I am sitting here looking ahead—looking to the northwest winds bringing the autumn blanket that will cover our part of the country, driving away the heat of summer. I am looking for ducks in the sky and deer in the woods, can hear whistling wings and dry leaves crunching during the heat of the rut. Turning slowly…it’s just squirrels this time.
I am looking ahead to a second breakfast, walking cold and stiff from a morning’s sit, the smell of country ham evident from a hundred yards away, the rumbling in the pit of my stomach, replaying the events of the morning—one doe with three yearlings, a six-point, all golden in the soft light, their breath hanging for seconds, streaming behind as they make their way southwest along the ridge, the sun on their backs and warming my face. They disappear as quietly as the come. On the table sits biscuits and ham and red-eye gravy and piles of bacon and fried eggs. The fire is roaring and the coffee is steaming and the sweet smell of the frosty woods slowly slips off my back until the evening’s hunt.
I can feel the cold steel of my shotgun, fingers wrapping around the stock, eyes on the sky as the first group of mallards circle the Missouri rice fields. The anticipation wells up inside as I know this will be the last pass. Cold, wet feathers on my bare hands, bright blood against the backdrop of a deep green head.
I am looking ahead to the evening in camp as I always do, ducks on the grill, my glass infinitely full as the joy overtakes me of a day well-lived. Sitting, listening, laughing to the stories of more experienced hunters as the wind dies down and the coyote’s cry sends chills down my back. Speaking seldom, listening intensely. Who knows what I might learn?
I am looking ahead to rangy setters and able spaniels cascading the fields of the South Dakota prairies, Lyle’s Lab in close, getting birdy. My heart nearly skips a beat when the field erupts and the roosters’ cackle is drowned out by my intense concentration as I look down the barrel. The kick of the gun is nonexistent. I can already feel the pheasant’s weight in the deep pocket of my jacket and feel his spurs barely scratch my back as he fights off the light for the last time. In the slow cooker, the oven, the grill—he certainly won’t be forgotten.
I am looking ahead to the warmth of the holidays even as arctic blasts threaten outside. It’s my mother’s home cooking, my father’s deep laugh and a three-finger pour as the fire roars on deep into the night that reminds me why life is worth living. I am looking ahead to staying up late into the night, telling stories of yesteryear and prospecting the season to come. You should hunt Tommy’s Shooting House where you took the “Line-up Buck” last year. You know they’re in there again. I’ll take the property line. Morning comes fast, but not soon enough as we shrug off sleep and gulp scalding hot coffee near the kitchen heater where our clothes are shedding the chill after a night outside. Four wheelers and pickups are already running, engines heating the inside and out. The anticipation of the sunrise as the darkness falls away, revealing the true identity of spots I can’t make out.
I look forward to rare naps in between hunts before I take a stand facing west, despite the likelihood of a buck, a Rocky Top sunset is something I don’t want to miss. Finally, the grapefruit-colored sky, sharp wind on my face, looking forward to supper before we do it all over again tomorrow.
All of this will come in due time, but for now I rely upon my mind’s eye to take me to the deer woods of Tennessee, the game fields of the Midwest and the Mississippi flyway. It’s raining outside and the temperature has dropped below 80 with the promise of mid-70s later this week. Perhaps I’m looking too far ahead and should simply enjoy the season, for the smallies are hot and the dove are flying though autumn is teasingly close.
Image by Hunter Worth