This article was first published December 11, 2017, at sportingclassicsdaily.com.
Nearly ten years ago, Oklahoma offered its hunters the option of checking their deer in online. Just a few years later, that was the only way a deer could be checked in. Many hunters voiced their dismay, arguing that poachers already had it too easy, but as my lifetime has spanned the advent of technology I knew the move was inevitable. Regretfully inevitable.
I can’t speak to the effects the move has had on the wildlife department’s budget or the increased ease with which poachers conduct their affairs, but I can say that I sincerely miss the days of a check in station.
Whether our hunt was successful or not, every trip to the deer woods in my youth was wrapped up with a stop at Lee’s Texaco Station in Horntown, Oklahoma. There, hunters would lean against their truck beds, hands jammed into their pockets, lying about what they’d seen and admiring every buck that was brought in. When a bloody tailgate pulled up, the blaze orange crowd would amble over to take a look and listen to the details of the hunt. I distinctly remember taking a moment to put my thirteen year old thoughts in order after killing my first buck, knowing the crowd at Lee’s would be waiting for my story.
I also remember living in mortal fear that I’d one day kill a buck big enough to mount. You see, in addition to counting points and weighing your deer, the good folks at Lee’s also pulled the bottom jaw out of every buck they checked in for aging purposes. Not understanding the mechanics of taxidermy, I had nightmares thinking that when I finally killed a wall hanger his majestic profile would be ruined thanks to a floppy lower lip.
The closest thing to the magic of a check-in station these days is a meat processor. I drive thirty minutes and pass three different butcher shops to have my deer taken care of, just for the atmosphere at Miller’s Processing, just for a glimpse of that fleeting magic. When the deer are moving, there’s generally a line at Miller’s six or seven pickups deep, allowing ample time to lie about what was seen and look longingly at what other hunters were lucky enough to shoot.
I don’t remember my first stop at Miller’s being especially memorable, but my second sure was. I’d driven down to pick up my processed deer, and what should’ve been a ten minute transaction with Mrs. Miller turned into an hour long conversation full of shared grief and faith and hope. I wrote her a check and hugged her neck, as thankful for the experience as I was for the meat.
Hunting, for me, is about spending good time alone, about reorienting myself to the world around me, but it’s also about spending good time with those who share my passion, about conversations and connections with my fellow outdoorsman.
See you soon, Mrs. Miller.