Hunter's Heart

For some reason I always sleep well the night before the hunt. I guess it is because I know I have a morning ahead that requires extreme alertness and unity with my surroundings. Those who don't hunt cannot understand the ecstasy with which we enjoy the outdoors. The burning in your lungs as you inhale your first breath of cold air outside the camp. That sting in your toes that reminds you that you forgot an extra pair of socks. The awe-filled gaze covering your face as you stare at the stars with no lights from the city to dirty their beauty. Those few moments in the stand right before sunrise when every shape and every twig snapping is a massive antlered buck trying to slip past you.

Then daylight comes and the woods erupt with the sounds of nature undisturbed. Not a creature knows you are there except the aggravated squirrel barking in the tree next to you. Acorns fall and sound just like hooves crunching years of leaves on the ground. You start to settle in because now the hard part of hunting begins. You must sit still. Any motion might give away your presence. You must endure every mosquito bite and every itch and the numbness in your fingertips creeping up your hands. For hours on end you are part of nature. You are nature. Where God intended you to be.

You start to doze off due to the lack of activity. Just before you close your eyes you catch a glimpse of white, which slowly disappears. Thinking you just saw the white on a deer's neck you sit upright. Suddenly, a cloud of vapor arises from just inside the thicket bordering the oak flat you are hunting. Knowing exactly what it is, you raise your rifle to your shoulder and focus on the image presented to you in your scope. No sign of a deer, so you wait for movement. Was that the flick of an ear? The glint of antler in the sunlight?

With extreme care, the wide racked deer makes his way through to the edge of the woods. Years of trial and error have taught this deer not to jump out into the open without first checking for signs of danger. After standing still for five minutes surveying the surroundings, he begins to feed on acorns, slowly making his way to the shooting lane to your left. Perfect southpaw you think as you slide your gun onto the rail of the stand and train your scope where the deer will step out into the clearing. The seconds go by like hours. Your breath fogs your scope and you remove your face giving it time to disappear. As you move, the deer turns in your direction. Busted, you think, as he stares you down for what seems like eternity.

Content that nothing is amiss, the deer continues through the woods without a sound. That Same squirrel turns his attention to the deer and begins to bark loudly. You don't even hear him. The deer cranes his neck out into the lane just as he had done for seven years to check if that clump of wood put there by man is occupied. Nothing moves but he hears a faint clicking sound that didn't seem familiar. As you click the safety off you see the deer sense something is wrong. The deer has lived too long to let a careless mistake end his life. He obeys thousands of years of instinct and turns around and goes back home. As he turns and exposes his shoulder blade, a loud crack and a blast of light are the last thing he sees as he falls slowly to the ground with no pain at all.

All the woods are quiet. Nothing is moving or making a sound. You let out the breath you have been holding in for the last two minutes and rack the bolt and put another bullet in the chamber. You pick up your binoculars and sees wisps of heat escaping from the buck's wet nose. It doesn't sink in at first, and the adrenaline pumping through your veins from the excitement of the hunt has yet to wear off. Slowly, the sounds of the forest return, and you begin gaining the nerve to climb down and see the deer you have hunted for three years laying heavily on the forest floor.

As you approach the deer, the antlers grow in size. You fall to your knees next to the animal. As you stroke its neck, you remember all the scouting, work and unsuccessful hunts that culminated to this day. You trace everything back to the last moment the deer was standing, how he knew something wasn't right and turned back to the thicket. What you would give to put his feet back under him and watch him run through the oaks, tail held high. As you begin the walk back for the truck, your legs move with certain lightness, you find your way tenderly through the woods and don't make a sound.

You feel as that buck did when he haunted the forest, pride and power swelling in your chest. You try to remain humble as the guys back at the camp stare and make remarks at the size of the deer. The closest you can come to letting this deer run again is to hire a taxidermist to make him look as real as possible. But you realize it is the end to a hunt that lasted three years. You will continue to hunt, but with a different air about you. A sense of finality fills you on the way home. Each time in the woods will be different now. You will hunt as long as nature allows, because that is our instinct. No one can take that away from us, And no one will take that from us.

by: Kyle Roger

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