The past couple of weekends have found me wandering around through outdoor sports shows that featured a lot of taxidermy displays.
As an avid deer hunter, I always enjoy looking at the different configurations a whitetail’s antlers take – some large, some in between, some small. Typicals and non-typicals alike.
Big, clean 8-pointers and gnarly old bucks with junk and character points going everywhere. The slick, shiny coats of the early season bucks and the almost woolly, gray hides on the big boys taken in the late fall almost make them look like two completely different species.
Seeing all this antler has me surveying my own living room walls as I peck away on my laptop. I don’t live in a large log home or a rustic cabin in the woods – quite the opposite. A modest, little pre-fab ranch on barely two acres of land. A stereotypical cookie cutter house that you can find along any of our county roads.
But, once you make your way through the kitchen and round the corner into the living room, you’re in my “lodge”. Leather furniture and rustic wood trim. Family photographs and outdoor-themed artwork adorn the walls along with a handful of deer mounted over the years.
Many of the bucks on the wall would be considered respectable by most. A couple of the them would make the “book”, but I’ve never really been interested in having them entered. But, as I sit here, one buck on the wall stands out. He’s not huge by any stretch and to be honest, the taxidermy work isn’t the greatest. He’s mediocre at best, but he is the buck that started me on the path to becoming a deer hunter.
Opening weekend, November of 1983 found me as a 13-year old kid sitting in a wooden stand hammered into the crotch of an old hackberry tree. Cold and frosty, hunter’s orange toboggan pulled tightly over my head as my toes froze in the old rubber pac boots.
Full of anticipation, I hear crunching in the leaves behind me as a spike buck makes his way to my spot.
The Mossberg 500 is shouldered and I click the safety off. I can vividly remember watching the barrel bounce around as I shook from the cold and my nerves. I settled my breath and talked myself into calming down.
Just as I was about to squeeze the trigger, movement to the left of the spike. A beautiful buck bolted onto center stage and chased the younger deer away. The shakes returned as the bigger deer made a “B” line towards my tree.
Less than 10 yards away…
The 12-gauge barked as the buck flinched and ran into the frost covered alfalfa field to the front of my hiding spot. I racked another round into the chamber and the second shot hit it’s mark and the buck fell still as frost flew through the air and floated back down like snow flakes. Steam rose from the buck as I sneaked my way towards him, my heart raising and breathing fast.
My very first deer was taken, a thick necked, rut swollen 7-pointer.
That memory is just as clear today as it was 30 plus years ago.
To me, the antlers on the wall, the trophies mounted, the artwork of a skilled taxidermist isn’t about what a deer’s antler’s score. It’s not about honoring myself, it’s about honoring the animal. It isn’t about how big or how worthy they are. It about memories and reminders – like a photograph in three-dimension.
Each time I look around the walls at the animals harvested over my lifetime as a hunter, I’m taken back in time: to the sights, the smells, the scenery, the emotions.
I’m taken back to the hunt.
That is what my walls and my “trophies” are for.