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This is an autobiographical essay on my first deer hunt that I wrote for an English composition class I am in this semester.


Snow had been falling since the previous evening, light and fluffy, like wisps of cotton dropping from the gray sky. As I had crawled into my sleeping bag, I could picture the flakes floating down, like paratroopers, to join their compatriots on the ground. Each gave a little banzai shout as they joined the assault. There were cars down there that needed to be stopped, and these flakes were up to the job.

Sometime during the night, though, the sky had cleared, and the temperature had dropped. Now, as I followed my father across the barren meadow, through a white cloud of my own breath, virgin snow crunched under my insulated winter boots. Above, the unnaturally clear sky was awash with stars, and the northern lights writhed back and forth in brilliant streamers of color. My father gave me a few minutes to marvel at it all through sleep encrusted eyes before pushing me onward.

Each footstep seemed to echo in the pre-dawn silence, like a blow from my father’s ax against the trunk of the old dead tree that had stood behind the cabin until we had chopped it up for firewood. It seemed to me that it was only my young steps that rang out, destroying the quiet, warning the deer of our approach.

"Run," each crunch of my boots told the deer. "Hunters are coming. Run and hide. Danger is near." From the carefully neutral expression on my father's face when he glanced back at me, I was sure that he agreed. I concentrated on walking as quietly as I could, wincing each time the snow compressed beneath my boots. It was a Herculean task made more difficult by the drifts of snow we had to navigate to reach the cover of the trees. There we would find shelter from the biting wind. There we could wait in ambush, hidden from the eyes of the forest critters.

This was what my father told me, and I believed him, despite feeling completely conspicuous in my brand new, bright orange snowsuit. The color was mandated by hunting regulations, so that other hunters wouldn't mistake us for deer and shoot us. I couldn't understand how the deer could possibly fail to notice us huddled down against the brilliant, white snow and the dark green and brown of the fir trees.

"Deer are color blind," my father told me when I asked him about it. I had my doubts, even though the orange clothes had been required since before I was born and there never seemed to be a lack of harvested deer loaded into the beds of pickups, and tied to the roofs of cars headed south when the season was over.

I pondered this again while I followed my father to the position he had selected for me; a stand right on the border between field and forest. Not for the first time, I noticed how sinister the trees seemed, even now, with the sky turning from black to deep blue, and a hint of rose along the treetops.

In southern Wisconsin, where we lived, the trees had actual leaves that they dropped in the fall. During the summer the woods were dark and shaded, providing cool refuge from the blazing sun. Come the fall, when the trees shed their leaves in a blaze of color, the woods opened up, light spilling through the bare branches. It was as if the forest was trying to hold onto every bit of the wan, winter sun, preserving a feeble memory of the lost summer.

The northern forests, on the other hand, were mostly pine. They were dark, foreboding and spiny, like ill-tempered porcupines. They never dropped their needles, preferring to keep the secrets of the forests hidden from the light of day. They put forth an aura of menace, seeming to say "Keep away. There are things in here that you were never meant to see." Even the snow didn't like the pine trees, quickly sliding from the branches, falling to the ground below in great heaps.

During the summer, my parents were quick to warn us about straying into the woods so far as to lose track of the forest road. To do so was sure to leave us wandering lost until we died of thirst and starvation, or a rescue party found us. Of course, if I believed my brother, there were worse things in the woods than starving. His tales fed me a steady diet of lions, and tigers, and bears, and it wasn't hard to believe while standing at the forest verge, staring into the depths of the darkness.

A soft hiss caught my attention, reigning in my wandering mind. My father stood, staring at me from beneath bushy, raised eyebrows. Caught up in the memory of my brother's tales, and the aura of sullen resentment from the forest, I had failed to notice my father stopping. I had walked several steps past him. He sighed, quietly, and pointed to a large outcropping of granite sticking up from under the snow.

"Stay low, keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut. Don't fidget about," He whispered at me. It was advice I had heard for the last six months, ever since I had expressed an interest in joining the hunt, and my father had actually taken me seriously.

"I know," I said, much too loudly.

"Quiet. There are other hunters out here besides you. They would like a chance at getting a deer." I felt my face turning hot and red. He didn't wait for a reply. The sky was growing brighter, and he had to get to his stand before it was light enough for him to be seen by the deer when they moved from their beds to the field for breakfast.

I crouched down by the rock, wondering which direction I should be looking, and if the cold I felt was real, or just an imaginary reason to abandon the hunt. For a few minutes I could hear my father moving along the edge of the trees, headed for a ridge several hundred yards away. It was the prime deer stand, where a hunter would have a clear view of the field in both directions. Any animal moving across the snow would stand out like a road flare on a midnight highway. I was a little jealous of his stand, but he was the oldest hunter, so he got first pick.

A twig snapped somewhere off to my right. Something was moving back in the trees, though thick undergrowth kept it from my searching eyes. Was it a deer? I doubted my luck ran to finding a deer a scant fifteen minutes after plopping my butt down on the cold, snow-covered ground. I had already resigned myself to seeing nothing at all, let alone finding a deer.

What else could it be, though? My older brother was somewhere, vaguely, in that direction. He had been trusted enough by my dad to make his own way to his stand. He had been long gone before I left the blessed heat of the hunting cabin for the cold, dark, forbidding outdoors. He wouldn't be out tramping about. At bare minimum, dad would smack him upside the head. Hunters traditionally waited on stand in this neck of the woods. Moving about was a good way to get shot at, orange suit or not.

We did have black bear in this area and, some said, grizzly bears, though no one could actually say they had ever seen a grizzly, or one of the elusive cougars that figured in fireside tales. I had never even seen a black bear, though dad had pointed out tracks he attributed to them. I had no idea what a bear track looked like. The tracks could have been left by Fido the dog. My fevered imagination, though, had no problem picturing a huge, shaggy shape rising out of the undergrowth, fixing me with a glare from glowing red eyes before charging with an awful bellow of rage.

The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed that it was a big, clumsy bear, all muscle and bad temper, rather than a graceful, nervous deer. It was out there, waiting for me to lower my guard so that it could ambush me. Years from now, a hunter would stumble across my bleached, gnawed bones. I would be just one more victim of Ol' Silverback, the demon bear of the north woods.

In the hopes of forestalling an attack, I hefted my rifle, an old Trapdoor Springfield that was longer than I was tall, onto the rock, bracing it, barrel pointed to where the creature would emerge from the trees before it made it's attack on me. My heart thumped wildly in my chest, my hands shaking as I pulled back the massive hammer until the trigger clicked, locking to the rear, ready for me to shoot in defense of my life. I knelt behind the rifle, staring down the length of the barrel. I could feel snow melted by my body heat, begin to soak through my snowsuit.

"Come on, monster," I whispered. "Give it your best shot. We'll see who gets who today." For a moment I could picture the townsfolk gathered around the massive bear carcass, reaching out to touch the dense fur. I would be the boy who killed the monster that stalked their homes. Even my own imagination said to me "Who are you kidding?"

I held my breath when I saw it cautiously emerge from the trees, bit by bit, looking around. When it was sure it was alone, it moved into view. Everything my father had told me was washed away in flood of adrenaline. My finger smashed against the trigger as if my life depended on it. The rifle bucked against my shoulder. It would leave a bruise that looked like I had been walloped with a ball bat. Everything disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

On the ride home, I kept looking back at the trailer we were towing behind the family jeep. I rather wished the cargo wasn't hidden by a tarp so the other hunters, the ones who hadn't filled their tag, could feel a little jealous. It wasn't the biggest buck ever taken in northern Wisconsin. Other hunters might have passed it by, but it was my deer and it had my tag on it.

The local cafe had a tradition during the hunting season. For successful hunters, breakfast was half price, and coffee was free. I didn't even like coffee then, being only twelve years old. I tried not to let that show when the waitress set down my plate of ham and eggs and filled my mug.

I like to think my father was proud of me that morning, that things were a little different. I had filled my first tag, joined the other hunters at the table, and gotten just a little older. By the end of breakfast, the coffee tasted just fine.
 

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Great story and very well written! :) I think your writing skills show the makings of another Jack London or Zane Grey! 8)

CJ
 

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Nicely written !! I think that that story is in many hunters who dont have the skills to bring it out in written word ... That first deer is a special day in any hunters life !!
 

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What a woderful story and very well written, I'm sure your Father and Mother where so proud of your story for school as well as your teacher.
 
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