Better than Thanksgiving and better than Christmas

For me it is today, more so than tomorrow, that is the most exciting day of the year. Fueled by memories of over 65 deer seasons past, my anticipation of the season is as strong as it ever was. Even remembering how many things have changed over the years does not dampen my enthusiasm for the hunt. Perhaps Monday I will finally bag the buck of my dreams.

So I will be in church this morning but as soon as the last Amen is said, I will get on the road to hunting camp, stop along the way to eat dinner, conversing with fellow orange-coated hunters who have stopped at the same restaurant.

Anticipation is a collective thing; it must be shared to be truly experienced. First morning, we meet for breakfast. Perhaps at deer camp or perhaps at a favorite restaurant about 4 a.m. We won’t be telling any other hunters exactly where we are going. When we get to our stand, we don’t want any company.

Getting to your deer stand is a private and exquisite moment. We park the vehicle, don our outer gear, sling the rifle over our back and start the quiet trek in the dark to our stand. Years ago, my stand was 31/2 miles from the gamelands gate so I had to start early to get there before daylight. The most important component of arriving at your stand opening morning long before daylight, is to stake out that territory as “yours.” And to let things quiet before the sun comes up.

No one but another deer hunter doing the same thing understands the emotions and anticipation that overtakes a hunter waiting quietly, impatiently and alone for daylight to break.

It seems to take forever but somehow the silhouettes of deer sneaking by us in the woods at first light is sweeter then than at any other time during the season. This is simply what it is all about.

I love the preparations for going to deer camp. Dragging out all the long underwear, sweatshirts and hunting coat, the orange hat, the rifle and shells and giving it a final going-over.

Shopping for and packing up your share of the food for camp as well as cooking some of it to take along. Wondering if the smell of gun oil is as noxious to deer as human scent. Figuring it probably is and wondering what to do about it.

Getting on the highway, finally heading toward your destination. Wondering why hunters criss-cross the state to hunt. Why do we travel to their area and they come to ours? It’s unexplainable. Greeting other hunters as they arrive at camp, exchanging stories from past hunts, laughing at goof-ups and misses from seasons past. Sitting by the fireplace or woodstove and drinking coffee and eating vegetable soup. Staying up later than you should yet not being able to sleep when you do lie down.

Finally, falling into bed yet lying sleepless, sneaking peeks at the alarm clock every half hour during the endless night, worried that you might oversleep.

Finally the alarm sounds and you bound out of bed — you’ll get slower each day — eat a monstrous stack of pancakes and sausage, drink a gallon of coffee. It’s all such an exciting change from the hum-drum of most days and we have waited all year for it.

I had a great experience a few days ago. My son, Mark, called and shared every last detail of his hunt in Missouri and of the great 8-point he bagged after having to track it for awhile. Telling me that I was the first one he had called.

It instantly brought back to me the many years we hunted in Pennsylvania together, the times we each had a buck to drag out and did it side by side, the times we had to track a deer for awhile before we found it.

So even though I will be alone on my stand in Armstrong County this opening morning, my thoughts will be perusing back over all those many hunts in years past when you waited and watched for a buck but also kept your ears alerted for the shot from you hunting buddy’s gun.

How exciting it all is!