My first deer hunt (long read)

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Huh What
Huh What's picture
Joined: 08/21/2013

This is an autobiographical essay on my first deer hunt that
I wrote for an English composition class I had to take in college. This is the
way it happened, to the best of my memory, though it was 35 years ago. I was twelve at the time.



Snow had been falling since the previous evening, light and
fluffy, like wisps of cotton dropping from the gray sky. As I had crawled into
my sleeping bag, I could picture the flakes floating down, like paratroopers,
to join their compatriots on the ground. Each gave a little banzai shout as
they joined the assault. There were cars down there that needed to be stopped,
and these flakes were up to the job.


Sometime during the night, though, the sky had cleared, and
the temperature had dropped. Now, as I followed my father across the barren
meadow, through a white cloud of my own breath, virgin snow crunched under my
insulated winter boots. Above, the unnaturally clear sky was awash with stars,
and the northern lights writhed back and forth in brilliant streamers of color.
My father gave me a few minutes to marvel at it all through sleep encrusted
eyes before pushing me onward.


Each footstep seemed to echo in the pre-dawn silence, like a
blow from my father’s ax against the trunk of the old dead tree that had stood
behind the cabin until we had chopped it up for firewood. It seemed to me that
it was only my young steps that rang out, destroying the quiet, warning the
deer of our approach.


"Run," each crunch of my boots told the deer.
"Hunters are coming. Run and hide. Danger is near." From the
carefully neutral expression on my father's face when he glanced back at me, I
was sure that he agreed. I concentrated on walking as quietly as I could,
wincing each time the snow compressed beneath my boots. It was a Herculean task
made more difficult by the drifts of snow we had to navigate to reach the cover
of the trees. There we would find shelter from the biting wind. There we could
wait in ambush, hidden from the eyes of the forest critters.


This was what my father told me, and I believed him, despite
feeling completely conspicuous in my brand new, bright orange snowsuit. The
color was mandated by hunting regulations, so that other hunters wouldn't
mistake us for deer and shoot us. I couldn't understand how the deer could
possibly fail to notice us huddled down against the brilliant, white snow and
the dark green and brown of the fir trees.


"Deer are color blind," my father told me when I
asked him about it. I had my doubts, even though the orange clothes had been
required since before I was born and there never seemed to be a lack of
harvested deer loaded into the beds of pickups, and tied to the roofs of cars
headed south when the season was over.


I pondered this again while I followed my father to the
position he had selected for me; a stand right on the border between field and
forest. Not for the first time, I noticed how sinister the trees seemed, even
now, with the sky turning from black to deep blue, and a hint of rose along the


In southern Wisconsin, where we lived, the trees had actual
leaves that they dropped in the fall. During the summer the woods were dark and
shaded, providing cool refuge from the blazing sun. Come the fall, when the
trees shed their leaves in a blaze of color, the woods opened up, the light
spilling through the bare branches. It was as if the forest was trying to hold
onto every bit of the wan, winter sun, preserving a feeble memory of the lost


The northern forests, on the other hand, were mostly pine.
They were dark, foreboding and spiny, like ill-tempered porcupines. They never
dropped their needles, preferring to keep the secrets of the forests hidden
from the light of day. They put forth an aura of menace, seeming to say
"Keep away. There are things in here that you were never meant to
see." Even the snow didn't like the pine trees, quickly sliding from the
branches, falling to the ground below in great heaps.


During the summer, my parents were quick to warn us about
straying into the woods so far as to lose track of the forest road. To do so
was sure to leave us wandering lost until we died of thirst and starvation, or
a rescue party found us. Of course, if I believed my brother, there were worse
things in the woods than starving. His tales fed me a steady diet of lions, and
tigers, and bears, and it wasn't hard to believe while standing at the forest
verge, staring into the depths of the darkness.


A soft hiss caught my attention, reigning in my wandering
mind. My father stood, staring at me from beneath bushy, raised eyebrows.
Caught up in the memory of my brother's tales, and the aura of sullen
resentment from the forest, I had failed to notice my father stopping. I had
walked several steps past him. He sighed, quietly, and pointed to a large
outcropping of granite sticking up from under the snow.


"Stay low, keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth
shut. Don't fidget about," He whispered at me. It was advice I had heard
for the last six months, ever since I had expressed an interest in joining the
hunt, and my father had actually taken me seriously.


"I know," I said, much too loudly.


"Quiet. There are other hunters out here besides you.
They would like a chance at getting a deer." I felt my face turning hot
and red. He didn't wait for a reply. The sky was growing brighter, and he had
to get to his stand before it was light enough for him to be seen by the deer
when they moved from their beds to the field for breakfast.


I crouched down by the rock, wondering which direction I
should be looking, and if the cold I felt was real, or just an imaginary reason
to abandon the hunt. For a few minutes I could hear my father moving along the
edge of the trees, headed for a ridge several hundred yards away. It was the
prime deer stand, where a hunter would have a clear view of the field in both
directions. Any animal moving across the snow would stand out like a road flare
on a midnight highway. I was a little jealous of his stand, but he was the
oldest hunter, so he got first pick.


A twig snapped somewhere off to my right. Something was
moving back in the trees, though thick undergrowth kept it from my searching
eyes. Was it a deer? I doubted my luck ran to finding a deer a scant fifteen
minutes after plopping my butt down on the cold, snow-covered ground. I had
already resigned myself to seeing nothing at all, let alone finding a deer.


What else could it be, though? My older brother was
somewhere, vaguely, in that direction. He had been trusted enough by my dad to
make his own way to his stand. He had been long gone before I left the blessed
heat of the hunting cabin for the cold, dark, forbidding outdoors. He wouldn't
be out tramping about. At bare minimum, dad would smack him upside the head.
Hunters traditionally waited on stand in this neck of the woods. Moving about
was a good way to get shot at, orange suit or not.


We did have black bear in this area and, some said, grizzly
bears, though no one could actually say they had ever seen a grizzly, or one of
the elusive cougars that figured in fireside tales. I had never even seen a
black bear, though dad had pointed out tracks he attributed to them. I had no
idea what a bear track looked like. The tracks could have been left by Fido the
dog. My fevered imagination, though, had no problem picturing a huge, shaggy
shape rising out of the undergrowth, fixing me with a glare from glowing red
eyes before charging with an awful bellow of rage.


The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed that
it was a big, clumsy bear, all muscle and bad temper, rather than a graceful,
nervous deer. It was out there, waiting for me to lower my guard so that it
could ambush me. Years from now, a hunter would stumble across my bleached,
gnawed bones. I would be just one more victim of Ol' Silverback, the demon bear
of the north woods.


In the hopes of forestalling an attack, I hefted my rifle,
an old Trapdoor Springfield that was longer than I was tall, onto the rock,
bracing it, barrel pointed to where the creature would emerge from the trees
before it made its attack on me. My heart thumped wildly in my chest, my hands
shaking as I pulled back the massive hammer until the trigger clicked, locking
to the rear, ready for me to shoot in defense of my life. I knelt behind the
rifle, staring down the length of the barrel. I could feel snow melted by my
body heat begin to soak through my snowsuit.


"Come on, monster," I whispered. "Give it
your best shot. We'll see who gets who today." For a moment I could
picture the townsfolk gathered around the massive bear carcass, reaching out to
touch the dense fur. I would be the boy who killed the monster that stalked
their homes. Even my own imagination said to me "Who are you


I held my breath when I saw it cautiously emerge from the
trees, bit by bit, looking around. When it was sure it was alone, it moved into
view. Everything my father had told me was washed away in flood of adrenaline.
My finger smashed against the trigger as if my life depended on it. The rifle
bucked against my shoulder. It would leave a bruise that looked like I had been
walloped with a ball bat. Everything disappeared in a cloud of smoke.


On the ride home, I kept looking back at the trailer we were
towing behind the family jeep. I rather wished the cargo wasn't hidden by a
tarp so the other hunters, the ones who hadn't filled their tag, could feel a
little jealous. It wasn't the biggest buck ever taken in northern Wisconsin.
Other hunters might have passed it by, but it was my deer and it had my tag on


The local cafe had a tradition during the hunting season.
For successful hunters, breakfast was half price, and coffee was free. I didn't
even like coffee then, being only twelve years old. I tried not to let that
show when the waitress set down my plate of ham and eggs and filled my mug.


I like to think my father was proud of me that morning, that
things were a little different. I had filled my first tag, joined the other
hunters at the table, and gotten just a little older. By the end of breakfast,
the coffee tasted just fine.


Chris3755's picture
Joined: 08/02/2010
Good Essay

I was particularly interested in the old Springfield Trapdoor paragraph. I too once deer hunted with my grandfather's old Trapdoor and it was a real experience. Chris S 

Huh What
Huh What's picture
Joined: 08/21/2013
That was a father-son project.

My dad and I cast the bullets and loaded the black powder cartridges for it.

Chris3755's picture
Joined: 08/02/2010
Great Memories!

It's those times in our lives that make us remember the family bonds and how important they really are. Chris S