I wrote the following piece today to present to my writing group. Enjoy!
I’m not ashamed to say I am a hunter. I am a grantor of dignity to those creatures God has sprinkled throughout the planet, and I am on the hunt for that perfect shot.
As the sun winks its single eye over the eastern mountain edge, I can see the faint tracks through the still grass. The sun, just winking briefly before, now starts its daily rebirth into the sky; a stunning miracle not often evidenced by the urban masses anymore. Only those of us who still wish to live by the natural rise and fall of earth’s breath bear witness to this renewing birth of glory.
This narrow edging of light at an angle that shows the dew’s absence from tracks won’t last long, but it will show me clearly as a flashing strobe the path I need to follow. Most people don’t know how to read the signs, but I can show you through my eyes.
As the sun probes its fingers through the trees and brush with a soft glowing touch, the light frost and dew glow as if lit by inner warmth. Where the slight moisture has leapt up to cling to the passing legs of some warm blooded beast, I can follow not muddy prints or bent foliage – but a trail depicted by the absence of the dew. Where dew has kissed those legs, behind remains a trail for me to follow. With only a few brief moments of perfect light and angle, I swiftly let it lead my eyes in the direction my feet will soon follow. I can see a wider spot where my prey has paused, shuffling it’s hooves, maybe, perhaps to sniff the air and check its back trail for danger before proceeding onward. At first the tracks bear straight on, then suddenly they veer right to hug the welcoming shadows cast by trees and shrubs.
As a hunter, I am important to nature; I complete and pass on the circle of life. Without the presence of hunters, there could be needless suffering – and death can be slow, brutal and unheralded – leave taking with no glory.
I know this area as I am not wandering blindly after the deer; but following through to a sunlit hillside I have scouted the past few days. I’ve seen the herd here before along with the signs they’ve left for me to follow. It’s as if they’ve been drawing upon the earth a treasure map for me to follow through with a promise of the perfect treasure buried deep in the woods. The males are not yet in full blind rut, so they still are allowed to hang as guards on the outskirts of the herd. Magnificent specimens with broad chest and lordly tines keep watch over the does, spikes and a few late born fawns.
As the trees gently shed their teary drops of dew onto my shoulders, I push through the shadows along the trail; careful to keep my step soft and my prey off to one side. I see where the tree line breaks and the trail beckons me up to and over the rocky edge of a ridge – then directs my eyes down into a waking grassy valley where my prey have drifted to feed. I stop often to listen, drawing in deep the crisp clean air and appreciating the colors and fall of shadows draped across the landscape. The area provides music to my soul and I savor the flavor of earth on my taste buds.
As I proceed through the stands of wood, I’m careful to keep both my breath and step soft so as not to disturb the pastoral scene. I proceed slowly and carefully so I don’t get out of breath or trip on a tricky root. My breath clouds in my face, only to disappear into the nothingness of the mist that hangs still in the air. If the deer hear me stumble or even labor in my breath, they will flee away quickly before I’ve captured my prey perfectly in my sights for the shot. I don’t want to stumble upon them and lose this moment I’ve long planned and prepared for.
I almost lose my track as the trail turns rocky and mists serve up strange shapes and distractions. I have to be more careful so as not to twist an ankle or tumble a stone and make sounds that would alert my prey to my presence. Their sense of smell too is much keener than mine and I must take extra care that a slight breeze might come up and waft my scent towards them.
Slowly, I still myself and study the map painted on the landscape; sure that I will be able to once again puzzle out the trail to the treasure that awaits me below. I look about me and finally find a spot where the rocks and leaves are disturbed, the lighter patch of dry ground shows up, clearly ringed by darker leaves and stones that retain a spot of moisture and show me that X does indeed mark the trail where something has descended – sure footed – into the mists. Further along, droppings and a dark spot mark where some animal had stopped to urinate on the trail. I smell them now, that unique mucky odor with a slight bitter tang that leaves a bite on the back of my tongue.
I feel like I am one with the woods and its wild life – alone, but also surrounded and embraced by life. You can’t get this feeling in the city where odors are more often a stench and the whisper of leaves covered by the electrical hum and jarring cacophony of our daily lives. With their acute senses, deer can spot movement on the horizon and although I’ve taken care to camouflage my self, they may still see my outline were they to look up the hill at their back trail.
Dropping to my knees, I quickly uncap the lense on my scope so the movement won’t be detected just prior to my shot. On knees and elbows, I make my way to a spot I’d cleared on prior scouting. I had previously cleared most of the dead rustly leaves and rocks that may click together at the slightest touch and send a betraying sound. I’d hoped the animals had stopped near the same grassy edges of a wet meadow where I’d spotted them before.
Gently, I part the wild grasses before me and to my relief, I spot the herd. The closest of the bunch are less than 200 yards away – an easy shot. I hold my breath as one of the bucks, a majestic 12 pointer, glances in my direction. I am so close I can see the light reflected in the moisture of that very dark eye. He settles then, taking a step away, and I slowly, soundlessly let out the breath I had been holding. A breeze is kicking up and for a moment, my eyes tear. A few rapid blinks clears them and I smile at my good fortune that the wind is in my face; blowing my unfamiliar scent back up to the ridge and away from the deer.
The large buck is now off by himself at the edge of the meadow, with his broad side presented to me as if he were modeling for a center fold. I frame him in my sights, but hesitate to take that first shot as I know the slightest sound will scare them all away. I hold my breath – position my finger – and CLICK! All heads pop up and the buck jerks as I take the shot. Now spooked, the herd dashes off, followed by the graceful leap of my treasure buck. I quickly snap a few extra shots off with my camera and say a blessing that I’ve captured what I know will be a perfect photo.
My freezer back home is full and my trophy will be in print, so there is no need for me to make any kill of these beautiful woodland denizens. Today, I’ve captured their dignity on film and I can return home comfortable with the beauty I’ve witnessed today. I can feel the peaceful chill in the air and return home happy to my family, my dogs and warm cozy fire.