The Other National Holiday (Part 3 of 5)November 10, 2014
Luke opened his eyes and looked at the alarm clock. It was 3:45 am. Luke was 10 years, one month, one week and 3 days of age. He rolled over worrying and wondering if his Dad made it home last night. But then he smiled as he smelled breakfast cooking. The door opened and the hallway light beamed into the bedroom. Through the crack Luke saw his Dad’s smiling face. “Rise and Shine, Hunters!” Pat proclaimed. “There’s a big buck somewhere out in those woods!”
Luke scrambled out of bed, went to the bathroom and then into the kitchen where a steaming plate of pigs in a blanket and a glass of orange juice welcomed him. He was excited to go, but Dad said they had plenty of time to eat breakfast and get out to the stand before sunrise. As Luke put maple syrup on this pancakes and sausages, his rising excitement drove the remnants of sleep from his head. “Do you think we’ll get the big one today, Dad?” he asked earnestly as if in prayer. “One thing you will learn about hunting, Luke,” replied Pat, “is that those who bag the big buck usually have spent many cold days and hours in the tree stand without even seeing a deer. It’s fun to get the big trophy deer, but the best part of hunting is being a part of the woods. We’ll have a great experience, even if we never see a deer. You’ll see.”
After breakfast, they geared up and Luke carefully handled his rifle for the first time in one month, one week and three days. As he was taught, he picked it up making sure the barrel was pointed in a safe direction and checked the safety three times even though it was not loaded. They stepped out into a crispy, frosty night. The full moon had a halo around it and the night was full of more stars than Luke had ever seen. He couldn’t remember ever being up this early in the morning. He decided right then, that in the future he would get up early for school so he could feel the cool embrace of nighttime under the stars again. Even though the rifle and his backpack were heavy, he was ready for the three mile walk to the stand. “Did you check the safety?” Dad asked. “I checked and double checked,” replied Luke. “That’s my boy,” said Pat, “Hunting is no fun unless we are completely safe every minute. Remember, you can be sorry, but you can never put the bullet back in the gun back once it has been fired.”
They headed down the trail as quiet as Indians under the full moon. The shadows from the trees looked quite different at night. Varying hues of gray, blue and purple lined the path. The woods were perfectly quiet. There were no birds chirping. There was no wind. The insects had died off by this time of year. The only sounds were the sounds of their footsteps. Luke tried to walk quietly but as they the trail led into the forest, the sound of their feet on the frosty dry leaves on the ground sounded like a marching band in the still woods. As they walked Luke thought about all the animals in the woods. “Why was there no sound?” Luke thought, “Where are they hiding?” They must be sleeping he decided.
Dad was a tall man with a long stride. Luke had to take about two steps for every one Dad took. He did it as quietly as he could. After about two miles, up and down the hills in the woods, Luke was getting tired. But no force on earth could make him complain. The excitement pushed him forward. On the other side of the wooded hill, unbeknownst to Luke, a herd of deer were eating in a cornfield in the moonlight. As they walked through the forest, one of the older does quickly raised her head. Her white tail rose halfway in an alert message to the rest of the herd, and her long ears swiveled back and forth zeroing in on the strange sounds in the woods. Her tail was signaling, “I heard something strange in the woods. You all eat, while I keep watch. If I suddenly raise my tail up so you can see all the white, we’ll bolt!” Pat wasn’t worried about the sounds they made on their progress. Deer were sensitive to any strange sounds or scents, but they have real short memories. They would eat and pause and eat again until Pat and Luke settled in the stand. They would then forget whatever put them on alert. When the sun rose, they would sneak back into the woods for acorns and cover.
Pat held the flashlight, while Luke carefully climbed the ladder into the tree. As instructed, once he was seated in the stand he fastened his safety harness around the tree and then around his waist. He sat up in the tree on the cold frosty bench and looked down at his Dad. He found the rope and lowered it to the ground. Pat attached the rifle to the end of the rope after double checking to see that it was unloaded and the safety was on. Upon a pull on the rope, Luke carefully lifted it up, untied the rifle and put it in a secure place in the stand. This procedure was repeated for the backpacks and finally Pat’s Weatherby. Lastly, Pat climbed up to the stand, sat and secured his safety harness. He handed Luke three rounds of ammunition. Luke cocked the rifle and carefully loaded the rounds. How smoothly it clicked as he cocked the gun and cycled the round into the chamber. He double checked the safety again. When this was completed under Dad’s close supervision, Pat loaded his rifle and switch off the flashlight. It was dark as their eyes readjusted.
Then all was still and perfectly quiet. It was 5:30 am. “Keep still and I’ll tap your shoulder when it is legal shooting time.” Pat whispered. They sat up in the tree on that still moonlit morning. The forest sure looks different from up here Luke mused to himself. This must be what it feels like to be a turkey on the roost at night. The old driver and the young boy learning to be a man, sat quietly up in the tree, staring into and scanning the forest.
After about a half hour, the night sky began to gray on the eastern horizon. The stars began to slowly fade. The moon remained bright. The stand faced west, so that the sun wouldn’t light up their faces in the dawn. Somewhere out in the dark part of the forest, a hoot owl started hooting. The noisy raptor was soon joined by intermittent hoots all around them, as the owls signaled beginning of the new day. They were followed by the clucks and gobbles of turkeys. Birds started chirping away. The cacophony emerged from the previously still woods which sounded as if a conductor had signaled an orchestra to warm up. Their safety vests and caps were slowing changing from gray to orange.
As the night grew lighter, Pat looked at his watch. It was 6:30. He tapped Luke on the shoulder and smiled, the moonlight accentuating the crowfeet around his eyes and the wrinkles on his face. “Son,” he whispered quietly with a big smile, “It’s now Opening Day!”
Copyright 2012, Tom Kretsinger, Jr.