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The Deer Hunters

Posted 12/12/2012 10:20am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Long before we moved to Juniata County in 1998, Roy was lobbying for me to get my hunting license.  I come from a family of hunters and my sister had already taken up both archery and rifle hunting.  They spoke articulately about how much deeper their connection to nature became when they entered the woods as a predator. Their stories and the sudden convenience of hunting near home made it a pretty easy decision for me and several years before the girls were born I took my test. 

The first years were excruciating. Roy was determined that I have a successful season immediately and gave me his best stand.  On a blustery, sub-zero, November day, he had me climb nearly forty feet up a swaying tree to sit in a hard seat the size of a dinner plate.  My feet were already numb as I diligently climbed up and strapped myself in. Swaying back and forth with the tree, my teeth chattering curses, the cold gun in my hands already shaking up and down with my shivers, I knew without a doubt that I was no threat to any deer that happened by.  Of course deer are smart and in weather like that, they find a nice mountain laurel to curl under and stay put.  By mid-morning I struggled down the tree and back to the cabin. 

New hunters are subject to a lot of pressure.  That cold year everyone decided at lunch time that since the deer weren't moving on their own, we should form a drive to push them around a bit. All the experienced hunters were so keen to help the newbie have a successful hunt that they put me in one of the standing positions.  The plan was for several of them to walk noisally through a laurel patch and try to spook deer out ahead of them to me and the other standers who were supposed to shoot them. It worked;  I stood behind a tree as several doe came pushing through the laurel, wary and attentive.  As a child I heard many stories from my uncles about the hunter who got "buck fever" and couldn't steady their breathing or hands to make a good shot when a big buck came before them. I've never heard of doe fever, but there I stood with my heart pounding in my mouth and my brother--in-law whispering, "shoot! shoot!"  I couldn't steady my arms or quiet my mind, "where are drivers? Is it close enough? Is there brush in the way?" on and on until the doe spooked and disappeared. I was embarrassed but mostly relieved to have an "unsuccessful" season.

A couple years later I sat quietly in a tree stand when a deer suddenly appeared in the woods.  They do that. It is the most amazing moment of hunting.  The quiet watching when out of thin air a deer appears and you feel like something magic has just happened.  I took several deep breaths, lined up my scope, and squeezed the trigger.  It ran a short distance and fell dead. I was shaking with relief and emotion, neither sad nor happy, just at the very edge of something powerful.  Roy heard the shot and soon was there to congratulate me. 

Since then hunting has grown on me.  I don't need to be out every day; two or three days of focused, dawn-to-dusk hunting feels like quite a luxury.  On my more normal, busy days it is hard to imagine that I actually sit and quietly walk in the woods from before dawn till after dark and not get bored.  But I do and increasingly I love it. No phone, no computer, no books. This year I watched possums nosing about and whole flocks of turkeys scratching up bugs.  Pileated woodpeckers and squirrels are a constant presence. One year a porcupine slept all day in the tree beside me. On quiet, damp days, the deer sneak up on you and suddenly appear without a sound.  On brisk days, you hear their steady steps before you see them, so unlike the frantic scampering of a squirrel. So ar I've been lucky; close deer, killing shots.

It's been a good deer season for us. Our freezer and cellar are well stocked with roasts and canned venison; enough that much will be given away as Christmas gifts to friends and family.  We intend to honor the life of those deer with many wonderful meals; venison is truly one of the most delicious red meats.  And we hope that the sprouting oaks, pines, and maples will have a better chance to grow tall and strong, creating habitat and food for many of the wood's creature.