Since the beginning of time, families and friends have gathered together for the celebration of the hunt. Sitting around the dinner table telling stories about past hunts always gets everyone pumped up for opening morning. So after getting invited again this year by good friends Ken and Sue Kahler and their sons Eric, Dan, and Joe, to hunt the Kahler ranch in central Wisconsin, my wife, Jenn, my dad, Bob, and myself knew the Nov. 22 deer opener couldn't come fast enough.
This year was extra special as it would be four years prior that Ken and Sue's oldest son, Eric, was picked up by his military recruiter at noon on opening day. Now after two trips to Iraq, he would again be joining us at the ranch.
As the day got closer, memories came back to me of when I was young, helping my dad pack up and wishing I was old enough to hunt with him. Soon I was 12 and after taking my hunter safety class, it was my turn to pack up for my first deer hunt. I remember how great it was that I got to go hunting and my brothers had to stay home and go to school. I can still see the smile on Dad's face when he walked up to my stand after I had shot my gun several times. He asked if I have got one, and I told him I had gotten three! Its hard to believe that was 23 years ago.
Now I that am a little older and wiser, it's been my mission to cherish each and every hunt. In today's world, it's easy to forget to smell the roses; life always seems to get in the way. For me and many other outdoorsmen and woman, the celebration is a way to relax and forget about all of the stress of life. The deer stand is a special place, a gift from God, and only good thoughts are allowed there. The election, gas prices, the stock market, and who is getting bailed out next by the government should be the farthest thing from your mind.
Fast forward to opening morning. at 3 a.m., Ken tip toes into the basement while we are fast asleep. He flips on the light, and then crows like a rooster so we know its time to gear up for the hunt. Then with our bellies full and our backpacks loaded, we head up stairs to receive our orders from Ken on who will be sitting in each stand. Then we are off into the predawn darkness headed for our own little piece of heaven.
Opening morning is one of the most exciting days of the year. Fully charged and ready to go, you sit in your stand analyzing every sound you hear in the darkness. Then to make things worse, your eyes and ears begin to play tricks on you. The sounds of leaves rustling is surely a deer, and every stump is a huge buck looking right at you. As you check your watch minute by minute for legal shooting time, you strain your eyes looking for deer. Finally a shot in the distance signals the official start of the deer season.
Ken's sister, Laurie, startled us with a single shot just before 7 a.m. and was first to connect with a massive nine-pointer she caught trying to flank past her stand at just over 170 yards. Jenn and I were watching a power-line cut, trying to get some video tape, when my number was called. I heard a couple of twigs crack and caught movement to my right; out stepped a nice six-pointer. I let him get clear of the woods and step into the power-line cut. I took a deep breath, squeezed the trigger and took him cleanly with one shot. After a couple of high fives, Jenn and I settled back in hoping for another opportunity. Next it was Dan's turn. He and Ken were overlooking a swamp crossing when two mature does tried to make a break for it. Missing on the first shot, Dan cycled the 300 magnum and squeezed. The second shot was true, and the big doe came to a screeching halt. Sue and Joe were sitting in the same stand watching another swamp crossing. They had been trying to get the heater going all morning and with temps in the single digits, the conditions were poor at best. They toughed it out and were rewarded when 12 does tried to make it from one side of the swamp to the other. Joe picked out the biggest one and dropped her in her tracks. Dad got into the mix taking two does, one right after another. And Jenn connected on a personal best shot of 175 yards on a big doe. As of Monday, at 2p.m., our party of 10 hunters has harvested nine deer and hope to get a few more for sausage.
The day will come when we all get older and can't get around. And when those days come, all we will have to hold onto are the memories we have made along the way.
If you work too much or spend too much time running from here to there, never getting anything done, you won't have anything to daydream about when you are 80. So take some time and celebrate the hunt with friends and family. Find your way to the deer stand where only good thoughts are allowed. Take a deep breath of that fresh air. Sometimes I think all the world's problems could be solved if every person in this world would spend opening weekend in a deer stand.
A big thanks to Ken, Sue and the boys for opening the doors to the Kahler ranch and allowing us to celebrate the hunt with their family.