Posted by: trevormeers | December 9, 2010

Blaze Orange Benediction

From the road, you wouldn’t have seen what happened, since it took place far back in the middle of a frozen corn field, down where the fence comes to a corner right along the icy shelves on the Boone River’s banks. You don’t see giant color photos of moments like this in the antler-obsessed hunting magazines or, for that matter, the anti-hunting diatribes. And even in the stories that come out of this deer season, the men who were there won’t bring it up. And that’s why I need to tell you about it here.

Russ and Bob celebrate the season's sixth--and final--batch of venison.

The season was three days old, and the six of us had five tags filled, one to go. I’d gone first, taking a doe from the tree stand on Larson’s ridge when the season was 10 minutes old. I tracked her a few yards through the snowy woods, then knelt, slung my shotgun over my back and felt the whisper of guilt. Not for harvesting a deer, a healthy way to stay grounded in a world that knows more about Lindsey Lohan’s court record than how dinner gets to our plate. Instead, guilt pricked me because the process was almost too quick. The afternoon before, I’d been in a downtown Des Moines office separated from a Starbucks  only by a sculpture park and library.  And now, 14 hours later, I’d bagged venison before the cold could even make my toes ache. Quick and efficient, the way of a guy who rolls in from another county to squeeze in hunting when his iPhone reminds him it’s opening day. Hoping to offset the sense that I’d just visited a woodland drive-up window, I lingered, noticing the doe’s tracks, the frost on the leaves, the trail other deer had beaten into the snow. Then I got to work. Five others in my party were still on the hunt, and now I would take a hand in helping them.

Two more deer came that day, a buck in Bob’s Corner (our most reliable spot) and a buck from the stand by the abandoned farm at Walker’s. Day Two went quiet, but by mid-morning of Day Three, we took another doe from Larson’s stand and one from the bottom ground along Otter Creek.

And that left the final tag. Under Iowa’s party-hunting system, one guy can fill every tag in a hunting party if it works out that way. But this year, each man had taken his own deer, and there wasn’t one of us who didn’t want to go six-for-six. That meant pushing a deer to Russ. He headed for Bob’s Corner, backed up by Bob himself, who tucked into the grass nearby at the newly christened Trevor’s Ambush (name origin tied to the legend of The Big Buck of ’08). The rest of us started hiking through the switchgrass and timber along the Boone River, hoping to bump something toward Russ’ gun.

Shots came from up the hill, far from Bob’s Corner. To be honest, I wanted to tag out, get in from the cold, find a hot sandwich in town. But I still hoped for a miss. The last deer should belong to Russ.

“Nothing!” came the shout from the switchgrass. “Keep pushing!”

I trudged on, into the heavy sumac thickets that pulled at my canvas pants and yanked the hat from my head. I found melted ovals in the snow where the deer had been sleeping—like warm campfire ashes to a tracker. Then, shots from Bob’s Corner. I waited. “It’s down!” came a yell, so I swung the gun onto my shoulder and began the uphill hike toward the corner. When I reached the field, I saw Bob and Russ standing over a deer. “I think they’re holding it by some antlers,” Drew said, but it was too far to tell for sure.

By the time Drew and I got there, Russ was nearly done dressing the 8-point buck. Russ had finished the season by putting his own tag on the finest buck of his life. There are plenty of bigger bucks, but few with a head with sharper lines and more elegant tines.

“Six guys taking six deer. We should be thankful,” Pat said.

“In fact, let’s do that right now,” Russ said. He laid down his knife and stood, while I instinctively pulled off my stocking cap. “If it’s OK, I’m going to leave my hat on; my hands are kind of bloody,” Pat said.

Then, on the cornfield frozen rocky hard, just up the hill from Bob’s Corner, the source of so many venison feasts, we all bowed our heads as Russ gave thanks. “We thank You for the opportunity to harvest these deer. We thank You for the safety. And we…” his voice cracked a bit in the cold wind. “We thank You for the friends to do this with.”

There are hunters who fit the negative stereotypes—all antler lust and trespassing. But I’ve had the good fortune to be around men who are something different. Men who will, as Bob once did, pass on a trophy buck standing 10 yards away because legal shooting time is still 10 minutes away. Men who took smaller deer this year, but can’t stop slapping their buddy on the back for wrapping up the season with his best deer ever. Men moved to hold an impromptu prayer meeting by a good day hunting.

As I listened to all of us laughing and telling stories in the truck that afternoon, a Carl Sandburg poem came to mind. In describing a fish seller, Sandburg wrote, “His face is that of a man terribly glad to be selling fish,/terribly glad that God made fish, and customers to/whom he may call his wares, from a pushcart.”

I know that look, because I walked out of the field with five other men who took a moment to tell God how terribly glad they are that He made whitetail deer.

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Responses

  1. Thank you, Trevor. Your posts almost always bring tears to my eyes and this was no different. What a blessing to hear the stories of God-fearing men in a world that can be so corrupt. Thank you!

  2. Thanks Trevor. Not often enough I catch myself being thankful. Just yesterday it dawned on me that more times than not I bring requests to my God and then move along satisfied when they are answered. I often remember to give thanks in the life-altering big things, but move along happily without a thought as to Whom is orchestrating even the smallest details that are indeed moments to be thankful. So neat to hear that you are surrounded by men of honor who have their priorities straight. And if you can give thanks for successful hunting seasons I don’t feel quite so crazy for thanking God for shopping malls and successful trips to such places 🙂 Have a great weekend!

  3. Great post, Trevor. I went deer hunting with my husband once (JUST ONCE! Note to women considering it – DON’T DRINK ANY COFFEE before you go – there’s no way to relieve yourself like guys can. And why didn’t anyone tell me that the temperature goes down about 10 degrees when the sun COMES UP?? Oh, and the barrel of a gun conducts the cold like nothing else on the face of the earth) and got a taste of the thrill that makes people do it over and over. A big doe came across the road into the timber where we were, towards me. I put my gun up to sight her in and started trembling like crazy. My mind was alternately screaming ‘SHOOT IT SHOOT IT! and ‘TURN AROUND, DOE GIRL AND RUN THE OTHER WAY!!!!’.

    It was one of the most bizarre experiences that I’ve ever had. But I get it now.

    I did get a shot off, but pulled up way too much and the shot was at least 10 feet over her head. I was both supremely disappointed and thrilled.

    Back when we were less civilized as a race, every hunt was started and ended with prayer. How glorious for you to have the chance to return to that!

  4. Nice. Enjoyed the story.


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