As the buck rises from its bed in the underbrush 40 yards away, every cell in my body decides to attempt a jailbreak. I’m in my hunting stand, 24 feet up a tulip poplar, where I’ve been concealed for four hours waiting for a deer to pass. And this one has been right in front of me the whole time. I would like to come to my feet, but my legs are shaking too hard.
This is my third autumn spent trying to kill a deer with a bow and arrow, and this is the closest I’ve come. At 40 yards, I see the nap of its hair lying in one direction along its back, the opposite along its shoulder. The buck, a five-pointer, standing now, drops its antlered head almost to the ground and stretches its entire body. And then it freezes. It becomes a lawn statue. A minute later, when it reanimates and ambles out of sight, I’m devastated. But in hunting, you don’t move without a good reason. And a broken heart doesn’t qualify.
What I love about hunting, despite my lack of success, is how it makes everything matter in a way it didn’t before. Wind — to which I was indifferent — becomes a matter of life and death. A deer downwind of you will scent you — “bust you” is the hunter’s term — and be gone before you ever see it. Conversely, if the deer is upwind, you’re still in business. Unless, of course, the wind shifts.