This deer season, for the first time in three years, I felt I would have enough time to warrant buying a western Oregon general season buck tag. And although no meat went in the freezer, I wouldn’t trade this season for anything. I was able to take one of my sons with me for the first time this year. It was his first hunt, and of my three children my middle boy seems the most able to quietly observe and appreciate the stillness of the forest. We were standing on a ridge top, watching the open timber below us, when the wind began to move up the draw. As we listened to the approaching breeze, he slowly turned his head towards me and smiled. No words were needed, and no words were spoken as I returned his smile. Funny how sometimes the best conversations don’t involve words.
We were hunting in areas I had not hunted before and the pleasure of seeing new country was greatly enhanced by not only sharing it with my son, but also getting to explain to him why certain parts of it caught my attention as a hunter. Discovering a ridge top grove of what my dad would call scrub oak, and explaining to my son that the acorns would be a valuable food source for a variety of animals, and then explaining why we were hanging back and not just walking out in the middle of the grove first thing. Finding a well-established game trail with both elk and deer tracks (as well as a place where a bear had moved some rocks digging ground squirrels), once we did enter the grove, and following the trail was especially cool, as we were able to move fairly quietly through the trees. I say fairly quietly as my son seemed to take each step as if the ground owed him money. Think Godzilla approaching a small Japanese village, impact tremors alerting the inhabitants of their impending doom. I explained to him the importance of stealth, and I know he was trying his best to tread lightly, but I still had visions of fir cones and angry squirrels being shaken from the trees with our passing. I didn’t give him too hard of a time about it though, as I remember my elders accusing me of doing the same thing when I first started to hunt. One of the highlights of the season came on the last day. We had slowly still hunted our way in about two miles following an old skid road, and as we were pausing to quietly listen and observe, a lone bull elk exploded in the brush maybe fifty or sixty feet from us. In my experience, elk seem to have two primary modes of egress once they are aware of your presence. There’s stealth mode which always leaves me wondering how something (or things) that big can move that quietly through brush that thick, and then there’s the tumultuous all hell breaking loose tear down the mountain mode. He was a big old bull all by himself, and he opted for the second mode. My son’s eyes were the size of saucers as we listened to the bull’s hasty retreat, the crashing of brush and thumping of hooves making it easy to follow his progress. Admittedly, my own heart skipped a beat when the bull first got up and blasted out of his bed. If that sort of thing doesn’t get your blood pumping a little faster, I’m thinking a visit to your cardiologist may not go amiss. “Wow! That was cool!” my son whispered when we could no longer hear the bull moving through the trees and brush. “Yeah it was” I replied with grin.
A couple of weeks after the season ended my dad had a stroke. I had been trying to figure out how I could carve out enough time to take him for a ride up in the woods, but with a family of my own to take care of, and school work, and everything else, time always seems to be at a premium. A friend of mine calls it the tyranny of the urgent. Dad’s mobility isn’t what it used to be (he gets around with a walker now), but I knew he would enjoy getting out of the house, and if a grouse or covey of quail were foolish enough to sit still close to the road long enough for him to unlimber his old 12gauge, then all the better. Now however, who knows. He’s making good progress recovering both his vision and most of his cognitive ability, but still physically weak as a cat. It’s been a rough deal for all of us and as I was sitting with a bowl of Stokkebye’s LBF after a particularly trying day, I couldn’t help but reflect on hunting this season with my son, and the fact that he is just starting out in the woods, while the man who taught me to hunt, taught me the things I’m teaching him, may be done. And it strikes me once again just what a mixed bag this life is with it’s highs and lows. Through the circle fast and slow.