The day of turkey, blessings, and parades is upon us. While many see the holiday as one of eating, of being surrounded by loved ones — for many a hunting folk, it means something different entirely- memories.
My mom, a woman who has never hunted, still recalls the smell of gun oil that pervaded the air when the men came in from hunting as the womenfolk put the finishing touches on dinner. Fellow hunters who have faded in and out of my life have all told tales of Thanksgiving hunts — first bucks, perfectly cooked wild turkeys, the hunt that was rained out, the hunters that were snowed in.
Two Thanksgivings ago, I lost my first archery doe, the first deer I had ever shot at with an arrow. As I searched in vain for hours, I discovered the true definition of humility, and a lesson never to be forgotten — to wait for the perfect shot. While I learned much that day, I can’t help but recall a Thanksgiving four years past when hunting was as new to me as anything could be, when a life with an amazing man in chilly North Dakota — a mirage.
What is written below began my foray into blogging and has been revised many times since — but there is something about that day, that memory, that single shot, the euphoria following, the lonely dinner, and how far I’ve come since my passion for hunting revolved around a man who had treated me so badly — that I cannot escape.
It was a bitter Thanksgiving morning.
My boyfriend at the time and I were at a turning point in our relationship. After a year of relatively good times, things were starting to go sour. The weekend after opening day, I came home to a half-empty apartment. It felt terrible because, at first, I experienced a sense of relief. Relieved that I wouldn’t have to hear him complain everyday, wait up for him, or have to be the one to tell him to leave.
Once the initial shock melted away, I was sad, lonely and angry. I had moved to the town I lived in, essentially, so we could be together. I worked hard to pay for everything and wasted money that needn’t be wasted on a guy like him. Most of all, I was angry because I didn’t know what would come of my hunting season. We had been hunting his friend’s property and I wasn’t sure if I would be welcomed back.
I eventually got a hold of him. He told me how much he loved me and that we’d be together but he needed to move out in order to be less of a burden on my shoulders. A complete cop-out if you ask me, but since he didn’t ask, I didn’t mention it.
Weeks went by, I went hunting every morning and afternoon I could. Some days he’d be there, some days not. Each time I saw him, a part of my heart would ignite. That part shrunk smaller and smaller as the months went by and, eventually, went out.
But we’re not there yet.
We’re here, it’s 4:00 a.m., it’s Thanksgiving and I’m watching Titus, my then-solitary canine, pee.
Once he sniffed all he could sniff, I ran up the stairs of my tiny studio apartment and threw my camo on. The holiday air was sparkling, festive — my mood was anything but. I drove to the land alone. Snow was gradually turning to rain. A damp chill infiltrated every crevice of the car. When I finally pulled up to the land, he was standing there. I faked a smile and loaded myself down with gear.
Calling the distance between the stands and where we stood a road is implying that the strip could support vehicle activity. What we were faced with was a river of mud and freezing water. Walking was turned into an aerobic workout in a matter of moments. Gunky mud held fast to my boots, which were deeply submerged in the sludge. Staring at my stagnant, sad footwear I realized all I really wanted to do was go home and watch Thanksgiving parades. Somehow, I ventured forth.
I finally got to the stand and waited. The morning was relatively quiet and nothing moved. Once everyone descended from their tree stand thrones, the men decided a push was necessary to get the deer moving. I was told to scale a monstrous stand, to keep my eyes open for ambulating venison.
The guys started screaming and singing as they walked through the brush.
I stood and waited, my gun shaking in apprehension as my hands refused to calm.
Then came the moment the deer decided to peek outside the thicket.
I breathed and calmly lined the cross hairs.
Numbly, I cycled another shell, just in case.
Once the push was over, the guys came out yelling and high-fiving one another as I looked down from the stand. Encouraging me to come down and survey my handiwork, the menfolk gathered around my first harvest. I shakily put my safety on and climbed down.
Walking over to where they had circled up, I spotted a mound of deer in the brush. I quickly knelt down and patted her stomach. I said a silent prayer and thanked her for the meals she would provide.
The whole ordeal took only a second but forever I had been changed.
That Thanksgiving Day altered me in ways that I’m still attempting to fully grasp.
I felt empowered. I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t do. And I fell in love with hunting.
Later, after the hunt was over, I made a makeshift turkey dinner and extended an invite to my soon to be ex-significant other. He said he’d call when he was done with another push.
He never called.
But that night, I ate my small dinner and drank deeply from a cheap bottle of wine alone. Christmas movies were prematurely playing as the melancholic rain transformed into radiant snow in the opaque sky. For the first time in a long while, I wasn’t sad and I knew all would be well. As long as I could hunt, life would be good.