Opening day of deer season is a holiday to Pennsylvania outdoorsmen, and though there are certainly many women who hunt in Pennsylvania, this is one sport that still seems to be a male-dominated endeavor, passed down from father to son. That may be one of the reasons I always felt so lucky when I got to hunt with my father.
I remember our first deer-hunting excursion. I was 12, and he wanted to get me excited about it, so he bought me a brand new outfit. He traced my foot on a piece of cardboard and took it shopping with him. To make sure there was plenty of room with the extra-thick socks he gave me, he bought me boots that were way too big, along with a man's-sized orange sweatshirt and Robin Hood-style hat with ear flaps. Of course, the badge of honor was the license holder that he pinned to my back.
He woke me up around 5 a.m. for the trip to his hunting camp in pitch black and freezing cold. Just as the sun came up, off we went into the woods to bag a buck.
In a matter of minutes, we were no longer on a trail, and I could not have returned to the truck if I'd wanted to. My two-sizes-too-big-boots felt like they weighed 50 pounds apiece as I struggled to clumsily hike over the rough terrain with my hat falling down over my eyes and branches from my Dad's waist snapping back and hitting me in the face. He gently told me to "keep it down" - if I couldn't trudge more quietly, we wouldn't see a thing.
After what seemed to be a whole day, but was actually maybe a couple of hours, my Dad stopped. We were standing on a steep bank. He told me to look through the trees at a buck that was at least the length of a football field from us. He said to listen, and you can hear animals moving near there.
The man who did not notice my siblings asking to stop for ice cream from the back seat of the car could hear deer hooves shuffling in the leaves from 100 yards away.
He told me to look through the scope and try to take a shot, but if I didn't get the deer to fall, it would run down the hill. Then he informed me that our truck was parked at the top of the hill. Needless to say, I didn't hit that deer, and we didn't see any others the entire day.
It was so cold, and even with my many layers I soon couldn't feel my hands or feet. When we stopped for lunch, our sandwiches were soggy and our hot chocolate barely lukewarm.
We went home with nothing more to show for our effort than sore muscles from uphill hiking, scratches from walking through branches, red wind-burned faces from the bitter weather, and unforgettable memories.
What I wouldn't give for another perfect hunt like that.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.