It started with the ubiquitous 20-minute delay in leaving the tower at Energy Center 3 and that pervasive fire that would allegedly burn uncontrolled for the few days in my absence. My father idled outside the office’s doors. I extinguished the brush fire and jumped in the truck. “Sorry for the delay” I said, “I don’t think I have ever been able to get out when we have agreed.”
My father responded, “No problem… Ready?”
Our cathartic hunt finally started. Just a few days prior, my grandfather had passed away. He was the powerful patriarch of my father’s side. He was an Oklahoma military academy graduate. He was an oil man, drilling for Exxon in South America. He was a rancher upon “retirement”, a hard-nosed conservative, and a ruthless gin player. He nurtured my grandmother through her struggle with dementia. He was tender and caring, a beacon of life. This hunt was our chance to go somewhere familiar to focus not on the details of the recent, but rather on the details of his life, our lives, and their overlap.
We pulled into the Bowling Green Hunting Club long after the sun had set. Steve, my father’s partner in deer destruction, anxiously awaited our arrival with an eyes-open, eyes-shut recliner session. We initiated the hunt, like many, with a glass of Wild Turkey and some catching up. The conversation started light, quickly approaching the heavier topic of my grandfather. It didn’t stay there long as my father burst with the news of his recent engagement to his soon-to-be wife. The tone brightened once more, and the trip’s emotional bookends were defined.
With just a few hours of sleep and light cottonmouth due to the whiskey the night before, I awoke with the moonlight still illuminating the porch. My father and Steve were already at the hunter’s perch, staring at the map of the hunting lease and debating the merits of today’s weather, the theories on how it would influence the deer, and where to hunt. There was a drizzle, predicted to turn into significant rain. I made a mental note to find a box-stand to put a roof over my head. The wind was out of the north—no stands were on the north end of a food plot. I decided on a stand, #61, that met the morning’s requirements.
Slow from the night before, I ambled into the stand late, around shooting light. The drizzle was settling, but the wind cut through the stand. An hour and a half had passed and no signs of life, aside from a few songbirds waking up to the rain. The lack of activity was interrupted by a distant gunshot, prompting an idle text in search of life. All was quiet; it appeared we missed the deer this morning. The devil found work for our idle hands, and a text exchange ensued. We revived a heated debate on scent, whether the deer prefer the stench of old men like Steve and my father or the eau de young‘un that I exuded. About this time, some movement at the far end of the field caught my attention. A lone hen turkey cautiously entered the field; four more followed after she gave the turkey nod. They pecked at the field, forming a military-like formation as if they swept the ground for land mines. They marched with a regular spacing, efficiently checked each bug and bit of nourishment on the field. They moseyed across the field toward the stand and broke formation to enter the woods just beyond the stand.
With turkeys being the pinnacle of excitement and the rain continuing for the morning, I left the stand at 10am to warm up, dry off, and get some breakfast. My dad and I met back at the truck, not a mile from each of our stands. We drove back empty handed, stirring up a few does on our way back to the camp. This only further wetted our appetites to get back to hunting. After a standard breakfast of eggs and meat, we couldn’t help but nod off for a quick nap—we wanted to let the rain subside, never mind the night before. The rain died off around 1pm; we quickly quibbled over which stand to choose and broke out to the woods.
I spooked five does off a food plot while driving to my stand of choice, feeding my anticipation, but planting a seed of doubt—did I choose the wrong area again? I climbed into the stand and the evening hunt commenced. I checked my phone, no service—silent solitude. The rain crept back to a drizzle, muffling noises and limiting movement. The wind was blowing from the north; the stand overlooked a plot to the south that was historically productive and another to the north with dubious production. Knowing the deer would quickly catch my scent if on the south field; I scanned it with preference to avoid missing a quickly passing deer. Two hours passed without movement from an animal larger than a grey squirrel, which continuously taunted me.
While scanning the south field, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Two does were standing on the north field; I had missed their entrance. Looking through my binoculars, I decided there was a viable candidate among the two. I grabbed my rifle, placing it on the rail of the stand. I again sized up the two does as they nibbled the green grass without concern. I confirmed the older doe still had my nomination. About that time, she turned to walk away from the stand, presenting an unethical shot. She remained facing away for what felt like an eternity (a few minutes in reality); she took one step to her right, presenting a quartering-away shot. I slowly squeezed the trigger; she dropped on the spot. The other doe spooked with the commotion. I waited another 10 minutes and walked up to her as the shooting-light was beginning to fade. She had some age but wasn’t as large as I anticipated, about 110 pounds. Sometimes our judgement isn’t as sound as we’d like to think.
I retrieved the truck, firing off a text to the hunting party that I had a doe down and was going to load her before meeting them along the road leading to camp. We took her back to the skinning shed and hung her up to begin the butchering process. Before beginning the cleaning ritual, we went back to the camp to change out of our camo and grab a drink to cope with our impending task on a frigid winter night. A short while later, the deer was skinned, gutted, and quartered. Our hands cooled as quickly as the deer.
We began cooking a late dinner, involving as much grilling as possible despite the cold weather. The steak and potatoes were charred. The green beans stewed; the whiskey and wine poured. Conversations began with stories of the day’s hunt—shots that weren’t there, shots that just weren’t quite right, and shots that we were lucky enough to take. We eventually ran out of the day's material, switching subjects to our lives outside of Bowling Green—much anticipated grandchildren yet to be born, and the children who could’ve waited to be born. The stories aged with the evening, reminiscing historical hunts and their fond glory. With the ideal environment and attention, the stories matured like the wine in our Styrofoam cups, and we reflected on old friendships, acquaintances, and those with which we were never acquainted. Steve and my father trickled drops of wisdom on how to survive and prosper in a corporate world, having worked together for years at Shell as geologists.
The next morning came quickly, and the rain was hardly a drizzle. I climbed into the stand. With the relief of having meat in the cooler, my focus wandered to the surrounding environment. Songbirds awoke, crooning to their partners. Franklin’s ground squirrels foraged and scampered along their "super-highway" below the stand. Woodpeckers hunted, signaling their hunting grounds with several knocks. Between bouts of reading and birdwatching, a doe and spike crossed the opening to the north with another doe following shortly thereafter. The deer were ending their day, and I followed suit.
For the final time on this trip, we recounted our morning’s hunting tales over a breakfast hash of last night’s steak, potatoes, and eggs. The stories dwindled, and our anxiety to get on the road peaked. We broke down the camp and prepared it for a few idle days before more hunters would come and breathe new life into Bowling Green again.
This hunt wasn’t the story that makes the headlines; there wasn’t a trophy buck to hang on the wall or a wild story to retell. We paid homage to my grandfather, shared our time, enjoyed the natural world around us, received a gift from the deer, and paid it back with our respect. We respected the process, learned more of the deer’s habits, and became more attuned to the nuances of the sanctuary at Bowling Green. To me, this trip exemplifies the hunting experience. It wasn’t a hunt of a lifetime, but it is what I strive for in my lifetime of hunting.