Sometimes the best trophies don't hang on the wall

-A A +A
By The Staff

     Tennessee’s statewide deer season will have opened, Saturday morning, Nov. 22, by the time you read this. This time of year used to be ever so important to me as I contemplated taking to the woods in pursuit of the gray, antlered ghosts of late fall.

     Deer seasons used to be short and to the point in Tennessee.  In particular, Campbell County was previously classed in a unit where a hunter had only one short week to tote his rifle in the deer woods.  Neighboring Scott County was in another unit and one could hunt an additional week over there.

     Many is the time I’ve hunted that border country and observed deer run across the top of the mountain from open season to closed season, or vice versa.  Whether a deer stood on the eastern or western slope of the mountain literally was the difference between the sound of a rifle shot or silence.

     Back in the late seventies, when I was but a sprout, and a little thirty-thirty rifle was near as big as me, deer were still sparse in these parts.  The sight of any deer; buck, doe, big, little, on the hoof, or in a pickup bed, was a thrilling sight.  Rare was the individual that tagged a buck every season.

     There were plenty of places to hunt in those days.  Posted signs were rarer than trophy bucks.  Hunting gear was much simpler. Mega-outdoor-retailer Cabela’s catalog was not even as thick as a two-forty-three bullet.  It takes a stout postman to stuff one in the mailbox now-a-days, without having to handle the several inch think, hard-backed master catalog, without using both hands.

     What I miss most about those days are the old fellers’ I was privileged to roam the woods with.  To a man, they’re all on a higher ridgeline now.  

I miss seeing their overall, flannel shirt, orange vest clad silhouettes down here in this realm.  But they’re all still with me in ways I can’t rightly put into words.

     Oh the nonsense and shenanigans I used to endure from those men to break up the monotony on eventless days in the deer woods. Laughter was abundant. They could get serious just as quickly when a deer was on their radar screens.  

I learned many a deer hunting trick and strategy from such figureheads.

     A youth like me was a mere sponge absorbing all those high times out in the deer woods.  The stories, jokes, colorful language, debates on rifles and shotguns, and all the thousands of other little details that were packed into a day deer hunting, with those old timers, created an aura that can never be duplicated again.

     There are still plenty of places to hunt these days.  We are fortunate to have public areas like Royal Blue and the Sundquist Wildlife Management Areas right here at home.  Most other places have to be leased, or are on a paid only basis now.  Deer are no longer a rare sight.  

They’ve become so frequently encountered that their sighting by no means causes the excitement it once did.

     Seasons are unbelievably long as compared to what I grew up with. There are multiple bow, muzzleloader, and gun seasons.  They go far beyond the core of what used to make up deer season, the actual rut of the white tail deer.  Commercialism has crept into the deal over the years and radically changed things, in my humble opinion.

     I’ll probably take one of my old rifles out of the gun case and sit in my easy chair, in a nice warm house, and recall some hunts.

Foul, miserable weather, boring days, extremely exciting days, success and failure in the deer woods will all be contemplated. I doubt I’ll load one and actually carry it with the dream of harvesting a massive, high and wide-racked buck though.

     I sure will miss getting up on opening day and looking up toward mom and dad’s house, at the appointed time, when if Dad weren’t on that higher ridgeline too, he’d blink the porch light at me and I’d blink mine back at him.  

I’ve done that hundreds of times as we signaled each other that we were up and ready to hit the deer woods.

     It wouldn’t be long until his old Jeep bounced down the driveway, full of hunting paraphernalia and good grub, for another dawn to dusk outing.  We’d rendezvous with various other hunting companions for abundantly grand times.  I occasionally run into men around town that tell me they still miss my Dad feeding them out in the deer woods, or letting them warm up in an old Jeep.

     Time has moved on though, casting a veil of separation between those days and those old timers I grew up following through the woods.  If I fire my rifle at all this year, it most likely won’t be at a doe-crazed buck, but rather a salute to deer-crazy comrades that are just out of sight on that higher ridge.  

My deer hunting memories have come to mean more to me than any big buck I could ever hang on the wall.