My husband Tim spent an unseasonably warm October hunting, scouting, stalking and, ultimately, not seeing many deer. The final verdict: The deer weren’t moving.
So, one morning, on a whim, I left a little sticky note for him on the mirror. I wrote, “Get a big buck!”
Simple. To the point. And magical, as it turned out.
I was in carline to pick up Nelson from a half-day of school when my phone buzzed.
“I just shot a big one!”
I felt a little zing: the note.
I called him. It was a 7-point. It was a clean shot and the deer hadn’t gone far, maybe 100 yards. He wanted me to bring the boys to track with him. We were to get over to hunting camp, pronto.
As I rounded up the boys from school, and I greeted them the only way I could. With a “long, long, short!”—the traditional horn blasts sounded when the successful hunter got back to his truck and signaled the others to come track a deer.
So, there it was. A perfectly timed half-day of school and me with just enough hats and mittens strewn in the back of the car to keep us all alive and warm. We didn’t even bother to go home first. We went straight to hunting camp and arrived to a chorus of hunters saying: It was the note!
We all piled into two pickup trucks and headed into the woods to begin tracking. The blood trail was strong, and within minutes, Tim called out “Tally Ho!” when the deer was spotted.
It was a quiet moment. It always is.
So we can make sure the deer is actually dead and not going to spring up and run between me and my mother-in-law like that one year.
They then began the business of gutting the deer. Tim had puked while helping his dad the first time many years ago, and bets were made on which of our boys would be the first to follow in their father’s footsteps.
This time, no one puked. It was a great addition to the hunting skills they’ve already garnered. While our boys don’t hunt on their own yet, they have learned to scout deer, to stalk, to sit, to listen, to see.
They’ve begun to understand how nature works. They’ve seen where food comes from, and what it means to harvest an animal, to do more than buy it from a grocery store. The older they get, the more I love seeing how they walk through the woods, how they react to the wildlife. There’s a respect for both the land and the animals that can only be learned by being out there in it.
I, too, learned from my father. One of the first times he ever took me hunting, I remember watching a doe walk into the clearing by his stand, a low-lying camouflage wall of sticks and ferns we’d built together. My father looked at me and waited, his bow in his lap.
I shook my head, no!
He breathed, Oh, honey, but he let the deer pass.
He told the story to my mother at dinner, and she wasn’t surprised. He had yet to make a man out of his daughter.
The next season, though, my father shot a buck when I was with him during rifle season. We tracked it, gutted it and dragged it to the house to hang in the pole barn. He made me help him skin it and butcher it, a harrowing chore I will never forget. Now, years later, I know why he made me do it (besides saving $ on having it processed, that is).
As we’d approached the house from across the field that day, my mother’s car was pulling out of the driveway. My father waved at her, pointing to his prized buck dragging behind the four-wheeler.
My mother honked and waved.
Dad waved back. So happy!
She took a right and headed to the mall.
This caused a years-long debate in the family: Had she not seen the deer (her story) or was she blind (his story)?
Another time, I sat with Tim bowhunting in the woods on my grandparents’ farm in the UP. At dawn, we had four does come in and walk all around us, their thin legs puncturing the snowpack on the ground. They were close enough to touch.
Tim did not shoot; we did not move.
We left that weekend without a deer, but we’d gotten what we’d come for in a different way.
And it’s experiences like this, each time, that have changed me. In all my time in the woods, I’ve seen the beauty of nature, the ferocity, too.
I am happy to know that this tradition is being carried on. Because our boys left the woods that day changed too.
And when we were all home for the night, Tim gave us the full story on how the hunt unfolded. We decided it still came down to my magical note. Regardless of Tim’s countless hours of scouting and years of hunting, I was sure of it.
And so were his buddies. I spent the next day fielding requests to write them all magical notes too!