My Father was an absolute fanatic about deer hunting. It raced through his blood and defined his life. Mom said that he only talked about deer hunting 2 times a year, six months before deer hunting and six months after deer hunting. My Father taught us how to hunt when we were young, and to this day, my brother and I still enjoy it.
He was dying of cancer. It was eating him up inside, like rot in an oak. Soon Dad would meet God. His spirit never faltered and when our despair made conversation difficult, we could always talk about his favorite subject, deer.
When the season came around, I took my Father hunting with me. He only weighed 93 pounds and he was very weak. I took him to a lonely tree stump, which was my best hunting stand. It was hard to carry my Dad who was once so strong, in my arms. I fought my tears.
As sick as he was, I could feel his excitement. I told him that I would check back every two hours or so, and he replied that I need not worry. I said “Good Luck” and walked off.
Dad had quietly stopped taking his pain medication two days before opening, so that he would be sober when he had a rifle in his hands. Sitting on the stump, a wave of pain shot through him, squeezing him tight, like a vise. During one of these moments a deer walked in front of him.
Except for the steam rising from its wet nostrils, the buck was a statue. Like a ghost, it stood without a sound, stock still, looking at everything in the clearing with alert eyes. His head was crowned with amber antlers. The morning sun, which sometimes paints everything red, gave the buck a coat of rich gold. The magic moment faded. The deer began to nose the ground looking for acorns.
Dad slowly let out his breath and raised his rifle a bit at a time. Gradually, gun and hunter lined up on the shoulder of the deer. The pain of the moment before was forgotten, but his body did not move as smoothly as in years past and every motion was willed. His finger clicked off the safety and began to gently pull on the trigger. The rifle exploded with the sound of thunder, slamming into his cancer-wasted shoulder, and pushed him back. It hurt. The buck collapsed under the impact of the bullet, and after a minute it was still.
That hunt was the one bright spot of a hard year, and we would talk about it often. The next year my Dad did not go deer hunting. My brother and I did not think we were going either. His time was short. The whole family had been expecting this for a long time, and we were all down.
Dad insisted that we go deer hunting opening morning. “I will know when you both get one.” He told us. We went because we loved him, and we showed that love by obeying his wishes.
My brother and I hunted close to home. The sky was iron gray and windless in the swamp. I hunted a well-traveled cane break crossing. A six pointer came down lane following 3 does. I made a clean kill and within the moment, I heard my brother shoot from the hill where he was hunting and I felt a chill. We had both taken our bucks at 7:36. I called home after we registered the deer. Mom said that Dad had died at 7:36.
This true story is dedicated to a man in Watertown, Wisconsin, who loved his Father.