Trail's End

by Dennis Glavin

As I sat in my frost-covered blind, breath visible in the darkness, I realized how spoiled we have become with sixty-plus degree seasons these past several Novembers.  This was old-school, freeze-your-butt-off hunting.

Rustling leaves just at first light alerted me to something moving on my left and I shifted position to the sight of a stout little eight-point buck strolling along the creek bed with another deer in tow. 

The eight-point made me immediately as I raised my gun and he bolted in a bobbing display of white-tail warning.  The other deer stood still for reasons that still elude me.  Collecting myself, I settled the crosshairs just behind the deer’s shoulder, took a breath and squeezed the trigger.

In a flash, the deer charged up the hill behind me and out of sight.  The moment that I always look forward to and dread at the same time had come as I walked over to where the deer was standing.

There was blood – a bright pinkish red splash.  A possible lung shot.  My mind replayed the events of the last few minutes, trying to remember how the deer had held itself as it ran.  Had I pulled the shot and merely injured the deer? 

My hunting partner arrived on scene and, after a brief discussion, we agreed to wait for an hour just in case to let the deer go to ground and expire.  A wounded deer, if pushed from its initial bed, may never be found again.

For better or worse, my gun would be silent for the rest of the season.  I live in absolute dread of wounding a deer and not being able to recover it and would spend the rest of the weekend recovering that deer if I had to.

Sixty long, agonizing minutes later, I began my search, starting as the point of the shot.

Drops of blood on the leaves heading up the hill gave me some hope, along with the worry that it was a brisket shot that would clot up and stop leaving a trail.  Squatting like a golfer reading a green, I scanned the ground for additional clues as to the direction the deer ran.  The drops turned into dribbles and streaks on the leaves.

Scanning a thick stretch of brush, I spied a streak of white under a tree – my deer had not run more than fifty yards. 

The shot had been clean – about an inch over my point of aim.  I had done my part as an ethical hunter.

As I knelt and placed my hand on the deer’s neck to thank the deer for the meat that would nurture my body, I found myself remembering that the kill may be the least important moment of the hunt.  Rather, it is the sacred divide between the interaction with a wild animal on its own terms and our duty to steward nature’s resources.  Anyone can pull a trigger.  It is what you do before and after that makes a hunter.