BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
Deer Grandma, Story Nine
The opening day of rifle season, 1999, was a warm and sunny one. David and I walked to the Four-Poster in midafternoon. He sat on the swivel chair, slowly moving his head so he could keep his eyes open for deer. I sat on a bucket, trying to watch the opposite direction, but my mind wanted to wander. It was David’s first hunt and it was the end of the century. Time for young people, like David, to look forward. Time for old people, like me, to reflect.
Last year, I sat in this stand on a day just like this. Only that time I was alone. Aaron, David’s 15-year old brother and our oldest grandchild, was hunting in a spot overlooking wooded and open pastureland 400 yards to my west. He was prepared to hunt alone. He knew our farm well and had spent many hours walking, fishing, and hunting with us. When he got old enough to hunt, we worked together on shooting skills. This spring, he had spent Easter vacation with us putting up a new deer stand. This summer, he had helped us improve the target range and used it frequently to improve accuracy with the .280 he carried.
When I heard Aaron shoot, I was not surprised. On a quiet, warm afternoon, deer often leave their beds early to graze on the clover. Does and their fawns usually come out first. It was a good spot for Aaron and his doe permit.
It was hard for me to concentrate on hunting after I heard him shoot. After a while, I unloaded my gun, climbed down the ladder, and walked up the hill to where I could see the other stand.
Aaron was out in the pasture, standing over a deer. As I got closer, I could see how happy he was. And proud. So was I. The shot, well over 100 yards, was placed exactly where it should have been. The large doe had dropped immediately.
Aaron told me the story of the hunt. I congratulated him and then teased,
“Well, I guess you know what happens next.”
On previous occasions, grandpa had helped clean out the deer. Now it was Aaron’s turn. He took off his jacket and got out the recently-sharpened knife. He would do the work and I would talk him through the process.
Just before he started, a familiar orange-clad figure appeared from the woods to the north of us. Neighbor Ralph had heard the shot and decided to take a walk and visit.
Ralph looked over the deer and listened to the story. He congratulated Aaron.
Aaron grinned and offered Ralph the knife. Ralph chuckled,
“I’ll be happy to watch.”
Aaron set to work with lots of helpful hints from Ralph and me. He got done cleaning out the doe before dark. We walked back to the house watching a colorful sunset.
Back to the present. I’m not keeping up my end.
Fortunately, David was still doing his job, watching carefully and making very few movements. Over the years, when he sat with me while I hunted, he was quiet and attentive. He and his cousin, Nicollet, were both that way. Although she and David loved to be outside and did many things together, including fishing, she did not have much interest in hunting. However, she did seem to enjoy climbing deer stands to sit and watch wildlife. She would often bring a camera. The last time we “hunted” was just a few weeks ago.
“Nicollet, should I bring my bow?”
“That is okay, Grandma . . . . . if you only shoot at bucks.”
Off we went, across the river and up the hill to the stand on the ridge. Dressed in denims and a green camo jacket, Nicollet carried the video camera and I carried my bow. She climbed up into the stand first, sat down, and got the camera ready. I climbed up, pulled my bow up on a rope, and set it on a deer-me step within arm’s length.
It was a beautiful October afternoon. Except for some oak leaves remaining, trees were bare. Squirrels were noisily gathering food for winter. Birds and rodents added to the din. We talked quietly and pointed out wildlife to one another.
About a half hour into our watch, I heard sounds of deer walking through the dry leaves. It took a while for us to get our eye on them. First a fawn, then a doe, finally another fawn. They were coming our way.
Nicollet got the camera focused on a fawn. As the deer got closer, her smile got bigger. Carefully watching the fawn, she didn’t realize how close the other two were getting. I nudged her and pointed to the doe walking towards us. She put the camera on the doe, following that deer’s movement down the hill. After a while, I pointed to the other fawn. We talked in low voices about what to do next.
“Look how close they are to us, Grandma.”
“Neat, isn’t it.”
They continued to move around us, eating low-growing greenery and snipping off an occasional bud. Nicollet kept busy, moving the camera from one animal to another. It seemed like the right time to say,
“You know, that one is plenty close for me to shoot at . . . . “
Her reaction was everything I had hoped for. THE LOOK. The one pre-teens try so hard to perfect. Nicollet is a master of THE LOOK.
Trying hard not to smile, I whispered,
“Are you sure you don’t want me to shoot?”
She ignored me.
After the deer had left and the sun was low in the sky, we got down and took the long way home. We walked slowly, talking quietly, enjoying the evening sunset. Several deer were grazing in the clover field; they lifted their heads to look us over, then resumed feeding while we made our way across the field. We agreed that it was a most successful hunt.
Nearly four o’clock and David was still working away, watching for deer. I tried my best to stay on task, looking in the southerly directions and occasionally glancing his way. Finally a deer appeared. It was over 300 yards away, straight north of us at the end of a shooting lane. David froze and so did I. It started moving south towards us, walking in and out of the brush. It would disappear for minutes at a time before we would see it again. It seemed to take forever to get halfway down the hill.
Trying to encourage him, I whispered,
“Try to relax. It may take a while before she is close enough to shoot at. Don’t get nervous.”
He looked at me with a tense smile on his face.
“I wasn’t nervous until you mentioned it, Grandma.”
Realizing that he really didn’t need any more words of wisdom, I smiled and sat back to watch. At about 100 yards, the doe disappeared in the heavy brush between two shooting lanes. David looked at me and then at the gun. I nodded. He put the .30-.30 into shooting position on the railing. It seemed to take forever for the deer to work her way through the brush and into an area we could see her again. She was quite a bit closer.
“Wait just a little while longer.”
He brought the gun tight against his shoulder and put the iron sight onto the doe’s chest. She was still moving toward us and had entered an area free of brush. David was on full alert.
“Shoot any time you are ready.”
He repositioned the gun and slowly pulled the trigger.
For David, the afternoon provided him with his first deer. For me, it provided a chance to reflect on how much I enjoy being Deer Grandma.