Haystack Mountain

When Tom pulled his truck up to the abandoned cemetery parking area he was already running late because of a phone call he had to deal with at 5:00 that morning from a customer.  He was able to put off the service call until later that morning and get to his favorite stump to watch the sunrise and hopefully see that big buck that has been enticing him since bow season started in September.  It was a crisp November morning towards the end of deer season, but he still had time to harvest a buck for the freezer.  Tom grabbed the 300 Savage and his pack, locked the truck, and started walking at a good pace up the tote road to the stone that he would follow to the clearing. Once there, he had about a 15 minute walk up to the top of the small mountain to find his stump where he had shot a few good New Hampshire Whitetails. About half way up the mountain he realized he made the classic mistake: because of the cold morning he started out overdressed, and his wool plaid hunting coat was overheating his torso and those hot sweat needles were creeping up his back.  He decided to tough it out rather than take off the jacket because he was already late.  He just made it to his spot as the first rays of light where casting there promise of a bright and sunny day over Haystack Mountain.

Tom settled in and poured himself a cup of black coffee out of the old thermos and blew on it lightly to cool it off.  This time of day is known as the “magic hour” to deer hunters.  There is no wind and the crisp frozen leaves alert you of any movement in the dark woods.  It’s at this time you feel confident because the conditions are perfect and you have hours ahead of you that could produce the buck of a lifetime.  As Tom sat waiting, sipping his coffee with slightly blurred vision from the hot steam coming up from the cup.  He heard the usual squirrel banter, and the turkeys were coming down from their roosts as the hens were calling to gather the flock.   It’s hard to imagine any other place to be when you hear the wildlife starting their day, oblivious to your presence.   It puts into perspective, for some, how insignificant people are in this world.  As badly as we over develop and pollute the world, somehow the wilderness eventually comes back.  Even an iron train trestle that supports a multi-ton locomotive will eventually disappear.   If not maintained, all the sky scrapers that fill the horizon, full of clamoring people and flowing electricity, would decay and crumble; eventually the coyotes and beaver would return things to a natural state.

The snap of a dead branch brought Tom back to the business at hand.  He was jolted by the sudden approach of a large animal that had some how walked up behind him without making a sound until it was within 20 yards. Tom managed to control himself and not turn around immediately, like so many times in the past.  When you get spooked you spook the game.  This was a lesson his grandmother taught him years ago.  “When a deer first notices you they don’t really know what you are.  They are more leery than smart, it’s their nose that keeps them alive and women get them killed” she told him.  After what seemed like an hour, he heard the footsteps of a deer and realized he hadn’t been busted yet.  He was positive he had chambered a round into the rifle and it was on safety.  His heart was starting to settle down slightly, and he started turning his head and concentrating on anything brown that could possibly come into view out of the corner of his left eye.  His eyes actually hurt, he was peering so intently on seeing a rack.  Sure enough, there was the deer looking 180 degrees from his direction with no idea Tom was there.  The only problem was, the deer was missing antlers.  It was a beautiful doe Tom guessed to be 120 pounds and four and a half years old.  Tom took a big breath, put his gun back on safety, and sat it across his legs.  Reaching back for his coffee he decided to admire this beautiful deer.

He took a sip and wondered if the doe was in rut yet.  It was at this point he noticed the 10 point buck 30 yards out, staring straight at him!  Well, I guess that answered that; now what?  All this planning, preparation, and thought process come down to a split second decision.  This is where most hunting stories come from, and was Tom going to have another story or backstraps for dinner.  The fact that the buck hadn’t moved pretty much concluded the doe must be in rut.  Gram’s words echoed in Tom’s head “women get them killed.”  Tom slowly set down his coffee and brought the gun up to his shoulder in one fluid movement.  With both eyes open he immediately saw brisket in the cross hairs.  He slid the safety back and, after a few long seconds, squeezed off a round.  He saw the fire in the scope which meant he didn’t flinch. The doe had been watching him the whole time and immediately vanished from sight. There is nothing as quiet as a frozen November morning in the woods after a gun shot.  Everything stops.  It is almost surreal,  making you feel like your waking from a dream.  Tom chambered another round with the lever gun and stood up.  He couldn’t see the deer.  How could I have missed? He felt good about the shot, and was confident his rifle was sighted in, but where was the deer?  He left his stump and started walking towards the spot where he thought the buck had been standing.  Still no sign of the deer.  A sudden crash from the left brought him back to reality, he had hit the thing and it was kicking in the leaves.  Shouldering the rifle as he approached, he was ready to finish him off, but realized it was just the nervous system of the deer and survival mode kicking in.  Tom had hit him exactly where he aimed putting a round into his heart and lungs. The big buck was been dead before he hit the ground.

It’s hard to describe the emotional feelings you get at this point… it’s a combination of happiness and guilt all at the same time.  On one hand, you shot a nice buck and that is the point of hunting.  On the other hand,  you just killed a beautiful and majestic animal.  It’s a very difficult thing to get your head around, but to survive one has to eat, and its a life for a life.  We eat to survive and regardless of where it comes from, food is food.  Tom pulled out his hunting knife and squatted down with the usual mixed emotions to begin dressing out the deer.  From all the years past, he knew that it’s now the hard work starts.  After the field dressing was completed, he grabbed what was left of the heart to eat that evening, another ritual his grandmother introduced to him.  He stuffed the heart in his pack, slung the rifle over his shoulder, and finished his coffee.  Looking down at at the 10 pointer he guessed it would possibly weigh over 200 pounds.  A nice deer for New Hampshire. Tom grabbed one side of the rack and started dragging his deer down the mountain, wondering who he was going to invite over for back-straps..

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