Tales from a Hunting Journal
October has come and gone. We strayed back to our roots as a family. The Halloween festivities once again consisted of a scavenger hunt, bobbing for apples, and pumpkin carving. The kids loved it, eating it up like so much Halloween candy. Grandma and Grandpa seemed to revel in this return to tradition, Grandma especially. And with those ceremonies we ushered in another hunting season.
Grandma had requested a crossbow for her 60th in August; a request we willingly obliged. It was sighted and ready to go, as were her bow and gun. She speaks boldly of hunting, always pushing to be in the woods, but weekly calls invariably end in reasons for not going. Perhaps it is just age, work, and life catching up with her intentions. Most times it seems her heart really wants to be out there but her body betrays her, cold and tired being the result. Sometimes it's just plain stubbornness. I try to convince her with scouting and pictures that this time or that would be better, or that a certain spot looks promising, but it always ends up in the same place at 2:30. It used to lead to frustration; now it only leads to a chuckle. Somehow this year will be different.
The first weekend of November this year found us hunting instead of scouting. We pulled the feeders and cameras weeks ago because of a local poaching incident on a neighboring property that has led to increased scrutiny in the area. We have always complied with the regulations, just never so early in the year, allowing the kids to get a look at some wildlife for Halloween before pulling the feeders and cameras. Gun season has traditionally been the time to look forward to, but as of late, with the changing regulations and the ever-increasing demands on the schedule, archery season is slowly winning out. Politics and hunting, most likely due to money, are walking hand in hand in the woods. A situation to ponder in the stand or the off-season, but not now.
The turkey blind was set prior to the spooky days of Halloween to allow the critters time to grow fond of it. I don't know why because it seems this year that the turkeys have flown south for the winter. The birds have been scarce this year on the woodlot, not the overflowing presence they usually are. Somehow this year is different.
Bailey and I took the crossbow to the turkey blind that first weekend in November. The blind seats two easily with room to spare. She enjoyed her time with Dad even as she fidgeted away, trying to fight the boredom and the promise of hunting with Grandma in the afternoon. I soon had to call for "Mom's taxi" to pick up my short term hunting buddy as she needed to "get ready to hunt with Grandma."
Left in the quiet clearing by myself at a time no respectable hunter would be out (between 12 & 2, mid-afternoon), I waited and daydreamed. I imagined not 50 yards off a buck attacking saplings. I could see their tops violently shaking. Tiredly, almost indifferently, I turned the bleat can over. The trees stopped moving and the high grass began to part. My imagination was real. The wind was not playing tricks on me. A small spike trying to be a forky came walking purposefully through the clearing, head down. I was ready for venison as he stood broadside not ten yards from me and walked away. Somehow this year was different.
At that same moment Bailey was preparing to hunt with Grandma. They left the house at 2:30 on the dot for their short, steep hike along the horse pasture. As they slowly made their way up the hill, short and shorter legs stopped for a break. Peeking over the crest of the hill was a set of tall, shiny white tines. Bedded in their ambush site was an eight, or was it seven, pointer, his girlfriend, and her little brother. The two hunters belly-crawled to the crest only to see the deer sauntering away into the woods. Bailey was so filled with excitement that she fell asleep shortly after reaching her stand.
As the ghosts of this first weekend in November fade into the treeline, I've come to feel alone in the woods; not loneliness but strangely alone. One kid would rather hunt with Grandma. Grandma stubbornly disregards any helpful advice to achieve her self-imposed goals on her own terms. The other kid would rather cook a hunter's dinner with Mommy, not daring the woods. Mommy nurses her aching back from the warmth of the kitchen. Grandpa hovers on the field's edge, simply stating that his heart isn't in it. Perhaps next year will be different.
(Five years of hunting memories have passed since that November. Where has the time flown?)