I used to be a whole lot skinnier when I was 14. I could not have weighed more than a buck thirty with all my hunting gear on. Now, even though I look back with fondness on being able to run all day on the soccer field, I remember that the Pennsylvania buck season in early December was cold and rough with no meat on my bones.
We lived in a log cabin amongst the pines and the forest began right out my back door. There were several miles of rolling hills and hollows behind the house and my family had permission to wander and hunt through the different seasons. My father took up hunting when I turned 13, and the memories that we created together still keep me company after these many years. I can remember faithfully following him through the woods trying to keep quiet, but my oversized hunting clothes and many layers made the task almost impossible. It took me several seasons to really become comfortable in the woods and to learn patience enough to sit in a hunting stand until mid morning.
In the buck season of 1997 , I remember hunting with my dad, my best friend at the time, and his father. We had just spent a very cold morning waiting for that big buck to come walking by but to no avail. The opening morning gunshots echoing through the miles of hillsides had alerted every deer in the county that it was time to find a warm bed and hang tight. Our normal game plan was to sit on opening morning and then have a couple hunters sit, while the others took a walk and tried to drive deer in the hunter’s direction.
Being the runt that I was, I liked to get up and walk around to try and get my blood pumping and try and get warm, but for whatever reason, the group convinced me to sit with my back up against a large oak and wait for the drive to hopefully get the deer moving my way. So there I sat, freezing, fidgeting, and fearing that the group would walk by me or whatever a 14 year old thinks while alone in the cold woods. As my mind began to wander, I heard the unmistakable snapping of twigs and crunching of snow and looked up to see a group of does barreling by me at a high rate of speed followed closely by a small buck. Slowing to a trot, the deer began to look around and ultimately disappear into heavier cover. The last deer to exit would have been the small buck and almost as he was ready to leave he stopped to take one look at me.
The thud of the .270 slamming into my shoulder and the smoke launching from the barrel blasted the silence. In shock, almost disbelieving the previous moments events, I leapt to my feet and saw the small whitetail buck expire in the snow. The shuddering and shaking commenced as my knees turned to jelly in the tell-tale fashion of buck fever. My father and company appeared from out of the woods and backslaps and handshakes were plentiful.
I can still remember the weight of the heavy gun on my skinny shoulder and the feel of the fur before I field dressed the deer. There is no real way to explain to a non-hunter the elation, reverence, and honor that comes with harvesting your first deer. It is something that I will never forget. I look back on the picture of the 14 year old who does not know what life has in store for him and there is no way to tell him how life is going to turn out or what is coming his way. In that moment life is simple and easy and I do not want to break that spell.