“I did my waiting! Twelve years of it!” – Sirius Black
Few adults have a great deal of friends left from high school, unless you live in a smaller town. Even fewer adults have a friend left from kindergarten. I’m lucky enough to have Taylor. We’ve been hunting buddies and best friends since the ripe old age of six, and there are more stories than days left in our lives. From backyard squirrels, to out of state pheasant hunts, we have chased it all. Or, most of it. Taylor never went deer hunting. It all came to an end in 2016 when Taylor chose to spend his first deer camp with his new girlfriend instead of a guy he had known for sixteen years. I wasn’t mad, but I was and he’s stupid.
Rightfully so, they saw no deer. There has to be an unspoken rule that the man who betrays a lifelong hunting partner for a woman sees no deer. Probably biblical. Instead, I shared the stand with another great friend, who harvested his first deer less than an hour into opening morning. The messages and slander ensued, and I made Taylor promise that he would join us in the stand the following year. After months and months of constant texts and calls to make sure he was coming, I got the message that gave me the final nod of hope.
“I just bought my tag!”
I’m sure some of you can relate, when you spend $17 on anything, it’s basically a blood oath. Money doesn’t grow on trees.
For the next two weeks, I barely slept. I spent more time preparing for this hunt than any I had ever been on. I bought new binoculars, a new backpack, and still didn’t feel like I had enough. When the time finally came, I was hoping for a fairy tale. I pictured a deer walking out around 7:40am, through the same grove of trees that I had watched for years. I saw the shot, the buck jump, and the hero pictures after. It was all planned out. And then, hunting happened.
The three of us got to the stand around 5:40, and I climbed first. I had come in the day before and hung a climber above my two man permanent stand. I carried no gun, I was there to watch my friends harvest their first and second deer. Sunrise came quick, and I had never been so awake in the stand. My morning ritual had always been the same. It involved climbing into the stand, getting set up and safe, and then taking a nap until daylight. That day, I was wide awake. I watched the light give birth to shadows, and the grass was moved by a dark, familiar mass. It was a deer, and I was sure this meant good things were coming. The deer was a spike, and nothing much to write home about. I KNEW that my friends were going to kill a good deer. Instead, we saw nothing for the next two hours, and even then it was eight hundred yards away. I was shocked. My stand always produced. And when it mattered, I had nothing.
Our farm isn’t really known for the morning sits, so I had hope for the evening. The three amigos were in the stand quickly after breakfast, back in the tree by 11. In the time before we saw the first deer, we took two rotations of nap breaks. Around 3:30, we saw 4 deer run across the same field we saw the second deer of the day, too far to shoot. I decided to stretch my legs one more time before 4, and the action really picked up.
At the end of my stretch break, I turned around to see 3 does standing in the field behind our tree. I told the guys, and they were both eager to shoot. Ethan is a meat hunter, and Taylor was ready to fill his first tag. I told Taylor his shot was first, and that he got to make the call. He could take the doe, or wait and see if something with antlers walked out. He chose to wait it out, and he was rewarded quickly. In an adjacent field, the spike from the morning and a doe were walking towards us. Taylor wanted a deer with antlers, and nature had set the plan in motion. I had seen deer walk the same path time and time again. They would enter the front field at a 45 degree angle to us, and would cross into the short green grass between 100 and 125 yards. I told Taylor where, and to be ready. The spike covered the ground quickly, unaware that he was the quarry of a predator deadlier than any other. The Remington .308 thundered.
The hunt was complete. Nothing else mattered. My friend had his first deer. It wouldn’t go on a wall. It wouldn’t be toted around camp as the monster of the weekend. Yet, that deer meant more to me than the 12 point bruiser hanging on my wall. And it always will.