Continued from Married with Horses: Holiday Tails
If you live with horses, you're likely out in the country with some land. And when you have land, you may try to live a little off that land. Perhaps you fish from a pond, creek or river on your land. Maybe--like us--you have a garden. Or maybe--like me--you hunt on or around your land.
A friend asked me how I, as an animal lover, could hunt deer. I told him hunting for me is an organic part (literally) of living in the country. And I feel like I do more to earn my food if I have to "harvest" what I eat. I've never had a pet deer, but I don't think deer are much like cats or dogs or horses. Also, I haven't actually shot anything yet.
I'm not after a trophy buck, I'm just after the food. This is my first deer season and perhaps I'm too picky. I'm not going to take a bad shot at a good deer, and I'm not going to take a good shot at a "bad" deer--one too young and small. So, I have spent many a sunrise and sunset in a tree stand only to return home with nothing to eat. That's fine, a boy's got to have his standards.
At least it's quiet and peaceful, except for our horses chatting away in the pasture a couple hundred yards behind the tree stand. We have three mares, but our gelding, Vander, is by far the most obnoxious of the group. He can make quite a racket sometimes.
Our outside dog, Hazel, doesn't make things any easier either. Several times she's followed my tracks to the base of the tree stand, and wandered confusedly around the field where the deer usually gather to feed. A few times I prevented this by getting her in the house with food and then leaving, but she only went for that a few times.
I could scare her off by firing the rifle, but that would probably scare off the deer, too. (I concluded this without testing the theory.) The only success I had in ditching her was to drive the truck away from the house, park down the road and walk back around to the side of our property from behind a long grove of trees.
During the last few weeks of the season I was doing this twice each day. But getting up early, outsmarting Hazel and trying to outsmart the deer was wearing me out. Some mornings--even when it was below freezing--it was all I could do to keep my eyes open.
One morning I climbed the 10 feet into the large wooden stand and sat down on the bench. I leaned the unloaded gun in the one corner and leaned myself back into another corner beside the tree trunk and fell asleep.
"Excuse me," a voice said from below the stand.
I leaned out and saw only a young buck at the base of the tree beneath me. I was thoroughly confuse--both by the voice and the fact the buck was just standing there after clearly having seen me.
"You must be confused by my voice and by the fact that I'm just standing here, despite my clearly having seen you," he said.
"Sure," I said. "Let's do that. Yes, I'm confused a little, thank you."
"I've been watching you out here day in and day out, and you have yet to shoot anybody. Some of us are wondering why you're out here--perhaps to get away from the wife?"
"No," I responded. "But I'll tell her you said that. I'm out here to shoot a few of you."
"You haven't even fired your gun yet. Do you need some cartridges? I think I've got some somewhere."
"Um, no," I said. "Thank you. Why are you here? I thought you were supposed to avoid hunters."
"Yeah, we are, but I'm tired of being a deer. We jump around a lot. We freeze when we see bright lights. We eat a lot of soybeans and acorns. I hate jumping, freezing and acorns. I love oats, but I never get any. I'm, like, totally over the whole thing, so I came over to offer myself up. It's win-win, I figure."
"You want me to shoot you?" I asked
"Sure. I've been eating from your neighbor's winter herb garden, so I should be quite tasty. I hope you like spring onions and rosemary. Also, I took the liberty of drawing a target over my shoulder here so you won't miss."
"You can't be serious," I said, feeling a bit exasperated.
Just then Hazel came running up and stopped beside the deer.
"Hi," I said to Hazel. "You're sort of messing up my hunting."
"You two are just talking," she responded. "Aren't you supposed to shoot the deer? You haven't fired a shot all season. Do you need some cartridges? I think I've got some somewhere."
"NO!" I shouted. "I don't need cartridges from anyone!"
"Well," Hazel responded, "do you want me to bite him while you grab your gun? I mean, he's even got a target painted on him. It really doesn't any easier."
"Indeed," the deer agreed, "it really doesn't get any easier."
"You know what?" I began, "How about you two stay here and work this out. This is waaaay too weird, so I'm going back to the house for a drink." With a rope, I lowered my rifle to the ground and then aimed myself down the ladder so I could retrieve my gloves and hat from the floor of the tree stand.
I had one glove in my hand when I lost my grip and fell backwards off the ladder. As I fell, I wondered if it was even legal to hunt deer by simply falling on them.
I awoke with such a jerk that the stand and the tree shook. I was still wedged into the corner beside the tree. I sat silently for a while, listening intently for voices near the ground beneath me, but heard nothing.
When I leaned forward on the bench, I saw a buck grazing about 20 yards away. I quietly grabbed my rifle, clicked off the safety and aimed at him. I braced myself, eased back on the trigger... and the gun just clicked. I hadn't chambered a cartridge. The buck shot a brief, wide-eyed glance up at me before bounding off across the field and into the woods.
I didn't bother loading the gun at that point. I just sat in the stand and enjoyed the silence as the sun went down on the last day of deer season.
Hazel was waiting for me when I pulled into our drive.
"Maybe next season," I said to her. "Thanks for your help, though."
We walked out to the barn where Kimberly was feeding the horses.
"How'd it go?" she asked. "I didn't hear any shots."
"Nah," I said. "Wasn't anything out there to shoot at."
Hazel looked at me. I gave her the "don't-you-dare-say-a-word" look. It was probably unnecessary, but I couldn't take any chances with these crazy animals. She walked away.
"What's for dinner then?" Kimberly asked.
"How about a salad?" I asked.
"Sounds good," she responded. "Can we put the leftover grilled chicken with it?"
"Um, no... I think I used it all up."
"Hmm," Kimberly frowned. "I thought I saw some in the fridge earlier."
I hurried to the house so I could hide the leftover grilled chicken behind the milk and juice. I wasn't swearing off meat, and I would definitely return to the tree stand next season. But I really needed a good night's sleep, and tonight I was determined to eat a dinner that wouldn't talk to me in my dreams.
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
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