This article was first published December 13, 2018, at sportingclassicsdaily.com.
The sun is setting on a brilliant hunting career. Though his big game hunting bag isn’t particularly mixed, it is well stocked. A couple of pronghorn antelope, one empty elk tag. Maybe a hundred deer across a forty year career, many of which were bagged when whitetails were much harder to come by than they are now.
Trophies were well and truly earned in the dawn of his career, back when even seeing a deer was cause for celebration. Empty sits and lonesome seasons passed by on nothing but 2x4s wedged into the crooks of crooked oaks. Camouflage wasn’t insulated then. Heck, camouflage wasn’t even camouflaged. Red plaids hung in the corners of most closets. There were no pop-up blinds or climbing stands or trail cameras or scent eliminators. And how many times was he forced to walk for help after burying his truck up to the axles in those days before he could afford something with four-wheel drive?
Arthritis ended his archery career a decade ago, and he quit rifle hunting from tree stands a year or two later, afraid that a misstep might result in a broken hip. His leg doesn’t swing as easily over a four-wheeler as it once did, and he doesn’t like to hunt evenings anymore for fear that his failing eyesight might miss a blood trail. Not after he couldn’t find that big browtined buck shot at last light a few years back. He’s more concerned these days with a warm tent and good camp fare than he is with filling a tag.
At least, that’s what he’d have us believe.
As much as he talks about working to put his sons and his grandsons on deer, dad sure didn’t hesitate to shoot the buck that bounded in on him and my brother a couple of years ago. Sharing a blind the last weekend of Oklahoma’s black powder season, the two of them were watching a trio of feeding does when a mature eight point rolled in and scattered them like bowling pins. Dad snapped off a shot, filling the blind with smoke and hope. At the report of his rifle, my other brother and I, sharing a blind of our own a couple of hundred yards away, came running, and the four of us scanned the scene for evidence of a hit. There wasn’t a blood trail to track, but dad was confident he’d made a good shot on the deer so we fanned out for a grid search. Minutes later the whitetail was found, and the high-fiving began. Details of the hunt were recounted and then subtly embellished. Knives were pulled from sheaths and shirtsleeves were rolled up for work. My brother had just taken a knee next to the deer when Dad, still running his hands along mahogany colored main beams, looked up and across the whitetail’s carcass and said, “I’m sorry, son. Did you want to shoot this deer?”
The sun may be setting on a brilliant hunting career, but as hunters well know, those last few rays of sunlight, those final moments before darkness falls – well, that’s the magic hour.