My Happy Place
I bit my lip as the nurse put yet another needle into my already black and blue arm. They told me I had cancer, and it was in my lungs. All the tests had pointed to this diagnosis. Today they would confirm it. I was being prepped for a Bronchoscopy for a look see and a few pieces of lung tissue. I have been testing for 2 weeks now. Poked, stuck, pinched, scanned etc. It was time to close my eyes and try and go to my Happy Place. A place in my mind where there was no pain, no bad news, my father had told me about this place when we were at Mayo Clinic having tests done on his weakened, sick body. It was a sportsman’s paradise; his was in Africa, but mine was in the hardwoods of Illinois. I struggled to find a memory as I climbed onto the surgical table. As I closed my eyes, I could see the beast of an 8 pt. Whitetail buck standing on the hillside staring at me, there it was way back in the corner of my mind. Time to go nighty night a voice said as I went under.
It was as raw of a morning as I could ever remember. The northwest wind cut through every zipper and bare spot on my body. I remember thinking to myself, “What dumba.. would be out before daylight headed to a stand in an 8-inch diameter tree in this horrid weather with winds 30+ mph after a miserable night of sleet and rain?” My boots sunk in the mud almost up to my ankles as I pushed on down the trail towards the bottom stand. After 20 minutes, I had reached my destination. I rubbed my boots on the side of the tree trying to remove as much mud as possible. I jumped up as high as I could to retrieve the line I had so foolishly forgot to tie down. Four leaps later, I grabbed the line and tied my new Golden Eagle Formula 3D onto the line. I also attached a 4-arrow quiver full of newly fletched 2117 Easton arrows with the new 100 grain muzzy broadheads. Up the tree I went. I struggled for a foothold on the screw-in steps that were positioned on the tree too far apart for a steady assent, but times were tough, and steps were the last thing in the budget during those early years.
The cold rain from the night before had soaked my fabric TreeBark camo all the way through. There was no Gortex in those days. Hell, I was one of the only guys hunting the farm that was in the new TreeBark camo pattern. The rest of the hunters were still in their BDU’s they bought from the army surplus store. Finally, on the last step I shook the old stand to make sure the chain was still firmly attached to the tree and climbed in. I removed the old pack I had bought years earlier from the now closed Browns Sporting Goods store in downtown Peoria. Wow, how I loved going to that store when I was a kid. I hung the pack on a nail and started pulling up the bow. The wind was so strong it had the bow laying out at a 45-degree angle as I pulled it up. With arrow knocked, I hung it on a nail and proceeded to pull my trusty Big River Grunt call from the pack.
Daylight was slow to approach with the cloud cover. I shivered and cussed as I tried to light the old zippo hand warmer in the wind. Finally getting it lit, I put it in my bow hand pocket to try and thaw out my release and hand. Several of the worst hours ever spent in a stand had gone by. The old guys at the bow shop had convinced me the afternoon before that today was going to be a good buck movement day. It was November 8th, and the rut was on.
I kept telling myself the bucks would come as the wet cold sank deep into my bones. I had not even seen a bird or a squirrel moving. This day was not fit for man or beast! The cotton fabric of my new camo was starting to get stiff announcing the cold front was here. The wet dreary morning was being replaced by a straight north wind that had one hell of a bite to it. My old pack had not protected my bologna sandwich from the wet. Nevertheless, I choked the soggy thing down. I still remember the taste of that terrible thing as if I had just eaten it today.
Five hours had passed. I glanced at my old Timex watch of which the lens had now fogged up, and tried to tell myself just another hour, I can make it another hour. Wait, what is this? A single ray of sunshine hit me in the face. It was short lived but felt oh so good. I glanced up and I could see the cloud cover was breaking up with rays of sunshine hitting the tree tops around me. I had told myself I was leaving at noon but the sun popping out had me hunkering down for a little while longer.
I was starting to doze off when I was shockingly broken from my trance with a burning sensation coming from my belly and waist. Pulling the hand warmer from my pocket, I realized the damn thing had gone out and had leaked fuel lighter fluid all over my mid-section. I tossed it to the ground as the burning sensation grew hotter. I stood and untucked my chamois shit from my pants, this day was really turning out to be a lesson in what not to do. With the tail of my shirt removed from its tucked in position, I pulled off my sweatshirt and patted the burning area with the wet fabric. A little relief came slow, but it was something, I laid my jacket across a limb just as all hell broke loose.
A hot doe busted from the underbrush with not 1 but 3 giant bucks chasing her. She was running so hard her tongue was hanging out. She was running around the sumac laden hillside like she was playing tag with the bucks. Around the tree she would go stopping and looking at her pursuits as she went around. The bucks were chasing and locking antlers as she bobbed and weaved through the brush. I grabbed the bow and tried to pull it on the closest buck, but my arms were so cold and the limbs of the bow were so stiff. I only managed to get to half draw before they bolted back into the woods. I just stood there and watched them disappear as fast as they appeared.
Suddenly, she bolted from the brush again, but this time no bucks followed. Had they lost her scent? Away she went back down the opposite trail away from her suitors. The first buck came back onto the hillside with his nose down sounding like a hog rooting in the mud. He was joined by the second buck doing the same thing. Again, I tried to pull the bow back. This time, the adrenaline had kicked in. With a grunt, the kisser button hit its mark on my nose. I turned from side to side trying to get a shot at the scent trailing bucks. The doe had run around my tree so many times they were having a hard time finding the hot trail. I bleated trying to get them to stop moving but no dice. They were hard driven by Mother Nature to find that doe.
Finally, I yelled as loud as I could. Both bucks stopped in their tracks. I struggled to decide which buck was better. I was almost ready to touch the release when a big 8 pointer stepped out directly across at eye level with me on the hillside. He was a tank. He just stood there looking at the other 2 bucks that were looking at me. I turned and without hesitation let the arrow fly. It hit with a hard impact. The buck lunged and away he went. I sat down in my stand hardly believing what I had just witnessed. I could hardly catch my breath. I got down and sat a spell before looking for the arrow. It was nowhere to be found, only 1 small drop of blood.
I called Dad who met me at my truck. My buddy, Ron, had also joined in the search. We looked until mid-afternoon with not so much as another drop of blood. We had all but given up. Dad and I said we would split up and take different main trails back to the truck in hopes of coming across a blood trail. Ron, who had parked on the other side of the farm, was doing the same heading in the other direction. Ron had not gone out of ear shot when I heard him say, “Blood! I got Blood”. The trail was sparse, but it was heading down a main trail and at least gave us a direction to go. We had not gone 30 yards when Ron said freeze in a low voice. There standing across the top of the small valley was the buck standing. I could see the bright green and red fletch of the arrow stuck firmly in his shoulder. I had no clue how it had not broken it off. I knocked an arrow. We had no range finders in those days, but it looked to be around 80 yards. I drew the bow. I remembered shooting a 100-yard target at the range one time and, after 5 tries, hit the target. I put the single 20-yard pin on the buck’s mid-section, then raised 2½ feet above his back and released the Easton. It hit with a solid thump. The buck whirled and took off downhill. By the time he reached the bottom, his pump house had gone dry. He nose-dived into the bottom and lay motionless.
I jumped up and down screaming like a little girl, hugging my dad and thanking Ron for his assistance. As I ran down the hill toward the buck, I heard my old man say, “Man that kid can @#$^& shoot.” I will never forget when I looked back and saw both men grinning from ear to ear. The buck was my first real good one; a great feeling, but the feeling I had looking back at my father and Ron will be one that will take me away always; take me to my happy place where there are no politics, no fighting and no pain !!
SEE YA IN THICKETS