From the time I wanted to be a deer hunter to the time I was old enough to buy a license, six long years passed. As I waited, I believed there was magic in deer hunting.
Dad told me where he shot his first buck. He showed me where he shot his biggest buck, now 60 years ago. Those places seemed magical to me, and in every story he told I looked for the magic piece that would someday make me the hunter he was. \I remember watching Dad sharpen his hunting knife and asking him how many deer he had used it on. “Maybe the magic is in the knife,” I thought. When I was eight or nine I asked him for that knife. He told me I was too young, but my hope soared when he carved “STEVE” on the back of its sheath. Magic would someday be mine.
I even remember Dad’s drag rope, and asking how many deer he dragged out of the woods with it. I thought every time Dad wrapped that rope around a deer’s antlers, it absorbed more magic.
On the first day of my first year as a licensed hunter I saw a buck, and I missed. With legs trembling I felt like I had bungled the opportunity of a lifetime. I feared that the magic I earnestly sought might always elude me.
The following two seasons furthered that fear. I didn’t see a buck, and was almost convinced that deer hunting magic would never pay me a visit. I even worried that the magic might skip a generation because my grandfather (my Dad’s father) hunted for decades, and no one remembers him ever shooting a deer.
I wondered if the magic was in the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches Dad made for us to take hunting, or the giant Hershey bars he broke into bite-sized pieces, or the thermos that contained his black coffee. I remember dressing like Dad and walking like Dad, hoping to step right into the magic I was sure he had.
I remember Dad scouting the best place to put me on stand. I once asked, “Did you ever shoot a buck here?” He confessed that he hadn’t but said, “Getting a deer is about being at the right place at the right time. Sooner or later you’ll get a buck.” He added, “I promise.”
Then finally, when I was fifteen, I shot my first buck. The memory of that 5-point is as clear as if it happened last season. The knife, the gun, the clothing, the lunch, the place. His antlers. I proudly dragged him down the valley. It all blended into one magic moment.
I know it’s silly to attribute magical powers to some tool of the hunting trade or some other aspect of the hunt, but hunters for eons have revered certain talisman objects. People have long thought these good luck charms really had magic in them, and it came naturally to me as a kid.
What have I learned since then? I’ve used many hunting knives and shot deer with many guns, but none had any magic. Magic is not in any drag rope, or thermos. It’s not in walking like Dad, or wearing what he wore. We attach sentimental value to such things, but they have no magic.
When I was hunting this season I noticed the remains of a gut pile and realized that every tree, every trail, every hillside and every hollow has witnessed the harvest of a whitetail. Deer hunting magic happens because the deer hunter is there, whether it’s 26 degrees below zero, or over the next hill, or farther out the ridge.
Magic is in solitude. It’s in our connection to nature. It’s in the camaraderie we share. Magic is in the memories, whether successful or disappointing. Magic is in what we see, what we learn, what we contemplate while hunting. It’s in striving to become better hunters, and better people.
Magic is always in the opportunity — that’s why opening day has a holiday feel. Whether it ends in a harvest or an unfilled tag, deer hunting is magic, and always will be.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.