Friday, November 20, 2009

Dad and His Deer Hunting

This photo does not do my father justice. But it's the only photo we have of him with deer antlers. I don't know why...Here he looks like he recently returned home from a hunting expedition. He's a bit disheveled and smoking his pipe. But he's holding the rack he probably got that year and standing in front of the woodstove showing off his trophy. I remember that style of shirt. That was his "under hunting gear" shirt. Well, it was a "work shirt," come to think of it. Being a deer hunter combined lots of his favorite skills--tramping through the woods, climbing trees, hanging out with the guys, his eagle eye, and leaving with meat to eat through the winter and a trophy for his time!

There seems to be something that happens to men when deer season comes along. They seem happier and more independent; they have already gone to "their camp" long before they actually step foot outside the door. They are mentally preparing for their hot stews (or whatever it is they eat out at the camp), card playing, lots of stories, and early mornings as they crunch through the crusted over snow to find the first tale-tell sign of a deer...

I remember dad used to be downstairs, rifling through the drawers of his homemade workbench, pulling out boxes of bullets, and odds and ends. He would gather up "snow pants" (but I don't suppose that is the name men use for them; maybe that goes under the category of 'hunting gear) and heavy jackets, plus he'd always have a hat of some kind. He'd clean out his rifle (which he always kept in his very nice, homemade gun cabinet). Dad used to go hunting with Bud Matson mostly, and whoever happened to be with Bud. That would vary from year to year, but Bud was his hunting sidekick.

Life was good for dad during those hunting trips. He'd never be gone more than three or four days, but he would come back with a buck without fail. "I get 'em from the same tree every year" he'd grin, "eighteen years in a row." I take it that he liked climbin' that tree. I guess it was his lucky tree. I'm sure that he owned a good pair of binoculars as well. Dad always combined his skills to get what he wanted accomplished so none of us were surprised, and I think we were really quite proud of him when he came back.

I'd say, "Dad caught another deer this year." and one of my brothers would respond disgustedly,"You don't catch deers. You shoot them!" (Well, I don't do either). I would glare, and my mother would tell us to 'settle down.' I always felt sorry for the deer and had to prepare myself mentally because dad hung them from the treehouse upside down. I forget why he did that but I am sure you hunters can tell me exactly why that is necessary - maybe to let the blood drain out...?

Mom hated venison with a passion, but I loved it (though I hated the thought of the poor deer being killed). She cooked it dutifully, and we all happily ate it for months. Meatballs. Meatloaf. Deer roast. Dad was also quite generous and would give quite a bit away to his friends who were not quite so lucky to bag a deer. I'm sure my mother did not say anything on the contrary as that was less venison for her to prepare.

Once my brothers became of age, they joined him at the hunting camp each year. Well, my older brother was like me, very gentle-spirited, and did not like shooting deer so the year he went, he really didn't put his heart into it. I think he liked the camaraderie of the men though so he would go for that. My younger brother hunts to this day so I am sure that he waited for those cabin experiences with my dad with a fervor.

Looking back on my memories, I did like to hear about his skills in the woods. But I liked to see him unpack his gear more, and get ready for the winter ahead. Dad would be around a whole lot more in the cold months ahead!

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