deer scratching head

Last evening, just before dark, you could hear gun shots in the distance. Much like war drums from a bygone era, the gun shots signaled what would start 30 minutes before sunrise today, November 6, 2010; the opening of the Minnesota Firearm Whitetail Deer season. Every November, on the first Saturday of the month, whitetail season, or more colloquially, just “hunting,” begins, and goes for runs for a couple weeks. It is always precluded by a day or two of distant gun shots being heard; most likely, hunters who are doing last minute sighting in of their rifles – making sure they can hit the mark.

I started tagging along with my father and his brother, on the hunt, when I was about ten years old. Too small and too young to carry a firearm, I would just shadow my father. It was always an enjoyable time; time to bond with an otherwise work-obsessed father who would leave for his office before I awoke in the morning, and would, all too often, arrive home just as I was heading to bed.

There were always rituals involved with act of going hunting. They stand out in my mind vividly — the hanging of our bright orange clothing outside in an attempt to remove "unnatural" scents, the cooking of steak and potatoes for dinner, the boiling of water to clean the dark green Stanley thermos bottles that would hold the next day’s coffee and lunch (usually beef stew), the unnatural sound of my uncle drinking beer, the smell – in the cold November air – of the Marlboro cigarettes my father smoked, the smell of the fuel oil burning heater in the cabin, the cold morning air, the first glimpses of sun coming through the trees while you sat motionless in tree stand.

I shot my first and only deer, a yearly, when I was fifteen. Without going into gory details of the deed, I look back at it as a rite of passage. I stopped hunting after the next season. I was changing, growing up, and becoming aware of my surroundings and people near me. The rituals were losing their magic and appeal. Deep down, I did not want to have those memories, good memories, poisoned or twisted by external forces.