5 a.m. comes too early as the alarm clock jolts me awake.
I shake the cobwebs out of my head and listen to my knees pop as I throw on my hunting clothes for the morning’s hunt. I head out the door and I’m greeted by a cool, damp September day.
“Should be a perfect morning for the kids” goes through my mind as I drive to the spot.
All the youth hunters are ready and the camp is buzzing with excitement. Too much energy for this early in the morning.
Five kids in total.
Ohio, Kentucky, New Jersey, Mississippi and Indiana are all represented.
A couple of real pistols in the bunch as I size up the youngsters. Before I give them the safety speech, the group draws numbers for stand sights and each of them are paired up with a guide to chaperone the hunt.
I’m secretly crossing my fingers and hoping for the young man from Kentucky.
He and I have shared a hunting blind in the past and I’d enjoyed spending time in the woods with him. “Yes!”, my mind yells as it’s decided my little friend from across the river and I will hunt together. The hunting spots are divided up and our plan for the morning is set.
We make our way under the cover of darkness to our hiding spot, a large comfortable blind tucked back in the edge of the woods along the base of a steep hill. Before us is a small patch of clover and with any luck, a buck will stop by for a quick bite on his way back to his bedroom. We settle in and wait for the sun to come.
Daylight is a long time coming up the Grant’s Creek valley.
The first sign of sunlight hits the opposite hill on the far side of the creek.
A barred owl fires off its last call of the gray morning and sets off a fierce howl and barrage of barking from a pack of coyotes somewhere further down the holler. My young partner and I exchange a glance at each other, acknowledging the coyote’s presence and the eeriness of their howling.
We focus our gaze back out to the field and wait for light.
The air is thick, cool and heavy. As the sun creeps higher, a breeze begins to blow, swirling a fog bank from side to side, back and forth across the valley. We sit in silence, waiting for a buck to emerge from the fog, laying low across the clover. I shake off the chill as my buddy tucks his chin further into the top of his coat.
We wait and we watch…
Each minute brings with it more daylight and I’m rooting for the sun to win and burn off the fog. The damp coolness and my stiff joints don’t mix well. I peek out the windows of the blind as does my Kentucky friend. We pass the time whispering and talking about hunting, friends, school and the like. All the things a 12 year old, country boy would talk about.
I listen hard as his thick, Appalachian accent almost sounds like a different language at times. We talk for a few minutes and then minutes of silence. My mind subconsciously tries to distinguish all the sounds coming from the woods around us. The bird calls blend together into one song, but my brain somehow sorts them out, dissects them into individuals. Cardinals, nuthatches, titmouse, wrens, sapsuckers and woodpeckers can all be heard in the chorus.
Minutes turn into hours and I can’t help but recall past youth hunts. Hunts where I’ve sat with my own children, grown too fast. Memories of my now adult daughter and my near 16 year old son, good memories. The kind of memories that put a lump in your throat and a smile to your lips.
Finally, movement as a buck glides into the clover from our left. A nice buck from his profile view. I do my best impression of a deer and grunt the fella to a stop, 40 yards in front of my partner’s muzzle loader. The deer stops on a dime, just as planned and looks directly at us. He’s carrying a solid four point rack on one side of his head and a spindly two point antler on the opposite side.
My pal looks at me for some guidance and without saying a word, he lowers his gun and gives the strange antlered buck a free pass to continue on his way. Had it been any of the other kids in the group, I’d have given them the green light to take the shot, but this young man is quite an accomplished hunter and has several deer to his credit and to be honest, he wasn’t ready for his hunt to end and the more I thought about it, neither was I.
We spent the rest of the morning watching and listening. Joking and smiling, whittling sticks and dozing off a time or two and creating memories.
No, Ethan isn’t my own son, but I am grateful for the time we shared out in the woods, grateful for jogging my own memory, evoking thoughts of my own kids, grateful for giving me a reason to get out there and grateful for the opportunity to share and enjoy the outdoors and to pass on a tradition that hopefully he’ll carry on.
– David Hewitt