Every November, K and I pack up the family and head out to Pennsylvania. My in-laws live there on a 100 acre farm. The farm is beautiful, a great mix of fields and hardwoods.
And it is loaded with deer!
For those of you who are new to hunting, November is a great month for deer hunters across a good part of the country. For most states, November brings the “Rut”.
“The Rut” is what biologist call the deer mating season. If you asked the bucks what they refer to the rut as, they would probably call it “Spring Break.”
The woods are filled with all the same shenanigans you would expect of spring break.
Males and females partying all day and night.
Lots of males fighting.
And plenty of paring off…. (lets keep this PG as possible.)
Most of the year a whitetail buck is an elusive creature.
But during the Rut they can be seen all hours of the day chasing does though the forest. This makes it a very exciting time for hunters, because the woods are alive with activity, and there is always the hope that a big buck could show up at any moment.
Now lets get something straight. I am what many would call a “MEAT hunter.”
…As in I hunt to fill my freezer. I am not what some would call a “Trophy Hunter”, as in someone who only wants to shoot animals so they can mount them on walls.
That said, I have never met that type of hunter in all my years. I know a few exist, (Gaston anyone? Come on Disney lovers unite!) but most hunters love eating wild game, time outside, and… shocker… animals.
I, like every hunter I have ever met, hunt for meat…
But the chance at bringing a buck home is always exciting.
It’s rare, and so it is special. Like catching the biggest fish of your life, spotting a shooting star, or finding an arrowhead fossil.
It makes you feel special in the universe.
And so I was hoping this year at deer camp, like I always do, to bring home a nice buck. It would feed my family for a long time, and if it was truly special, the cape (hide, skull and antlers) would be brought to the taxidermist.
Again, I’m a meat focused hunter, not a Gaston like “Trophy Hunter”. I don’t hunt for heads on walls. But taxidermy is beautiful. Think about visiting museums. The best displays are usually made up of life-like taxidermy. Whether its now extinct animals brought to life before our eyes, or a depiction of a jungle scene we will likely not get to see in our lifetime.
The cool thing about taxidermy is that it can transport you.
To places you have never been. To times past you can never visit. To places you wish to go back to, or at least remember vividly.
Taxidermy feels like the closest thing we have to time travel.
And thats why I am headed to the taxidermist tomorrow. Because I have a moment from our trip that I want to remember vividly, for the rest of my life.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Lets start at the beginning.
This year was going to be special, because I was going to take my kids hunting for the first time in deer camp.
My oldest son is 6, and my oldest daughter 4 (almost 5). Both were super excited to go out with me and spend some time in the blind.
Day 1 we arrived to my in-laws farm, and my son and I headed out to scout. I wanted to find a spot we could hunt that would have good deer traffic, so the kids could at least see some deer, and that would not be too far from the road, so they would not have to hike far into the woods.
I picked a spot that matched the description.
As soon as we entered the woods we saw buck sign all around us.
During the Rut (spring break) bucks leave “Rubs” (marking on trees where their antlers have scraped away the bark) and “Scrapes” (circles on the ground where they have scraped away leaves and peed into the dirt) to attract mates, and communicate with the other deer.
We were surrounded with sign.
So my son and I setup a ground blind 20 yards away from a big bunch of scrapes, and surrounded by rubs.
There would definitely be some action here.
Day 2 we headed out together, my son and I, for our first hunt of the week. My son has hunted with me back home, and he’s never once seen a deer. I was so hoping that would change. It did. He was able to see his first deer on the hunt. A nice doe at about 60 yards.
This was archery season, so I was not going to take a 60 yard shot. Plus I did not have a doe tag, so legally I couldn’t shoot. We happily watched the doe feed off into the night.
He was all smiles when he got back. And very excited for his sister who was going out on day 3.
This was her first year hunting with me, and only her 3rd time out this year. And now she was going to be in the ground blind in the thick of the rut!
We headed to the blind. Time passed. No sign of any deer.
We played some games.
We had some snacks. Nothing.
About 4:00 I told her “lets put the snacks and games away, now its deer time. If we’re going to see one it’s going to be in the next hour.” Excited at the possibility of seeing a deer in the wild, she happily complied.
By 4:30 she was fast asleep, hunched over in the chair next to me. (Isn’t it wonderful how kids can sleep in any place, any position? I miss that!)
Right around 5:00, I spotted them. Two deer headed towards us. I looked over to my little girl, snoozing.
“Baby, wake up… there are deer headed our way!”
“What Daddy?” She said in a bit of a sleep stupor…
“Deer, take a look”
By the time she stood up and looked out the blind window the Buck was almost at 20 yards, headed right for the Scrape.
“Do you see the buck?” I asked.
“No” was the reply.
The buck walked behind a tree for a moment, then when his big antlered head came around from the other side, he locked eyes with my little girl.
“Daddy I see it”. There was awe in her voice. The excitement in the air was palpable.
The buck was creeped out. And let’s be honest, you would be too, if you were walking through the woods at dusk and suddenly saw a little girl’s face staring at you. It’s like every horror film ever.
Hunting is a long game. It starts with practice in the spring: shooting, shooting and more shooting. Good form. Good posture. Then there is the scouting. Game cameras to hang. Mineral sites to establish.
Then you have to put up your tree stands. And ground blinds. Brush them in.
You can spend an entire years worth of free time dedicated to the pursuit, only to end the year empty handed.
Parenting is a longer game.
The last six years I have been dreaming of the time when I would be able to spend deer camp with my kids alongside me.
I couldn’t wait for that time in the woods together, talking, snacking, playing checkers, and sharing in that incredible moment when it all comes together and you return home to your family with a years supply of special venison dinners.
Tuesday it happened. The moment I have dreamt of for so long.
I want to remember that moment always. Vividly. I want to be able to picture my six year old boy, cutting brush to hide our blind, hi-five-ing me when we finished and were sitting inside it together playing checkers. I want to see my little 4 year old girl, excitement in her face, as she watched that wild animal approach slowly just feet from our blind.
I want to relive those moments as long as I can remember. So tomorrow this meat hunter is headed to the taxidermist.
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