The Last Hunt

I took a break from this for awhile, giving myself a summer break (Kind of) but I have been working on mostly short stories for contests, publishers and even some fun blog posts I have coming in September. I have been writing for this short story club and it has been going very well this summer. I have plenty to bitch about (It is what I do) but I am at a good place with everything right now….which usually means I just Jinxed myself. Either way, this is a true story I penned because it is the 10 year anniversary since my grandpa John Rudisill (We called him Poppy) has passed away. So this has felt the most fitting…….Yes this story is about hunting, and I will not debate it, (Which I could) but I will not today………….

It is always a surprise to the people I meet that I hunt deer. I guess it’s because of my style, from the way I wear my hair, clothes, interests, friends, hobbies, and the tattoos littered around my body. For the exception of my family, I associate with no one else that deer hunts. My father, one uncle, one cousin, and most of all my grandpa were the only other hunters I know. Growing up, a lot of kids learned to play soccer or baseball, but my dad took me fishing, taught me how to blood trail deer, skin beaver, shoot guns, and the art of archery. 

 My Grandpa had been hunting for many years. I am not sure how many, and I doubt anyone does know the exact amount of  years. I do not even have a clue how many deer he harvested. I know some stories that he told me over the years. Some of my oldest memories are following him out to the barn with my dad and watching them skin deer, eventually I learned to help, until the day I was hanging my own deer up in the same barn. 

Ten years ago I was in the kitchen at my family’s old farm talking to my Grandpa. I asked him if he was ready for the upcoming deer season. “Nope, I am giving it up.” I found that odd, but I didn’t question it. I remember wondering if my own dad would give it up in 20 or 30 years. I told him, “Well I have two tags this year. I plan to get a deer with my bow, and I will get a second one with my gun. I’ll get one for you.” 

I left moments later and I heard him say, “See ya later Tyler.” What I never told anyone was how I felt walking to my truck. Dread. His retirement from deer hunting felt like the end for him. Deer hunting was such a big deal growing up, and he was giving it up. Everything felt cold. 

That was the last time I saw him. He unexpectedly died a few days later. 

Two and a half months had passed and the bow season for deer hunting was in full force. The hunt was going well into mid November. My dad had taken a doe earlier in the week. About two days before the gun season I got my first buck with a bow. Prior years, all my deer hunting experiences had been with a gun. This was my first bow kill, and I wish I could have told my grandpa, but I was sticking to my word. I was going to get a second deer that weekend. With a gun, but not with any gun, my Grandpa’s gun. The same one he killed many deer with before. 

The gun was a shotgun, equipped with a slug barrel to be used for deer hunting. It is a Mossberg 12. Gauge semi-auto shotgun, with a scope. A semi-auto shotgun doesn’t require a pump action. It fires like a cannon and shoots the spent shell out on its own. It is a wicked gun and when you shoot the gun kicks you so hard in the shoulder it could be sore the next day. I went into that weekend without taking a single shot with it. 

My dad and I were staying in a machine shed secret cabin in the woods with a few other hunters. The night before, we picked where we were sitting and the sleep came late, and I rose early, well before the sun even saw itself break through the eastern sky. It was a crisp quiet morning. My dad and I trekked into the dark woods until we came to separate. He went to a smaller stand farther out and I took the two man stand about 30 yards from a wild clover field that deer were known to pass through. I climbed up the stand, paying attention to the morning frost that formed across the metal rungs of the ladder. Decked out in camo and my orange colors I took my position in the tree and five minutes later loaded my Grandpa’s gun for the first gun hunt of the 2010 season. 

The spirit of the woods is an old friend at this point. Peace within a serenity that only can be experienced in person. No longer are you a person, you have joined the circle of life. You are not in nature, you are nature. You now become the predator you can be, doing your part in something that is much more honorable than eating meat from a slaughterhouse. 

 The cold could slip in between the cracks of my clothing, but I disregarded it. The cold was part of the hunting experience, and the cold was a piece you learned to adapt to you. A slight breeze came from the clover field and my breath was clouds of smoke. The morning was coming and I watched the faint light begin to illuminate the green clover. I became alert of the sound of footsteps in the dead leaves that surrounded the tree I was in. A trick developed by squirrels to give the illusion of a deer trotting through the trees. Silence again. Time to play the waiting game., all the whileI kept my gun and eyes focused on the clover field. 

The waiting game came to an abrupt stop and I felt my heart skip as I saw the dark head of a deer peek out of the brush, smelling the air, but kept its head down on the clover. It was a doe, and she crept out into the field. I placed her within my scope to get a good look at her. I could tell without my scope that she was too young. I already had a deer bigger than her, and I had no intentions of taking a fawn. 

She fed eagerly in the clover, her head down and walking slowly towards the other side. I watched her the whole time, and abruptly another doe came from the brush, following the one in front. I focused on her and saw the slim frame and decided to let this one go as well. It was not good enough. Both deer descended back into the woods, and I assumed the excitement was over for now, but I was wrong. 

That is when I saw her. Tall, thick and much older than the other does. She crept out of the brush slowly, her head up more than down. She was mature, she was smart, but the best part was she couldn’t smell me, I was down wind. Older deer are wise. They trust their nose better than anything. There is a reason they live to this age. I have never taken a doe that big before. This was it, this was my shot, and it was for my grandpa. 

Focusing the scope behind her shoulder, I was aiming for the heart, while my own was speeding up in my chest. Every feeling in my body was numb as I clicked the safety off the gun. I wrapped my left index finger around the cold trigger and I kept my focus on the deer. When she was perfectly centered in the clover field, I made a sound to stop her in her tracks. Using my best impersonation of a doe in heat, I grunted hard and blaring for every critter within a hundred yard radius to hear. The doe’s head shot towards me, staring into the dark of the woods, looking for the sound, like this imposter deer that was hidden in a tree with a gun pointed at her. The doe raised it’s whitetail  and her nose worked the air. This was my moment. The deer for my Grandpa that had died over two months before. 

I tried to pull the trigger, and nothing happened. 

I froze in fear. The gun didn’t go off. I checked the safety and I know I loaded the gun. I took my face away from the scope and looked at the gun in fear. The doe grew nervous, possibly seeing me move in the tree. I could feel her black eyes on me, trying to figure me out. I had seconds before she would run. 

A sound occurred. As to where this sound originated from is still a mystery to myself. Was it from the woods or was it from my own brain?  What I heard was my Grandpa laughing. I refocused my gun, focusing back behind the doe’s shoulder to make a quick shot. I had no choice and this time I pulled the trigger, with a wicked amount of pressure, putting all my finger’s strength into it. I pulled the hell out of that trigger and the gun exploded. 

By exploded I mean the deafening crack of the shell going off and traveling out of the barrel, the stock of the gun slamming into my shoulder, the gun nearly jumping out of my tight grip, but my eyes focused on the deer and the black hole I saw in the side of her. She ran into the woods, disappearing the brush, but I heard the leaves and sticks shatter under her weight as she ran down a hill, then rolled to an abrupt stop. She was down, she had to be. Dead in seconds, a clean kill. She had to be. I couldn’t see her but I could feel it in my bones. I saw the dark hole in her, where the slug went in. 

My shell had ejected on its own and flew down into the leaves below. I sat back in my stand, pulling the gun into an embrace. Feeling the adrenaline work its way through my blood. I began to spit venom, each shot labeled in a curse word at the dumb luck. The trigger was tight and nearly cost me the hunt. I radioed my dad and the other hunters. All the while I kept my cool. When you believe you have hit a deer you have to give it some time after a shot. You don’t want to push the deer too hard. Let it die peacefully, which in a perfect world it would only take a few seconds. One of the first rules of hunting is to not let the animal suffer. A clean kill is what you should always aim for. 

When the time was right, I got out of the tree, collected my spent shell so I wouldn’t litter, then I walked to the clover field. When she went back into the woods she vanished from sight. The first thing I did was look for a trace of blood or hair in the clover. I couldn’t find any. I felt my heart skip for a second. Usually there is always some sign but I couldn’t even see a deer print in the dirt. I knew I hit her, and I looked in the area where she ran. No blood, I spied nothing, no sign she even existed. 

My mouth became venomous like it can be from time to time. Spitting words of anger. I got on the radio and called my dad who was getting out of the tree to help me find her, if I even hit her at all. He is always good at tracking.  Finding deer blood for my dad is easy. His eyes are by far worse than mine, even to this day, but he could find deer hair in any brush pile. The smallest drop of blood he could spot on any leaf. 

When he arrived, I showed him the location where I shot her. I explained everything from how the whole hunt went and how I couldn’t find a sign. Neither could he. He asked me the same questions over and over again. I was spitting venom again, feeling my anger. I had this day circled forever. I had to get another deer. I promised myself I would harvest him a deer. I know he would never see it, nor eat it, but every feeling in my bones made me want to do it. I tried not to feel discouraged, but it was hard not to. I knew I hit her, I said it again and again. 

My dad walked the edges of the wild brush and looked down the hill on the other side. 

“There she is.” He calmly said, pointing down by a tree. Laying on her side sat my deer, sprawled in a pile of leaves, her back fur blended into the November leaf cover, her white belly is what gave her away. I never noticed her, but of course my dad did. 

I nearly drowned in a wave of relief. I walked down the hill, to tag her, making her my legal hunt. All the while I saw my grandpa’s face smiling. We noticed that my quick shot was not perfect, it went through the bone of her shoulder, and hit her vitals. She died in seconds but bled internally, which is why we couldn’t find any blood.  After the process of gutting, skinning, and having her prepared for the meat locker. I took my gear off, ate a mountain of food and fell into a deep dreamless sleep. The most comfortable I had been in awhile.

I went back out again, to help my dad drag out the nice buck he took. I did sit in the treestand again, with a video camera taping the deer that passed by. It was all something to pass the time. As I sat in the tree I thought about my grandpa. “I did it.” I kept whispering to myself. Then, finally I cried. A mix of grief and the fulfillment hit me all at once. I had not cried since the day he died back in September. I didn’t even cry at his funeral. This hunt was all that mattered. It was the closure I needed. 

I have hunted many times since. Sometimes I get a deer, and sometimes I don’t. It is all a part of hunting. One thing I find interesting is that I have never harvested a doe since that day. It is not for a lack of trying, I have, but always miss, which is odd because I have hit every buck I have shot at in the last 10 years. It is either dumb luck or maybe I am not meant to hunt does anymore. 

For several years I have never known what to believe in this world. I have never come to the conclusion that anything divine even exists, but on that day, during that hunt, I still feel like I wasn’t the only one sitting in that tree stand. His gun still goes with me to this day. I guess it is really my gun now. It will be out with me again this November. This was the last doe I killed, on the last hunt I did on that land. It truly did become the last deer for my grandpa. It truly was his last hunt. 

Me as a two year old!

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