It was almost dark. Perhaps there were 15 minutes of light before his hunting season would be over. John made his first hunting and fishing trips with his ?Pop?, Granddaddy, and me when he was merely three years old. Now eleven years old this was the eighth Fall, which he had spent with me in the woods.
Trips had been made for squirrel, quail, even wild hog, but this adventure was once more for a trophy whitetail deer. An elusive quarry that had filled his dreams many times, both awake and while sleeping. He was anxious, tense, excited, and prepared to be just not a deer hunter but a deer slayer.
For years, all his young life, deer hunting had meant tagging along with me. He had not yet realized our hunting trips were more of a tag team match than his tagging along. He had grown stronger, smarter, safer, more dedicated and responsible each year. He was developing into a hunting partner not just a follower. This dedication and responsibility had earned him the opportunity. No not an opportunity, the right. A right of passage as a young adult to be the hunter on this day.
This time I was the one tagging along, even though he was calling me his guide. Well I had brought him to this spot. A time and place where he would have the opportunity to kill his first deer. We knew that deer frequently used the trail he was watching. I had seen a doe there just the day before and it was less than 50 yards from where his Uncle Ricky had taken a nice buck on Thanksgiving. Neither Ricky nor I could help him kill a deer today. Any shooting today would have to be done by John. He was the one with the Remington model 788 rifle. This afternoon I only carried a Louis Lamoure western.
As the shooting light had faded so had the available light to read. I slowly put down my book and glanced up to the tree stand to see John stirring. Moving slowly, ever so slowly, with a slow deliberate movement he raised the .243 and peered through the scope. Raising his head to look over the scope and into the darkening woods, he seemed so calm. My heart was racing. I was uncertain if the hammering of my heart would frighten the deer, that was still unseen to me, or whether the pounding muscle in my chest would just burst.
Outwardly John still seemed relaxed, but I knew what he was experiencing. Here he was on the last day of the season, less than 10 minutes before the faint rays of light would fade and we would have to leave. Ten more minutes and then ten months before he could go deer hunting again. After eight years he had a chance to kill his first deer.
Once again he shouldered his rifle and settled down behind the scope. Only now did he start to release the safety, no he was taking time to adjust the magnification power of the scope. I knew he was trying to get a better look at the deer. He was going to make a clean, humane, killing shot. I knew he could hit the bulls-eye on a paper target. At a hundred yards that old 788 was able to make three shots appear as just one ragged hole when the shooter did his part. Although not quite that skilled a marksman, yet, on a good day three of John?s shots could be covered by a playing card. Even in the fading light I knew he could place that Remington Core-lokt 100-grain bullet right behind the deer?s shoulder. If he would just shoot!
Why was he putting the gun back on safe? Why was he lowering his gun? Why were my hands sweating on a 40-degree December evening? What is wrong? Nothing I guess.
He had just hunkered down again. The stock was seated firm and deep against his shoulder. I hear and see him click the safety to the fire position. Now I was sure that soon there would be meat in the freezer, back strap on the grill, and a trophy on the wall of his bedroom. Yes, his bedroom! His Mom had told us both that she ?would never have a stuffed animal?s head in her living room.?
He was steady as a rock. His finger was on the trigger. Now he hesitated and was looking over the scope again. My throat was so dry. No really my throat is too parched to tell you what happened next. Maybe later, right now, your Grand Mama is calling us to supper. What? Well if you are that impatient just go ask your Dad what happen next.
After all he was the one who had to take THE SHOT.
[Side box] I would never leave a story for others with an ending like that. John did not take a shot that afternoon. He slowly lowered his rifle and with misty eyes, he whispered down to me; ?Dad I can not get a clear shot, without a clear shot, I have got to let her go.? I was prouder of that one time that he did not take a shot than of any of the deer he has taken since.