I took up archery hunting about four years back, mostly as a good excuse to hang out with my dad. We love to be together, and hunting has always been our way of hanging out. (Which reminds me that it's been a year or so since we have hunted together. Time to rectify that).
Anyway, I had been an archer of sorts when I was a kid, but I hadn't ever gotten around to getting a real bow when I became a man. Old reflexes quickly come back, and new bows are easier to shoot with than ever, but I hadn't actually ever gotten to full draw and shot at anything other than targets. For. four. long. years. This was the result despite having places to go and going regularly. There just never seem to be an opportunity when it all came together: seeing a deer, having it in range, and being able to get drawn and make the shot.
Well, all that changed this past Tuesday. It was about 8:45 a.m. and the woods had been quiet except for a coon ambling through at about 6:30, which I had been sorely tempted to shoot. It was not warm, and I was consequently starting to think about all the work awaiting me at the office and why I was, once again, sitting in an empty woods when I could have been getting something productive done. (It's nice to be in the woods, but if you're not seeing anything, it becomes harder to justify doing that when the mercury dips). So I decided I would stay in my stand another 15 minutes, then get down, swap out the disk in my trail camera, and head to work. About five minutes later, I see a grey blur down in the creek bottom. It's too big and the wrong color for a squirrel, but I can't see the whole animal. A minute later there's more movement, and I see a doe, and chasing her, a small buck.
My luck is changing, at least potentially. The doe runs up the hill toward the thicket where my stand is located, followed shortly by the buck. He loses her in the thicket, and for a while, I am catching glimpses of a deer behind me, though I cannot tell which one. A few minutes go by and the buck appears at the big scrape to my right. He is through the brush, and I have no clear shot, but while he is leaving his mark at the scrape, I stand slowly and prepare to shoot him. He hears the movement, and is on edge, but he can neither smell me nor see me move, so he simply stomps stiff legged and begins moving toward me. At 10 yards, he stops behind a small tree. His head is obscured, along with the rest of his body, but I can see his neck and front shoulder, so I get to full draw. After a long wait, he is still standing, unmoved from the spot. My injured left shoulder (long story for another time), is screaming at me to release the arrow. My brain is saying, "Wait. Wait for the lung shot. Aim small. Miss small." Eventually, the shoulder starts winning and tells the brain: "Neck is vital you idiot. SHOOT!" The arrow flies and buries itself nearly to the fletching at the base of the buck's neck. He runs and I see the crash as the laurels shake and the end comes. I wait the requisite 1/2 hour, using the time to text my hunting partner and my dear bride ("We've got meat for the winter, honey!"). We find the deer after a short track through the thicket, piled up near a log and looking for all the world like a trophy.
I haven't been this excited as a hunter since the first time I got a deer, out with my dad, some 25 years ago now. He's not the biggest one I've ever gotten, but he represents the end of a long road and for that, I find myself both excited and thankful.