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Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Cold Morning

It was cold that morning. I want to say the red line of the rusty outdoor thermometer was nestled in close to twenty-two degrees, but it was too frosted over to tell for sure. The specifics didn't matter. My companion told me all I needed to know, her head cocked, quizzically staring into the thickly frozen surface of her water bowl. Friends like these, huh girl? I muttered as I scratched her head and turned to walk back into the cabin, thinking murderous thoughts about a certain Houston weatherman and his consistent inconsistency.

This cold front had arrived a day early. The dog padded behind me into the cabin, equally disgusted with the whole thing. We stood side-by-side under the dim light of a naked bulb and stared at the meager contents of my bag. White cotton socks. Thin pants. I suddenly understood what Robert Shaw meant in Jaws when he growled, We're gonna need a bigger boat. With no boats, figurative or otherwise, at my immediate disposal, I settled for layering and put into action a time honored move called, Put On Everything You Got. Snugged, cinched, and buckled, I poured the last of the coffee into a styrofoam cup and gingerly stepped out into the blackness. Twenty steps after the cabin door clicked shut behind me and I was already losing my nerve. The wind was up, whipping out of the northeast with the fresh urgency of a new front. I fumbled with gloved hands for the Jeep key as the last of the cabin's warmth was blasted out of me. At that moment, on any other day, I'd have tucked tail and been back in the sleeping bag faster than you can say hypothermia.

Nature's a tough mama, and going toe to toe with her over 22 degrees and a stiff north wind usually puts you on some end of the losing stick. That dark, icy morning and I were engaged in a hand-to-hand battle of wills, but it was only the undercard in a much larger fight. Today was different. Today was the day I would confront HIM. I'd spent most of the season staring at little more than signs of his ghostly passing. The blind was on the north end of the East Texas lease, perched on the edge of a small pipeline overlooking a creek bottom. It was a quiet side of the property, densely wooded with very little traffic. The perfect hideout for any buck wise enough to know so. The scrapes were already there in October, dotting the eastern tree line. It didn't take much scouting to spot the two rubs on another trail, both trees over six inches in diameter. His rutting sign was everywhere and was revisited and freshened with such manic frequency that you could sense his hysteria.

The monster is here, lurking somewhere in this area. And he's lovesick. We've played our chess match all season, the waiting game that ensues between hunter and hunted. In my favor is his desire to breed, a primal force constantly gnawing at him to ignore the safety of his thicket and venture out into the open. In his favor is patience, experience, and the light of a full moon. As the season progresses, the stakes raise. Time is a factor and it's all on his side. I've logged hours upon hours in this blind, with little more to show for it than chapped lips and stiff legs. He's elusive, this one, but he's still here. Tracks appear in the sandy road over night, and does in the area are still skittish, very much in heat. Come hell, high water, 22 degrees or a stiff breeze, we're having this out today. I find the Jeep key, jam it into the ignition with renewed purpose and head north. I ease into the area with plenty of darkness left and am positioned before daybreak. The wind eases slightly but persists nonetheless, carrying my scent away from the creek bottom. Advantage hunter.

I reach down to my right and check the gun. Everything is primed as first light washes over the pipeline. It starts with something as small as a nagging feeling in the back of your mind. Something is not as it should be. The tree lines are empty, branches slowly swaying in the morning wind. The pipeline is empty. I chalk it up to early morning jitters, or maybe too much coffee. But it won't go away. Something is here. I cut my eyes from left tree line to right, desperate for an indicator, rifle now in my lap. And just like that, in one single hair-raising instant, he's standing on the edge of the pipeline. Time slows down, and I struggle to confine the franticness of my movements within a hunter's calm. That old familiar feeling of blood hammering through veins hits me like a freight train. Months of planning, scouting and sitting do little to ease magnitude of the moment, and I struggle to contain my breathing as I find the monster in the scope. I whisper my father's advice like a mantra in my head, squeeze the trigger, squeeze the trigger, squeeze the trigger. Everything culminates in the roar of the .7mm-08, and just as quickly as the moment is upon me, it's over. He scored 144 B.C., and to this day remains the deer I am most proud of. I never listened to that weather man again.

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