These are two of the movie’s good points and things I held true when I participated in the sport. Always being prepared was not just something I learned in “Scouts,” it was also something the military police training drummed into me. It was also among the first things I learned from friends when I began hunting.
“You can always take it off, but you can’t put it on if you didn’t bring it,”
“Staying warm or cool is part of being prepared,” Leroy would add.
The two used to talk deer hunting year ‘round, but especially during the summer just prior to the opening of the fall bow season. I guess I got caught up in the intrigue of deer hunting, and because I still remembered a neighborhood friend who used to hunt with his dad and would come back telling stories of the things he had witnessed. I always wanted to be part of that experience, but my dad had no interest.
However, the driving force was probably the loneliness I was experiencing after my divorce. I was desperate for new relationships and for things to occupy my off time. So, it is easy to see how I would get caught up in the excitement and camaraderie of any sport.
Soon, I was interested enough that I bought a bow, camouflage clothing, insulated boots, a tree stand, and everything else that went with the sport. It was probably a small fortune! I began practicing at the range with them after shift, driving many a sleepy mile out of the way just to shoot arrows, talk hunting techniques, and just be with new friends.
Anyone that has ever been around guys who are deep into any sport knows how much they love to talk and pass on what they know. Maybe it is just a way to show off, but it makes no difference, if you ask a question, someone is going to load you up with more than you can remember.
The first hunt went flawlessly, except that I did not make a kill as I had fantasized. I brought everything I needed and more, and I loved every minute of the ride to Chuck Swan Wildlife Management Area, in Union County, Tennessee, much of the time I was in the tree, the time we spent having lunch, and the ride home sharing experiences of the day.
However, the trip into the dark woods to the tree I had previously found on a scouting trip, and getting the stand to the predetermined height, was not nearly as enjoyable!
The first rule in deer hunting is get to your stand before the sun comes up. Somehow, they think that deer are hard sleepers and will not hear a hunter crunching his way through the dark, flipping on and off some strange light source, and breathing as if he is nearing a heart attack!
Anyway, it’s the code, and if you really want to piss off a redneck hunter, just walk by his tree stand after day break and you are liable to get shot, or at least an imaginative cussing! “Might as well go home now, you’ve spook’em all!”
My particular problem with walking in the pitch blackness, besides taking sharp little switch hits across the lips and wiping spider webs off my face, was that I held my breath so I could hear any movement around me, but in particular – behind me! I would not realize I was holding my breath until my lungs screamed out and I fell against some small tree panting like a beagle on a rabbit hunt! In later years, I learned to slow my pace and breathing, and strip down to one thin layer, but for these first few years the result was I was soaked in sweat and ended up nearly freezing to death before the sun could come up and dry me off!
My second deer hunt was on the AEDC (Arnold Engineering Development Center) near
This first morning, however, was to be etched into my memory; it was the morning I rewarded with my second moniker, “Boots!” With all the great planning and hunting packing traditions, I went off without my hunting boots! Luckily for me, there was no “Michael” character around to talk Leroy out of loaning me his backup pair!
Martin was the first to call me Boots, and from that point forward, with that group anyway, I was “Boots!” Often, as I moved through the giant refurbishing complex at the K-25 Plant known as K-1401, I would often hear someone from high above me yell, “Boots!”
Looking up, I would find Martin, standing in the steel near a 40-ton crane he was working on, at full-draw; left arm outstretched pointing straight at me, right hand fingers anchored deep into his lips and right jaw and releasing an imaginary arrow at me. I would fane being hit mid-chest and stagger around the concrete floor! It would all end with us both laughing and giving each other a “thumbs up” before returning to work.
“What’s up Boots,” he would say?!
That first morning at AEDC was another lesson learned in my hunting career.
We hunted all day in a steady warm rain, the kind of day that heats you up under your rain gear, so much that you end up wetter than you would have been had you just stood in the rain without it.
It was hard to hear with the rain beating on the vinyl camouflaged rain hood, so I was totally surprised when I turned my head and saw my first deer. At least I thought they were deer, but they looked too small, more like large dogs, so I watched puzzled for several minutes before realizing – THESE ARE DEER! The AEDC deer are, or at least they were then, smaller than their free roaming cousins in the nearby forest.
I quickly came to full-draw and nervously released my first arrow at one of the does. It sailed harmlessly over the nearest deer’s back, and frightening all but one away.
I struggled to load another arrow onto the bow’s rest and snap the string into the arrow’s plastic knock, which held it fast until I could raise the bow and pull to full-draw. There was no need to move slowly and stealthily, because the rain drowned all sound. I took aim, calculating the yardage in my mind, and released. The arrow buried in the ground about a foot from the doe. “Damn,” I said barely audible!
The doe heard the arrow but did not see it hit. She turned and sniffed the fletching on the arrow, but only turned and walked away about 10 feet.
Again, I fixed an arrow and shot sending it wide of the doe’s tail as she moved forward just as I released. It crashed into some bushes, making the doe twirl to see what was behind her, but surprisingly she did not flee the area.
I began the process of loading my final arrow, this time making sure I calmed myself and did everything as the voices in my head of
The doe pranced around the little tree twice, sniffing at the shaft. I could not contain my pent-up emotions any longer. I screamed, “Get the hell out of here you little bitch!”
The doe was gone in a flash and I sat exhausted on the edge of my tree stand, swinging my legs, mulling over and over the last 15 minutes of my life!
When Martin and Leroy arrived they asked what was going on, “Did you shoot a deer?”
“Hell no, but I shot all my arrows!”
Once on the ground, we located all my arrows, and only one was bent and unusable. The others survived to hunt another day.
Hunt another day I did, but some valuable lessons were learned that day, and not the least of which was that deer are not as big as cows!
Soon I would complete the rite of passage, and take back a little of what “Boots” had lost!