It’s a tale of two worlds. For me, early archery season is usually a solitary affair. Most of my time afield is spent alone. With it come some of our most pleasing weather, most beautiful surroundings and a time for quiet reflection.
But, as far as hunting seasons go, the firearms deer opener is undoubtedly the most popular with throngs of Hoosiers, as it is with my immediate family.
Each season on opening day I find myself sitting in one of my favorite woodlots. Close by is my young nephew Cole. Scattered throughout the rest of the section are my brother Jim, sons Joseph and Anthony and favorite son-in-law, Robert. I can’t help but think in a few short years my grandsons will expand the party.
Throughout most of the year, everyone has their own direction to go and own lives to live. But this is a special weekend, one where we all come together for a couple days. Not solely for the hunting but of the time spent together, outdoors with family. We will be like thousands of other Hoosiers, waiting, watching and listening for any hint of an approaching deer.
For me, this will be the 44th renewal of the unique ritual that is the opening weekend of the firearms deer hunting season. For some odd reason I have been seriously attracted to this unofficial state holiday even before I was old enough to hunt myself.
In earlier years success was measured by just seeing a deer, even if that meant watching it vanish through the woods. Once in a while I would hear a distant shot launching me into a daydream wishing I was the lucky hunter.
From the first time I actually became an active participant in the deer hunting ritual, around 1972, my life has changed forever. But while I began my deer-hunting career with unbridled enthusiasm and excitement, those first several seasons brought no success. Back then we could not harvest does and catching a mere glimpse of a buck was seldom. I can still remember darkness falling on the final day those first few years and the disappointment that came with it, knowing I would go deerless again that year.
If anything, the lack of success those first several seasons strengthened my resolve and that dedication soon paid off as I took a nice six-point buck with the first shot I ever fired during deer season. The ink was still wet on my driver’s license so thankfully I could parade that little buck around town making a tour of family and friends. Today that small buck still graces my wall and even though it is surrounded by dozens of seriously larger specimens, no memory is more special.
Looking back on all those years I am somewhat thankful I learned early on just how tough deer hunting can be at times. Even after gaining knowledge and experience that has made success a regular occurrence most seasons, I still appreciate every deer I take. Deer hunting means something different to every hunter and this is probably one reason why it appeals to so many folks.
Another lasting memory of my first few deer seasons was just how bitterly cold it was back in the early 1970’s. I still wish during those brutal winters that I could have afforded high-tech clothing, although I am not sure they even made it back then.
As much as I love the traditions of hunting our states only big game animal, I also appreciate the advancements made over the past four decades. Besides the warmest of outerwear, we have LED flashlights, handheld GPS units, trail cameras and much more.
In spite of being an incurable gear hound, there is one piece of equipment that has spent nearly as many hours in the deer woods as I have - my old shotgun. The first few years I hunted with the only gun I had, an old 20-gauge purchased from J.C. Penney. And the first deer taken with that gun had more to do with luck than accuracy or skill. After saving for several years I finally purchased a Remington 1100, sporting a smooth-bore slug barrel. Even that gun has given way to a litany of other, much farther reaching firearms. Yet as each season opens my hand instinctively is drawn to that same old gun. I guess it just wouldn’t feel right carrying anything else in these parts. Even though it is not the best deer gun by today’s standards, it has served me well as I cannot even begin to think of the number of deer it has taken. Past history and sentimental value are priceless.
As time passed I’ve grown content with the number of animals I have put a tag on. It is not so much about me anymore, but rather the younger members of my deer hunting family.
So as many of you read this column, I can promise you one thing: I will be in the woods, with my family and that same old gun, hoping to add another great moment to an already long list of special deer hunting memories.
And no matter what your adventures are this season, big or small, I wish you thrills along the way.