In my late teens and early twenties, I spent a lot of time living at a working farm in St. Genevieve. Driving large diesel tractors and running combines is always interesting for someone fascinated with machinery. Bailing hay was even satisfying work, especially satisfying when you were done.
The event that seemed to most excite the people of rural Missouri was deer season. I loved the commotion and ritual. Apparently, deer are best caught at dawn and dusk. Now as a twenty year old city boy, I did not care too much for this dawn crap, but it was such an event that I too got caught up in the excitement. As I was being woken up at some ridiculous hour, I started to wonder if I could use evolutionary principles to my advantage. Survival of the fittest you know. The animals that don’t get eaten are the ones that pass on their offspring. Now my theory at that moment went like this, these fannatic early risers have been getting up and shooting deer for countless decades, therefore, the deer that have survived to today are the sensible ones that get up at a reasonable hour. All these insane people might have genetically engineered a line of deer that will wait for me, after the traditional onslaught blows over. After trying to justify my theory, I got up all bleary eyed and went.
There weren’t as many deer then as there are now. Now there seems to be a happy sweet spot between not being successful enough and being too successful. If you don’t ever see or shoot at a deer at all, you lose interest, which I largely did. If, on the other hand, they come along all the time, it is no longer exciting or special. It simply becomes a job. I suppose that gambling is a lot like this. I am sure that the casinos study this sweet spot in great depth.
We drove in the dark through the rugged woods near Hawn State Park opening and closing gates on the way. A lot of the land in this area is so rugged that it isn’t worth much and is only visited during deer season. This land had been in the family since, who knows? At one point we drive through a small river that threatens to drown out the old unlicensed farm truck. Before you think that this is dangerous and exciting, that old truck would drown out every time one of the mice that lived in the engine compartment would take a leak.
Once arrived, we would head to our tree stands. Most of these stands seemed to be as old as the trees themselves. Some forgotten ancestor must have picked them out. Each year people just replaced the boards that had rotted out since last year. Each stand had its own nickname. I am surprised that some of the names weren’t in Middle English. The best and most coveted stand was “The Stand”. It held awe and sway as if talking about some powerful magic in Harry Potter. Whenever its name was uttered, there would always be this slight pause before going on with the sentence. If one is to get to do the morning hunt in “The Stand”, they had better commit to everyone that they will bring their A game. There was “Back of the Bus” aptly named for the long walk. And then there was “Ed’s Stand”, which was the only one named after someone who was still living. Mr. Govro (Vick) usually had first place in seniority for “The Stand”. He was starting to abdicate his coveted spot as he felt that his eyesight and aim might no longer be worthy of such a powerful position. After all these years it occurs to me, was that stand so incredibly good, or was the legend, and thus the pressure to perform the reason for its success? Hmmm. It turns out that waiting to outlive your elders so that you can claim your throne has one terrible flaw when it comes to deer stands. Just before my friend Jeff took over his rightful place, the damn tree died and fell over.
Hiking through the woods in the dark in great anticipation and then climbing into the stand with your rifle was exciting. I was glad that I got up. Then you sit. You sit some more. You start to shiver while sitting. After sitting and shivering for what seems like an eternity, I look at my watch. “Oh my god, it’s only been an hour and a half!” I blurt out. Who’s idea was this? How soon can I leave without guilt, ridicule or getting shot?
The hunting group was made up of family, friends and neighbors. Most of them were oldtimers. They had a rather dry sense of humor, or I hope it was humer. Occasionally, someone new came along, someone that the old timers weren’t sure they wanted. They were too polite to tell them to leave, so they just started to talk about their hunting of the day. Vick would just, in a matter of fact tone, say “ya, I heard some rustling coming through the bushes, so I took some ‘sound shots’ at it just in case. I guess I didn’t get anything”. The others would just nod their heads in agreement and tell similar stories of the day. It’s amazing how effective that is. No feelings were hurt.
One of the more colorful neighbors perplexed me one time when he was curious as to who was hunting in a distant stand. He would raise up his powerful rifle and look through the great big scope so that he could see. Now I don’t know about you, but I think that I might be diving out of that tree if I saw someone aiming at me in the distance.
The oldtimers that didn’t really care held a lot of power over the ones that were most gung ho. That same colorful neighbor, Cleatous was so excited about hunting and was so impressed with his skill and knowledge about all things deer, anyone could get him to gut their deer for them by simply saying “Boy, I can never seem to figure out the best way to separate this one icky, disgusting thing, from this other icky disgusting thing”. That was all that was needed. It was like you pressed a button. Cleatous would instantly blurt out “well let me show you how” and jump into action.
During the middle of the day between “hunts”, we would all sit around the house watching TV and raising the idea of “lazy” to new levels, as if the act of deer hunting out of a tree wasn’t already lazy enough. We were beat. At one point, one of the non hunters in the house looked around and said “boy, if we are relying on this hunting to feed our family, there would be a whole lot of starving going on”.