful purpose to make a qualitative judgment about these changes. But, still, I mourn the loss of the old ways.
For now, I choose to move forward and savor the blessings that have come my way, to enjoy the experiences of field and stream, and to share them with my friends and family while I am still able to do so. And, in that regard, there is something I wish to share with you.
I have a very dear friend who owns and runs a hunting and fishing camp in Shining Tree, Ontario. His name is Brandon Baker. To avoid getting my facts wrong and not wanting to embarrass him, I will be brief in my descriptors. I will tell you that his father, Don, was a marvelous, do-it-all, been-there-done-that fellow who could play the piano and fly jet planes and who decided to leave the urban life of the far-flung Toronto suburbs and move north. The only mistake I ever knew Don to make was his vast over-estimation of my capacity for tequila. Brandon, the drummer in a very successful rock fusion band, came with him.
By my cloudy recollection, that took place almost 30 years ago. If I am lucky, I get to spend a week at Brandon’s Three Bears camp just about every year. At the center of the camp is The Bear’s Den, the main eating, gathering place and watering hole for all of Shining Tree. Hanging there on the wall is a short piece I wrote a long time ago, when I was very deep into the art, science and zen of deer hunting with the bow and arrow. I hope you like it.
Somewhere, off in the morning mist, I hear him.
I have seen him before, and he knows of me, too.
We are not old friends. We are age-old adversaries.
The sounds draw nearer, and my heart pounds like the
wings of a grouse. Can he hear it?
My eyes strain through the fog and mist.
Where is he? Is he still there?
And then I see a movement below me. Can that be him?
Is he aware of me?
He moves closer. Somehow, I must turn and prepare.
My mind races. Pick a spot. Pick a spot.
Wait. Wait. Wait.
Quickly — too quickly — he raises his head,
his majestic crown dripping from the mist.
I can see beads of water in the hair around the base
of his antlers.
His ears move forward. His head turns to one side,
and a ground squirrel scampers under the remnants
of a chestnut log.
In the morning chill, I can see his every breath.
I pray my silent prayer for a clean kill, or a clean miss.
He deserves no less.
His instincts are strong, but mine have been honed, as well.
And the hunter-gatherer in me has taken control.
My heart has ceased its wild pounding. My breathing, too
seems to have almost stopped.
Later, I will not be able to recall exactly how it happened,
exactly the sequence of the things I did. But the draw
will be smooth and slow, the release good, and the
placement of the arrow almost exact.
I can take pride in my skills, for I have spent many hours
in physical and mental preparation.
But some of the credit must go to that hunter-gatherer
of long ago whose survival depended on his skill.
He is, somehow, a part of me, and I am glad he is