The woods around my house are a little quieter. Or maybe it’s just quieter in my mind. Either way, I’m not sure how I feel about this difference. Not sure what it means.
Days earlier he walked across a ravine, stepped over the deadfall and entered my space. Big bodied. Wide antlered. Oblivious. I have pictures. Verifiably him in 2017. Very likely him in 2016. For five years he was a ghost only my cameras could see. For my eyes, only a flash in the forest, maybe.
This year would be different. The cameras said he was still here. A visual at 120 yards a week earlier made my heart skip a beat. Competition between other antlered friends and possible offspring kept him close by rather than in the deep forest haunts where he regularly spends his days.
They say they get big because they’re not stupid. But they all get stupid in November and his charmed life in a near sanctuary setting got him to relax just a bit.
Live within nature and nature lives with you. I see it every day from the porch or through the house windows. Some folks have statuary in the yards. In my yard the deer live, eat, sleep, breed, and die. Some get names. Some get reprieves in October and November. A few become celebrities. A select few provide for us.
At 30 yards I let the arrow fly. A malfunction and the arrow took an odd flight and fell to the ground just beyond the big brown body. He flinched and in one motion, spun gracefully and floated through the brush to the ridge from where he came, spooked but not concerned. I cursed out loud. Or maybe I am cursed, I thought. No longer a ghost, he was gone, but his reputation grew. As I re-envisioned the event his spell lingered.
On Sunday my neighbor saw him slumbering near their pond dam. He would later wander off and sometime after a shot would ring out. More a murder than a harvest. Really more assassination than a hunt. It was over at 4:45 p.m. Dead in his tracks at 15 yards. A spike stood nearby watching the motionless buck. What was he thinking? As I approached the downed deer, the spike watched me befuddled and soon drifted off.
If the ghost had lived, I would be happy, knowing he’s still there to torment me in my day dreams. I would watch my cameras for a sign that he survived another season. Another winter. I would walk the woods in February searching for his sheds. Now, I search my heart and I am not sad.
Sometimes I feel sadness for taking the life of wild things. I think this to be a healthy reflection. But this time not so much. I regret not spending more time with him as he lay on the ground but darkness was coming fast. I said a few words of thanks and appreciation but there was more to be said. Guess I’m saying it now.
Death by my arrow would have been more fulfilling. But gun or bow, sadness or joy, the chase is over. Not sad, maybe, but there’s is no indication either way as venison chili simmers on the stove. The ghost is gone and the woods are a little quieter, and so are my thoughts.
Originally Published, Driftwood Outdoors, November 29, 2021