Deer hunters across the state are gearing up for another gun season opener, with hopes of getting that big buck. For writer Ron Weber, it’s not about the catch, but the opportunity the day provides.
Opening day 2022, deep in the heart of the Chequamagon-Nicolet National Forest near Clam Lake in Bayfield County. Scattered gunshots greet the daylight, heightening the excitement unique to opening morning. Only time would tell what waited for me down the trail. As the shots become more infrequent and the morning wears on, a hint of doubt enters my mind as I think to myself, “Maybe I should have sat somewhere else.”
Suddenly at about 10 AM, a deer materializes, seemingly out of nowhere. The doe is moving quickly, but why? There are no other hunters nearby so maybe it is an over-anxious buck that has her in such a hurry. As I wait for the answer, in my mind’s eye a big racked buck steps out of the spruce swamp. That vision keeps me company for the next hour.
The afternoon is uneventful, save for two separate periods of 20-30 minutes of absolute silence. It is rare that nature and man conspire to make such an offer. No gunshots, car horns, blue jays, ravens, squirrels or other usual denizens of the woods. Even the wind falls quiet. I strain my ears trying to hear something but there is only deafening silence.
As the curtain falls on another opening day, I climb out of my stand with nothing to show for 10 ½ hours of sitting but an empty lunch bag, two great silences, a doe sighted and the vision of a trophy buck stepping out of the spruce. Like all the opening days before, it had been a memorable day.
Did I say nothing to show for my time in the woods? What more could I have asked for? Did I get my deer? Does it really matter? I’ll paraphrase the great Wisconsin conservationist Aldo Leopold to answer that question. “What was big was not the rack but the chance. What was full was not my tag but my memory.” That comes from Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac,” a book every hunter, no check that, every person should read. It can change one’s view of the natural world and their place in it.
No, I didn’t get my deer but there is always the next day, the next year. The 12 months between opening days is a necessary interlude to heighten the anticipation for the coming of that one special day each year. It has the power to remind even us adults of the magical feeling of a child awaiting a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve.
As the days shorten and the sun’s warmth begins to wane, all of nature takes note. Animals are busily packing on weight or stocking their shelves in anticipation of the coming winter. Plants similarly go dormant or die, the green of spring and summer steadily receding after one final and glorious burst of color before the more steely, stark landscape of November takes hold.
Hunters take notice too, as that special day looms just weeks away. Just when the anticipation becomes almost unbearable, it finally arrives.
Come opening day, I will be just where I have always been since I was 13, in the big woods of Bayfield County waiting to write the next chapter in the story. Too excited to sleep very well, I will arise early and get myself ready. Walking in the predawn darkness, visions of what awaits for me will flash through my mind. Settled in with my back against a tree, I will wait patiently and thankfully for whatever the hand of fate offers. If it can’t be the buck that lives in the shadowy spruce of my mind, then this once upon a time kid will gladly welcome a visit from Santa instead.
MUSIC: “Dreamless Sleep” by Radical Face
“To Build a Home by The Cinematic Orchestra