Deer season gets ‘into your blood’

In the past 65 years, since I embarked on my first deer season, a spirit of anticipation grips me in the 36 hours before daylight of the opening morning that I look forward to all year, every year.

It’s in my blood folks. I’ve told my friends and family for each of those 65 years that when it is time for me to draw my last breath on earth, I hope I am somewhere in my beloved woods.

The visions of big bucks that dance in my head, cooking the vegetable soup, packing all the gear, far more than I will ever use, but will take “in case.”

Traveling to deer camp, that drive I so look forward to each year. Rehearsing in my memory all the boneheaded mistakes I’ve made through the years, the bucks I spooked because I wasn’t careful enough, the utter amazement of my husband and every one I knew when I shot that first buck while I was hunting alone. In 1953, a woman who actually bagged a deer on her own was a rarity indeed.

How I relish all those memories. Nothing stirs my blood like the smell of Hoppes No. 9. Telling and retelling the same old stories every year. If you are reading this, you know what I am talking about. If there is a moment as exquisite as heading to your favored stand before dawn on opening morning, the interminable wait until it is light enough to see, and the thumping heart when you spy deer in the distance, I’m unaware of it.

I remember, too, the assorted pickup gear I had to wear my first couple of seasons. Everything was too big, so trousers were rolled up two or three times, sleeves the same, 10 pairs of socks in the boots to fill them up, the waist line of an old pair of my husband’s woolen pants pinned 10 inches over at the waist is what I sluffed around the woods wearing. I would not have the energy now to lug all that weight around. A borrowed rifle completed the picture.

After my second deer season, my husband understood that I was serious about this so he announced that it was time for me to have my own rifle and scope. What a shopping trip that was. It was my equivalent of most women’s thoughts of a fur coat or diamond ring. I came home with a .308 Winchester (one of those pre-1964 model 88’s) and, 63 years later, I still head out into the deer woods every year with that dandy rifle.

There have been lots of changes too. Now, on Thanksgiving Day, part of my ritual is to have every plug in my house charging a different “necessity.” Two-way radios, digital camera, cell phone, battery-operated socks, stuff I could not have imagined “needing” to hunt with in 1953.

My scope went on an adventure last deer season that resulted in my having to purchase a new one. I took a hard fall, the rifle flew out of my hand and landed even harder than I did. That was on my last day to hunt a year ago and my buddy and I had staked out an enclosed deer stand to use because it was about zero degrees that day.

A buddy told me that the neighbors would drive a large stand of pines on top of the hill nearby and when they did, deer would be pushed our way. How right she was. All of a sudden deer were squirting from every level of that hill, 27 in all, and one of them was a nice buck. We glassed it, counted the points, and that buck stopped broadside about 60 yards away. A cake shot!

I leveled on the shoulder and squeezed the trigger as I’d done so many times over the years but that deer just stood there. I shot again. He loped off like he was out for a Sunday stroll. I was incredulous. How could I miss a shot like that?

I wondered whether the scope had been knocked off when it fell but I didn’t say anything because it is such a common excuse. But after season, I found that, as I feared, the scope was not only knocked out of line, it was broken. There was no repairing those cross hairs. So a new scope was purchased and mounted and my great old rifle is ready for this year.

I can no longer climb the mountains of Clinton County like I once did but the same warm anticipation follows me as I turn my truck toward camp.

And tomorrow morning just before dawn, I’ll again thank God for the blessing and beauty and excitement and hunting buddies and memories of deer taken and deer missed and venison enjoyed over more than half a century of pursuing Pennsylvania whitetails.