A caution: if you dislike hunting, you should not read this specific post.
There are birds in the corn everywhere — titmice, chickadees and squadrons of mourning doves. They are shaking the stalks and dried leaves before and in back of my spot. I am hiding my face in a shadow thrown by a corner of the blind from the sun arcing down to the west. Three raccoons have run from the tree line into the field with a funky, close to the ground, long striding lope like a bear. Then the deer begin to emerge. Coming up from the crick to the north, three small doe amble up the hill, cropping grass, head up in a circuit, cropping, the air flowing crosswise between us. They cannot smell me. One lifts its hind leg and scratches its nose. Another twists its neck a full 90 degrees and chews an itch on its back. Their eyes are almost globular in shape and in this light, a pure black. There is corn and scrub between us, but the bow is balanced on my lap, the bolt notched and I am waiting.
Before nightfall nine doe show themselves. No bucks. Twice they freeze and stare at the blind and at me beyond the open flap. The three minute rule: do not move for three minutes and they will dismiss their concern. I count off the time in my head and fall into a kind of body trance, a focused, alert drifting, but my eyes remain locked on her. She returns to grazing.
In darkness I receive a call from my friend. He has taken a doe; another hunter with us, there with his daughter, has done the same, but his has run deeper into the woods. For the next hour we scratch our way through dense, pickered forest, limited in sight by the circle of light thrown by our flashlights. From the initial blood splash and broken arrow we circle and attempt a quadrant of sorts. The mood is one of great seriousness. We want to find that deer.
A chill drops straight down upon us, all heat gone from the day. At every step we grow more entangled by smilex or raspberry or rose or stopped cold by deadfalls. We descend a slope. We look for blood spoor, for tracks where the leaves have been overturned in a path. We find nothing. The next morning, my friend walks the same ground. Nothing.
We come back to my friend’s deer, a doe, spine-shot, who dropped where she stood. She is still alive. No one carries a pistol. There is no discussion; we all know what needs to happen next. I hold her head and my friend cuts into her throat. He must do this twice. I kneel by her. I find myself saying, softly, “Come on girl, come on girl.” My hand rests over her heart when it stops beating. The four of us look on this moment in a small splash of light. Night sounds crowd in.
We load the body into the back of a truck and drive the fields under a sharp-cut waxing moon. The meat will go this evening to a neighbor’s family who have struggled recently — forty one years ago, he was my student. His boys will do the butchering, and tomorrow they all will eat their fill.