Yesterday’s howling wind has subsided to a crisp breeze, and the storm that blasted the North Country with threats of five-six-seven inches of snow has huffed itself out, leaving only two, maybe three inches of accumulation and a few foot-deep drifts. The dawn sky is crystal clear on this second-to-last day of the firearm season for deer, and the part of my brain that believes I am still thirty years old is insisting that I bundle up in layers of polypropylene and wool and go afield.
But the thermometer on the deck reads minus-two degrees Fahrenheit at sunrise this December morning and my body, still stiff from yesterday’s three-mile still-hunt through the woodlands, will have none of it. “Take three ibuprofen, drink a couple cups of coffee, put your cold feet up by the woodstove, and in an hour we can discuss this,” my aching shoulders, back, and hips advise me. I don’t argue.
Time is running out. If I don’t shoot a deer today or tomorrow we will have to rely on the generosity of friends to provide us with venison for the coming year. I do not remember a year I did not take at least one deer since we moved onto our North Country farm more than three decades ago. I glance at my “trophy display,” a knick-knack shelf that holds brass centerfire rifle cases, arrow broadheads, cloth patches and round balls for a traditional muzzle-loading rifle, and gas-check-skirted conical bullets for an in-line muzzle-loader – each representing a deer I have taken. But it is a collection of memories, not a diary, so it holds onto its secrets about years and months and days.
At least one deer each year. But not this year, so far, with two days remaining.
There is a slim chance I can take a deer if I hunt with the bow after the firearms seasons are over, but I have had scant success with late December bow hunts. The pressures of the gun season have made the deer almost entirely nocturnal in their movement and feeding patterns by then, and the weather has become so cold that I cannot tolerate more than thirty or forty minutes of predatory purchase in a tree stand. Over the years I have taken but one deer in the late bow season, more by luck and happenstance than by hunting skill, and that was from a ground blind where I sat shivering until the last glow of evening’s light.
But hope and daydreams smolder and catch fire through the morning hours as the temperature rises to double digits, and body aches diminish as I force myself through some flex-and-stretch exercises. When my fingers can manage it, I feed some .44 Magnum cartridges into the magazine of a lever gun, slip the sheath of my deer knife onto my belt, pull on two pair of heavy wool socks, and convince myself I can sit at the top of the west bluff the last two hours of the day, watching over a logger’s skidder trail the deer have occasionally been using as a secondary highway to a bean field. The northwest wind will be in my favor – and in my face. Even if a deer does not come within range, seeing the winter sunset will be reward enough for my effort and pains.
One more dose of ibuprofen, one more cup of coffee. I can do this. I can do this.
More essays and stories about life in the North Country are published in my six collections of essays, available through Amazon.com at Jerry Johnson Author Page