Back on a high ridge, along an old cut trail, stood a young man inside a make-shift hunting blind. I remember the light coming through the trees, still slightly foggy. The earthy smells, the quietness, the coolness. I can still picture the moss growing on the trunks of the trees, the small droplets of water dripping from large leaves, and water trickling through the little creek. It was my first deer hunt.
By Cameron “Boots” McGregor
I was dressed in a hand-me-down orange jacket and a pair of brand new wool pants my mom bought for me. Adorning the same basic attire, the young man’s friend stood less than 100 yards away. We had already been long time friends. In the months leading up to opening season, we trimmed trees, posted signs and took long walks in the woods. But, these were more than just walks. With every step we took, my friend was teaching me not only about deer hunting, but often also valuable life lessons.
I remember how excited I was for my first deer hunt! My good friend had a knack for storytelling and I had listened too many of his great stories at deer camp! Just when I thought his stories were over he would yell out, “WHAM – PLOW!” and would begin another story.
On the eve of my first deer hunt, time seemed to drag on. As the minutes turned into hours I began to grow fidgety with excitement! Lying awake in my tent, listening to the rain and dreaming of bagging my first big buck! I don’t think I slept a wink that night.
Finally it was opening day! I could hardly stand the anticipation! The morning was very cold and wet, but at least the rain had stopped. I gathered up my gear, and wished my fellow hunters luck and my friend and I proceeded down the trail. I could tell my friend was excited too, he loved opening day and wanted to instil that in me.
As the trail broke, my friend stopped and said, “This is as far as I go.” He pointed to the West and said, “Your hunting blind is straight across this open grassy field and up on the ridge.” He put his arms around me, wished me good luck and said, “Don’t shoot me!” I smiled, in spite of that fact that he couldn’t see my face. “Yes sir!” I replied, and off I went.
It took me what seemed like forever to get to my hunting spot. My heart was beating fast, and I was starting to shake with excitement waiting for the sun to rise. Finally, at 7:00 a.m. on my first opening day, I caught a glimpse of deer! Two does and a fawn were nibbling on a bait pile that my friend and I placed there a week before. I immediately shouldered my riffle and tried to remember everything my friend had taught me about deer hunting. I watched the three deer feed for awhile before they finally moved on. I settled back into my blind, eagerly awaiting the next deer. I waited for what seemed like hours. Needless to say I was beginning to think that hunting wasn’t nearly as fun as I anticipated! But, finally, I saw my next deer, a defining moment which made me forget about being cold and bored! I could hear the snap, the crack of twigs. And there he was in all his glory, my first opening day buck! His antler seemed to glow and his running motion was graceful as he appeared to float effortlessly through the tall grass.
BAM!, I had just shot my first buck! This buck was a nice spike and he hadn’t gone far, in fact he dropped right where he was standing. Although this buck was only a spike I was not the least bit disappointed. In fact, I was hooked, a deer hunter for life!
I remember moments later eagerly awaiting my friend’s arrival, I was sure he would be coming. As I turned around I saw my friend slowing making his way towards me. Of course I had this big cheesy smile and probably looked like dork, but I couldn’t help myself. As he got closer he asked, “Did you shoot, and how big is it”? “Yep”, I yelled out, “the buck fell just over there…but he’s not very big.” My friend put his arms around me and said, “Son, that’s a great buck and I’m very proud of you! Let’s load him up and show him off.”
Many years have passed since that day. Over the years many things have changed, but some things have remained the same. The 30-30 Winchester that I used on my first opening day has been replaced by a Remington .30-0. I still look forward to opening day, and have been on many deer hunts. However, I will never again experience the good company of my old friend, nor hear him tell his exciting stories.
My dear friend is no longer with us, but I think of him often, especially on opening day. I loved him very much. I am lucky to now have a son of my own, and know that one day soon I will take him deer hunting. And I know that before our morning coffee, before the sun comes up and before we head out to hunt deer that I will share with my son one special story of my friend on my first opening day.
I didn’t know at the time, but hunting deer was only a small part of what made opening day so special. It’s not about bagging the biggest buck and driving around the countryside showing it off, although we are all guilty of doing just that. Opening day is about getting together with family and friends. It’s about the memories you share from season to season. And sometimes, if you’re lucky and have a great teacher, it’s about learning life’s little lessons.