A view from the backroads: The bigger the buck, the better the hunter

JOHNNY SAIN/THE ARKA TECH: Deer hunters rate themselves on the size of the buck they shoot. The bigger the buck, the better the hunter.

It starts in my left leg. The tremor gets so bad that I press against the seat of my treestand in an effort to control it. Sometimes this makes the situation worse. If the tree I’m strapped to isn’t big enough to absorb the vibrations, it acts as an amplifier.

This is especially problematic if the chosen tree is full of dead leaves. It’s like sitting on a tambourine.

Luckily, I had chosen a large pine for this evening’s hunt and the thick diameter of the trunk along with the pine needles acted as muffler. He never knew I was there.

The deer weren’t supposed to be moving according to the “experts.” That full moon peeking over the treetops opposite the setting sun meant the whitetails would be nocturnal. Apparently, the tight-racked little six-point in front of me didn’t get the memo. Or maybe the steady beat of acorns plopping into dry oak leaves was just too much to resist.

Whatever the reason, the little deer stood a scant 18 yards away, broadside, and completely engrossed in stuffing his face. Even after all these years, the decision to shoot sent a surge of adrenaline coursing through me.

JOHNNY SAIN/THE ARKA TECH: Deer hunters rate themselves on the size of the buck they shoot. The bigger the buck, the better the hunter.
JOHNNY SAIN/THE ARKA TECH: Deer hunters rate themselves on the size of the buck they shoot. The bigger the buck, the better the hunter.

This was the first buck I had laid eyes on in two weeks. It was a few days past mid-October. Action in the deer woods was supposed to be picking up, but that had not been the case. Not for me anyway. A hunting buddy had killed an absolutely giant non-typical buck the previous week and now I was hunting for pride.

Sometime during the last three years, I had chosen the trophy path for hunting fulfillment. I’m still not sure why or when this happened. Young bucks were relegated to “dink” or “beginner buck” status as opposed to being a “shooter.” Does were considered at best, bait for a randy buck, at worst a nuisance. Though the deer were labeled, I was actually ranking me; the bigger the buck, the better the hunter.

Somehow and someway, ego had been injected into this birthright given to all human beings. It had become a game and I was keeping score. Long forgotten was the tradition. Long forgotten was the humility. Long forgotten was the gratitude. Hunting was now a competition, and all of a sudden it wasn’t much fun.

Hunting had been reduced to sitting in a tree bemoaning my bad luck and the state game agency’s woeful shortcomings in providing me a shot at a record book buck. My dark and gloomy attitude had caused me to miss some wonderful things during those depressing hunts. I don’t recall ever hearing the mournful trilling of a screech owl. I don’t think I heard a single Canadian goose honking high above the clouds. The sunsets all seemed pale and watery. It was sad.

Frustration was building and I approached every hunt like a job. If I wasn’t working I was hunting, or scouting, or plotting over maps, or griping about deer hunting. You read that right, I was griping about deer hunting.

But this afternoon, there’s this little six-point. At first I don’t even bother to pick up my bow, he’s not a shooter. I listen to him popping acorns. He plucks them one at a time from the forest floor and his tongue works them toward the back of his mouth where stout molars can crush the energy packed nuts. The buck takes two steps forward, his right leg forward, exposing the sweet spot where his sturdy heart beats inside a tawny chest. My stomach tightens and the tremble begins. A screech owl calls in the distance. Eager fingers wrap around the bow. I’m in Zen mode as the string comes back, the green dot of the bow sight finds that sweet spot, and the flickering arrow is on its way.

Bright crimson splotches are easy to find with the help of that full moon, but there’s no need to follow blood. The little buck ran only 50 yards before sagging under his own weight. It was all over in less than 10 seconds.

His sleek hide and tiny antlers reflect silver moonlight as I sit next to him. Tracing the curve of antler with an index finger, I vow to leave my ego at home for all future hunts. High on the ridge above me the screech owl trills in approval.