Article Contributed by Managing Editor K. Slye.
He stepped out of his truck, took a deep breath, and let the chilled morning air fill his lungs. He started his walk up the trail, one that he has made many times before. His gait has slowed over the years, the cold air making his knees and back stiffen up. But that’s okay, he was in no hurry. As he walked along the trail, he picked out the landmarks that dotted the hillside, each one served as a reminder to cherished memories of years passed.
He walked by the rock on the edge of the trail that overlooked a ravine, where his son stood during his first year of hunting when he was 12 years old. Still standing in the center of the ravine is the tree that offered the son a great lesson in humility. It was a perfectly executed drive, his brother kicked up the small doe and it stopped in the opening, no more than 75 yards away. His son took his time, lined up the shot, and squeezed the trigger. The doe slowly walked away, unscathed. “What happened?” he thought. And that’s when he noticed it. In the center of that small tree the bark was missing, his son had made a perfect shot, on a small maple, allowing the doe to escape.
He crossed the stream, remembering the time he took an unexpected, early morning swim in the frigid December water. That morning was not going well, he forgot his lucky hat at home, ever the superstitious hunter, he was ready to give up for the day. How could he get a deer without his lucky orange hat? As he stepped from the bank of the stream to the frost covered rock sticking out of the water he slipped. The water broke his fall. He continued on with his son, cursing under his breath the rest of the way to their tree stand, where he wrung out his socks in a feeble attempt to keep his feet warm. Immersed in his own self-pity, he felt a tap on his shoulder and looked up to his son pointing out the deer walking towards the clearing. Twenty minutes later they were laughing about the whole debacle filled morning while dragging out the buck.
It was in that same stream he and his son spent hours upon hours standing in the cool water, casting their lines during spring trout fishing season, watching the fog lift from the surface of the water. Farther downstream is where he watched his 3 year old granddaughter catch her first fish, he can still hear her giggles fill the air as the fish flopped on the bank.
He adjusted the Mossberg .243 that was slung over his shoulder, he decided to take it for a walk in the woods for old time’s sake. That rifle has been with him since the beginning and has taken many deer out of Penn’s Woods over the years. Including the twin 9 points from the same stand in consecutive years that now hang on the wall in his living room. His son used that rifle to bag his first deer when he was 13 years old, and his grandson will be carrying it into the woods next year for his first hunting season. It may not look like much, but that rifle is a family heirloom.
He made it to the ridgeline and stopped a moment to catch his breath, through the trees he could see the old Homestead. That old house holds so many memories, where tables stretched across the dining room to fit the entire family during Thanksgiving. The old store room where they use to lay out their hunting gear in preparation for the opening day of buck season. The Meat Room where they would cut up and process the deer that were taken off the hillside he was walking up now. The dozens of pictures of all those deer, from the smallest doe to the biggest buck, they all had their place on the wall.
He smiled to himself as he thought of George, a mount of the legendary buck that was shot by his great uncle more than 75 years ago. George had hung on the wall in the Meat Room for as long as he can remember, watching over the hunters as they cut up their deer on the old butcher’s block. George’s dust covered antlers were now in his basement, the mount long deteriorated and discarded, but the legend living on.
Finally making it to his spot, he looked up into the towering oak, and wondered how he hunted out of that tree for so many years without falling. He unfolded the chair leaning against the tree and gingerly settled in. Memories of all the bucks he has taken from this spot swirled through his head, from the smallest of spikes to the ones mounted on his living room wall, they are all trophies because of those memories. He has spent most of his life in this small patch of woods and doesn’t regret one second.