By Dan Geddings
Outdoor summer columnist
I had never seen one, but here was proof that they really existed. A tuft of coarse brown hairs stuck to a spike on the top strand of a barbed-wire fence. She had seen the tracks, but this was something physical and real. I took off my hair and held it between my thumb and forefinger.
A deer had jumped the fence here on its way from the woods to the field, and its hind leg or maybe its tail had hit the top strand of wire. That little strand of hair fascinated me. I was 8 years old and this was my first deer hunt.
We had hunted squirrels, rabbits, and quail on the farms and in the woods around our house, but we had never come across any deer. On a squirrel hunt, my dad pointed out a set of footprints pressed into the clay on a dirt road. They were the first deer tracks he had ever seen. He had seen pictures of deer in magazines and sports books, but he had never seen one in the woods.
Around the table after dinner that night, Dad told us some stories of deer hunts he’d been on, and I begged him to take me deer hunting. Then one night he came home and told me we were going to go deer hunting on Saturday morning.
That morning we got up before dawn, put on our hunting clothes and headed out. I still remember the route we took along the dirt roads to a house in the country. The yard was packed with cars and trucks, and a group of men stood in the driveway talking. I could hear dogs barking in the backyard.
My dad knew some of the men there, they greeted each other and then asked for me. How old was he? Could you shoot a gun? Have you hunted deer before? I was the only young man there and I felt privileged to be among these men.
As dawn broke, we climbed into the backs of several pickup trucks and after a short stretch of dirt road, we turned onto a highway. As the truck picked up speed, the cold wind surprised me and I hoped we didn’t have to go very far. Shortly after, the truck slowed down and we stopped to let a stander out. The truck didn’t pick up speed again, but stopped at intervals and let each hunter out. So it was our turn.
Our stand along the road faced a large forest. Behind us was a line of trees, then a large field. We sat on the roadside in the tree line. I remember hearing the hounds in the distance and some gunshots from the big woods out front, but nothing came our way.
I remember asking questions about what was going on during the hunt and my dad patiently answered. After a while, the van came by and picked us up. We continue along the road to another place. This time the truck parked in a field and we walked to the edge of the woods, where I found the hair on the fence.
We were walking into the woods to take up positions, and several of the hunters offered to give me a lift, since I was so small, but Dad assured them that I could walk through the woods and keep up. There were a couple of older guys, and they took the top positions, then we took the next one.
The forests were open hardwoods that sloped downhill. The ground was covered in a deep layer of brown leaves. It was a beautiful place. The other hunters continued down the slope and soon disappeared into the trees. Now he was quiet and calm. The sun was up and it was warm. He was carrying a .22 caliber rifle, but Dad had the bullets in his pocket. We sat for a couple of hours and talked. I don’t recall hearing bloodhounds or gunshots. But it didn’t matter; we were hunting deer.
It was my first deer hunt, and it happened 60 years ago. The world has changed a bit since then, but the anticipation and wonder remain the same. There are more deer now and the hunts have changed, but deep down I’m still that little boy.
Contact Dan Geddings at firstname.lastname@example.org.