The frost came. The deer with it. And my arrow followed.
I hadn’t had a realistic shot at a Michigan buck since my very first season. An eight-point cruised by to find a younger, dumber me soaking up the morning within the roots of an old beech tree – my bow several feet away. A staring contest went on for several minutes. I lost. Several does fell to my bow in the years that followed, but not many, and never a buck. Then, during the first frost of November (2015), all that changed.
Footsteps cut through the morning mist, alerting an older, slightly wiser me in a brush pile no more than 15 yards away. The wind was right and my heart thumped wildly as he closed the distance.
Saliva dripped from the corners of his mouth as he breathed the heavy breath of a young buck in rut. I could see every exhale in the morning cold and could almost feel the veins throb in his neck as if they were my own. I knew passion when I saw it. He was on a doe.
At eight yards he turned toward me, brown eyes peering at and through me to the woods behind. I froze, hiding behind the brim of a wool hat and the riser of my bow. “It’s been three years since my last kill.” I prayed. “Please, turn him. Please guide this arrow.”
He arched to sniff the air and suddenly threw his head to the left, finding what he was looking for. Everything slowed down. My back and shoulders creaked and popped out of dormancy. My left arm raised. My right hand scraped against the whiskers of my face like a dull razor. I found my spot.
The string fell and time returned to normal – and then some. Arrow disappeared into hide with a sharp crack and reappeared with another. He dropped, spun, and returned to the safety of the grass. All in one, single, devastating instant.
I felt nothing at first. Just the shaking. My knees wobbled, as I stood up to track the buck’s exit. Even then, with all the trouble I caused, he moved with a level of grace I could never achieve. I envied him for that and suddenly hated myself.
“Take him.” I prayed. “Please, make it quick.”
Time passed and my stomach churned. It was eerily still. The squirrels quit barking. The birds quit chirping. The geese quit honking. The sun was much higher now and the frosty white browse melted into a dull brown. What was once beautiful and vibrant now seemed dead to me.
“I’ve done it now,” I thought. “I killed the morning.”
Suddenly boots crunched against the frozen undergrowth and I turned to find Rob emerging from the edge of the timber. I waved him over.
“I think it’s bad.” I whispered. “Where’d you hit him?” He asked, leaning his bow against a tree. “It looked high, but the arrow went all the way through. I can see a few drops by that sapling. I don’t know. I’m afraid I necked him. I think I might’ve rushed that shot.” My heart sank – heavy with the words.
He walked over, kneeling to inspect the ground. “It’s bubbling.” Rob observed. “I think you did better than you think. There’s more over there. Hell, anyone could follow this.”
“I suppose.” I muttered.
We crept from spatter to spatter, each getting thicker than the last, until we reached the freshly plowed dirt of the cornfield. My arrow lay on the edge amidst the soil and stalks. It was red. The once pristine, white fletching was now a mess of matted crimson.
My heart began to beat again. This time, in a good way. “He finally shook it out here Rob. I guess he couldn’t have gone far with this mess in him.” I bent to examine it but felt the smack of Rob’s hand against my shoulder instead. “Nick, he’s right over there.”
Rob laughed, pointing adamantly to a pile of brown fur in the middle of the field. He emphasized the words as if they were a sentence and laughed at every one.
“Right. Over. There. In front of you.”
I looked up and followed his finger to a pair of antlers sticking out of the rows. Everything hit me – anxiety, relief, sadness, disbelief, elation – coming and going and going and coming and all at once. I stared, forgetting what to do next.
“Rob, that’s my buck.” I babbled. “I didn’t think I was going to see anything. Shoot anything. I thought the shot was terrible.”
“You shot a buck.” Rob chuckled. “He’s a nice buck. It was a great shot.”
We made our way towards him, as slowly as excitement would allow. He was still, but I couldn’t touch him at first. I wouldn’t touch him. He looked too alive – too perfect laying there. He’d disappear if I touched him. I knew it.
“Yeah…I guess it was.” I said, feeling the smile spreading across my face.
“So, did you bring your knife?” Rob asked.
I laughed, because I couldn’t remember.