I’ve spent many sleepless nights of my life overly excited before the opening of deer season. Dreams of drop tines and Boone and Crockett Club-sized racks run through my head on never-ending …
I’ve spent many sleepless nights of my life overly excited before the opening of deer season. Dreams of drop tines and Boone and Crockett Club-sized racks run through my head on never-ending loops every year at the first sight of bucks in velvet.
But this year was different. I wondered if my days of dreaming about great hunts were over.
In March, while most were just starting to think about the pandemic, I lost a big chunk of the sight in my dominant eye. Between visits to doctors and specialists, the sad reality came to me: Hunting was going to be a major challenge. Most things would be — from walking to hunting-and-pecking my way through long-winded stories. It really wasn’t until I saw a big buck that I realized I’d never be able to use my beloved compound bow or the pump 12 gauge shotgun my father gave me many years ago.
Non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy had cast a shadow over my eye. From what I understand, the eye swelled and crushed the fragile optic nerves in the back of my eye. There’s some vision, but I can’t look down the pins on my sight or through a scope with my right eye. It’s permanent.
I looked for a silver lining, determined to keep my chin up. I’m still looking. As one of my exceedingly honest and sometimes belligerent friends stated, “getting old isn’t for [wussies].”
Before deer season, I had pushed through the headaches and blurry mornings that come with the condition for months. Self doubt was the harder part. As opening day arrived, and with my 30.06 in one hand and a general tag in the other, I set out, nervous and alone.
The first few trips were uneventful as deer seemed to avoid me at every turn. I practiced looking through my scope with my left eye. Simply holding the gun in my right hand with my left index finger on the trigger felt uncomfortable.
I knew I wasn’t up to taking a shot at a deer on the run. I hid in camo the best I could, only leaving small shooting lanes between me and the edge of the fields to keep from spooking my prey. I spent my time watching the dark-eyed juncos, ravens and yellow-shafted northern flickers going about their business. Until my left eye strengthens, tiny warblers and song birds are lacking in the beautiful details that had drawn me to what I always thought would be a life-long hobby.
On a crisp fall afternoon, after buck season had ended, a beautiful white-tailed doe stepped out on the edge of the field about 300 yards away. The wind was blowing hard, but I had a stout rest in which to steady my rifle. I put the crosshairs on my target and eventually, after overthinking the shot much too long, gently squeezed the Accutrigger on my Savage. The deer looked in my direction and then flashed its grand tail and ran away. After a short wait, I marched to the spot where she had stood and realized I had completely missed.
I started to doubt my equipment in a futile attempt to blame metal, composite and glass rather than accepting the fact it was my fault. My spirits were low and the following hunts were half-hearted. On one last Sunday late in the season I went out in the morning, but only stayed for a couple hours after talking myself into believing I was wasting my time.
I went home; I was quiet. I’ve been described as a chatterbox more than once (a day). When I’m quiet, you know something is wrong.
I had left my boots on the back porch and was sulking in front of the flat screen. My fantasy football team was getting crushed by one of my best friends, dinner was hours away and even an afternoon nap sounded like defeat wrapped in the undersized quilt on our aging, but comfy couch.
Then the phone rang. A friend was on the other end, asking if I wanted to sit out until sunset for a final attempt of the weekend. I said I was finished. At that moment, I think I meant permanently. But he wouldn’t hear any of it. “Meet me out by Kamm’s Corner, I know a place,” he insisted.
The hunt was almost too quick. Two does walked in at 100 yards within minutes of stepping out of the truck. My shot was slightly off, but good enough and soon we were dragging my harvested mule deer doe back to the vehicle. It literally happened so quickly that it wasn’t until we were quartering the deer that I began to forget all the gloom and doom previously echoing through my over-sized (fat) head earlier in the day.
I wasn’t very sure with a knife in my hand; the vision problem didn’t go away with my successful hunt. But eventually, as I started feeling more comfortable and memories of some of the best hunts of my life started coming to me, I realized I’ve always had a friend at my side during my most memorable hunts.
My eye is what it is. Worse things can and do happen to people every day. I’ll never be a great shot. But that’s OK, too. I wasn’t great with two good eyes.
Life is an adventure. Nothing is guaranteed. You can be enjoying a day afield at one moment and lying in the dirt the next. It’s that outstretched hand of a friend picking you up and helping to dust you off that makes life, at its worst, bearable.