Hunting Deer with my Dad

I am a runner, and my dad is a white-tail deer bow hunter. And that’s where the similarity ends.

When I was a kid, I tried deer hunting more than once, and I hated it. I admired my dad because he had several white-tail deer in record books, including Pope and Young, which is a little like going to Boston for a marathoner. And I liked hunting smaller animals with a gun almost as much as your average, small-town-Kansas adolescent. But deer hunting with a bow was hard and not fun. You have to remain virtually motionless and absolutely silent for a couple of hours, usually in the cold and wind. When I was really young, I thought my dad hunted to put meat on the table. So I asked him about it, and he explained that it was really a sport; because, once you add up all the expenses of hunting, pound for pound, venison is no bargain. And after that, I really couldn’t figure it out.

As I’ve become a more enthusiastic runner, I’ve realized the many similarities between running and bow hunting. I love running because I can be alone with my thoughts. I get an up-close and personal experience with nature. And being uncomfortable for long stretches of time just comes with the territory. I actually relish the time spent being uncomfortable. And I’m no longer running for my health. I’m running just because I love it. So I find it truly ironic that running led me back to a deer hunting excursion with my dad via my running buddy T, albeit with a rifle, not a bow.

T, in a quest for lean, grass-fed protein, decided he wanted to hunt deer. This was not a spur of the moment or easy path for him. For starters, he had to earn his hunter’s safety and he didn’t own a gun. When he first mentioned this idea (on a run, of course!) and the need for somewhere to hunt, the seed of an idea was planted.

I told him that my dad was an avid hunter and he had some land in southeast Kansas. I said, my dad would freak out if I wanted to go deer hunting. T asked if that would be a good or bad freak out. I said, my dad would be ecstatic. And that is the reason I held back at first. I already knew that I didn’t enjoy hunting, and I didn’t want to get my dad fired up about it before I had made up my mind. I wasn’t ready to commit to hunting, yet; but T got me thinking about it.

The idea grew. I gradually decided this would be a chance for me to do something with my dad and that having T along would make it fun for me. In due time, T bought a gun and two tags. I was going to borrow a gun from my dad, and I got one tag. Then we made plans to head to Neodesha, Kansas, for a short weekend, to see if we could bag some deer. As the date grew closer, the forecast grew colder. Temperatures were expected to be in the single digits and there was a wind coming out of the north. It was promising to be a miserable morning. But despite that, I was looking forward to it.

The calls from my dad grew more and more frequent as well. We had to discuss what to eat and when. I warned him that T and I would not be hunting all day long and that we wanted to go for a run. We discussed which stand to put who in. The plan was to drive down after work on Friday, sleep, eat breakfast, hunt, run, eat lunch, and bail about 2:30 to make it home in time for evening parties. There wouldn’t be much time for dilly-dallying.

When T and I arrived, my dad greeted us at the trailer on his property. After introductions, my dad turned off the exterior lights. It was a clear night, and you could see the whole hemisphere of stars. We spotted Orion, the big dipper, and the Milky Way. It was a spectacular show.

The next morning, we needed to be in the trees by 6:45 at the latest. I checked out the sunrise/sunset charts my dad has. He doesn’t fool around. It’s a whole page, taped to the wall in the kitchen, with the sunrise and sunset times for Neodesha (6 minutes east of Wichita) for each day of deer season. I have a similar chart in my closet. It tells me the twilight and dusk times throughout the year. My times are rounded to the nearest 15 minutes, since the game warden won’t shut me down if I head out a few minutes early in the morning.

We carried our stuff to the bedrooms. Much to my embarrassment, the beds in the trailer had been slept in by my dad’s hunting buddies, and the sheets had not been washed. This surprised me at the time, but in retrospect, I should have warned T to bring a sleeping bag. Fortunately, he has a high tolerance for ickyness.

The next morning, we were up and rattling around at 5:15 or so, which is when I usually wake up for a run. My dad was fixing a hot breakfast of coffee, eggs, toast, and some venison sausage that T had brought as a gift.

After breakfast, I started putting on clothes. The temperature was 8°, and the 10 mph wind out of the north made it feel like 1°. I had brought three layers for my legs, two top layers and a heavy coat, and my balaclava. Not wanting to take any chances, my dad loaned me polar tech tops and bottoms, and I found a pair of insulated boots (extra big) and insulated pants that belonged to my dad’s hunting buddy. (Heck. I’d just slept in his bed. Why not?) The insulated pants were huge and could unzip to go over my extra big insulated boots. They got me thinking that I could use a pair for cold race mornings. My dad had a hunter orange sweatshirt that went over everything, and I was ready to go. The scene from “A Christmas Story,” where Randy can’t put his arms down came to mind and was quoted repeatedly, along with “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”

We drove T out to his tree, and he was pleasantly surprised that he was not going to be in a “perch.” My dad has these tree stands that are just a little less than a deck. They are covered, and they have windows to keep out (most of) the weather. You can’t hunt with the windows closed, because they would make too much noise when you opened them. They would scare the deer. Still. It’s a pretty nice set up.

Then we drove over to my dad’s other piece of land, and he and I got up in our own tree stand. We sat facing opposite directions, and I got the view of the sunrise. I’m sure he planned it that way. The grass was covered with an icy dew, and it sparkled as the sun came over the horizon. There were contrails that looked like mirrors in the sky; they were so white. The trees had dried up leaves, and one leaf in particular caught my fancy. It was completely brown and dry. I wondered if it would be falling off today. It didn’t.

We were planning to be in the tree until 10:00. In terms of time, it was going to be a marathon. I swiveled slowly back and forth in my chair, a salvaged office chair from a by-gone era. I tried to keep from bumping my feet against the walls of the stand, but we were in tight quarters and I made a little noise at first. My dad chided me with “shhh…” But he knew it was my day to hunt and that I already knew to be quiet. He was kidding me.

I became familiar with the landscape and the limitations of my eye sight. I figured that in the time it took me to swivel from left to right some deer could walk in and out of rifle range without me noticing. There were a couple of approaches where they could be directly under the tree before I would see them. I also checked out the various notations on the window sills, which gave the distances to various trees, the fence, and land marks. The scrawls reminded me of the notes on my runs I keep in my journal. The extravagant note taking enables me to not only relive runs but also plan to tackle a hill or course a little better the next time.

Even with the extra clothes, I was cold before long. I had my hands pulled into my sleeves. I had foot warmers in my insulated boots. I had a balaclava on my head. But my nose was still cold. And I couldn’t cover my nose because it would fog my glasses. This problem made me really think about contacts!

At 8:02, T texted me “Got one!” I texted back, “Dead? That rox! Congrats! It’s beautiful… But no life here.” He texted back, “No question. Couple steps and dropped.”

Now. Go outside and sit absolutely still and quiet for 30 minutes. Preferably on a really cold day. Then come back and continue reading. During this time, I had the opportunity to think about my childhood, and all the time my dad spent away from the family. He would show up about an hour after sunset, ready to eat and then crash for the day. During deer season we didn’t see much of him. When I was little, I once asked my mom if dad would be coming over for dinner. Because I only saw him every once in a while at dinner, it was as if he didn’t live with us. My mom misses him too. She has a sign in her kitchen that says, “When I die, bury me in the woods, so my husband will hunt for me.” Similarly, because of running, I have some regret for the time it takes me away from the people I love.

At 8:32, T texted me, “Out of tags now.” I asked, “You got another?” He texted “Yep.” So it was T’s day. I wound up with nothing but the memories of sitting with my dad, enjoying the sunrise, benefitting from all the effort he has put into hunting for these many years, and being with him in his element.

At 10:00, after seeing nothing, my dad and I called it a morning. We drove back over to T, picked up his deer, loaded them into the truck, and took them into town to the processor. They were clean kills, dropping within 20 yards of being shot. It was a smashing success for his first hunting trip.

Back at the trailer, my mom had arrived with an apple pie. T and I dressed for a run at 20° with the 10 mph wind, still, out of the north. We went out 4 miles and back, clocking 9:00 miles and enjoying each other’s conversation. Back at the trailer, we got showers and sat down to some chili, had some apple pie, and hit the road right at 2:30. Just like we planned it.

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