Sometimes, just a doe can make a memorable hunt. Sometimes, just a doe can become so much more.
I stepped on a hidden branch that faced downhill, and my legs instantly disappeared from beneath me. My knee hit squarely on a large chunk of limestone.
I spent the next minute rolling around on the crunchy leaves, cursing and laughing at the same time. Naturally, I stood up, the early December sun directly above, and looked to see if anyone had saw.
Of course, they hadn’t.
It was just me on the rocky, laurel-covered hillside. I was pushing a section of Pennsylvania timber to my 83-year-old grandfather, who was posted some 500 yards away. This piece of timber, dubbed the Doe Patch by my late father, was notorious for producing does in a pinch. Many youth hunters had harvested their first deer on this push, and now I was hoping to push to my grandfather what could be his last. You don’t take anything for granted at 83, after all.
After shaking off a bit of embarrassment, I continued on with the push, though choosing my steps more carefully. It was a beautiful afternoon. Brisk, but not too cold, and the sun was warm. My grandfather and I have become much closer since the passing of my father. I was 16 when brain cancer took him from us. I lost my father, my hero and my hunting buddy.
Now, almost seven years later, I have a new one. I’ve always hunted with my grandfather, but I appreciate it now more than ever. Earlier that day, a wink and a thumbs-up confirmed that he enjoyed our time together just as much as I.
Then a shot rang out. A large smile immediately appeared on my face. It was undoubtedly his Remington pump-action .30-06 below a 3-9×40 Leopold, both much older than I. That old gun becomes an extension of his being when the moment of truth arises, and the action comes as innately as breathing itself.
I wasn’t surprised to hear just one shot. Though his eyesight is getting poorer, and his ears even worse, he’s still sharp. Especially in the woods. It’s as if the woods provide some healing power, or some reprieve from the toll of 83 years of living on this Earth.
I hit a deer trail that I knew would take me close to where my grandfather was posted. In fact, a doe and fawn had made an attempted escape on this trail just minutes before. That’s when I saw the white belly and an old man in a worn, red chamois shirt, kneeling over it.
“She came right out too me, and she dropped where I shot her,” he said.
He patted her belly, admiring her size and the sustenance she would provide. It struck me as how primal that simple motion must be. More than likely, our ancestors did the same thing upon reaching their fallen prey.
It was just a doe, but it was so much more than that. It was a doe – possibly his last—that I pushed to my waiting grandfather. It was a doe that I dressed, dragged, and skinned for him with a heart bursting with joy. It was a doe that reminded me of my late father and the strengthened bond that resulted between the old and young.
At that moment, everything seemed perfectly balanced. I was reminded of Keats, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all Ye know on Earth and all Ye need to know.”
And it took just a doe for me to figure it—everything—out.