Today is Thursday, August 17, 2017

One more time the old way

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Once more, the old way.

He stretched hugely, The Old Man, scratching a chigger bite on his left ankle with the nail of his right big toe.

He had scratched chigger bites that way for over 60-years. He stretched again, making the springs on the cot twang and his bad back, pop comfortably. He liked the sound.

Outside, the wind came across the prairie with little more to stop it than a three-strand fence. He was lucky, lucky to have found this place, lucky to have hit it off with owner, just lucky in all aspects of this hunt.

The idea of hunting one more time, the old way, came to him in the spring. By the end of August, he felt ready. A summer trip to central Illinois, led him to this 235-acre farm, a mixture of CRP fields, some crops, some hardwood timber and a curmudgeon much like himself for an owner. Art, the owner, had not allowed any hunting for several years. But the combination of a common dislike of new-fangled things and his plan to hunt the old way had won Art over. Art even offered to throw in the use of the old bunk house and shower. The fact that the place was loaded with deer was a plus.

Not just any deer, either. Three times he had passed up bucks that would easily measure over 120-inches. But he was holding out for a bigger one. Once, late one afternoon, he had seen the buck he wanted. The big deer had paused briefly on a slight rise before moving away. Now, the old man thought, I know where he is going. I know where he came from. I'll be waiting. We'll do this the old way.

Through the summer, he had practiced with the old, Osage bow. He ordered a dozen cedar arrows and got six new broadheads from Roger Rothar. He had used two of them for practice, four were snug in his quiver. Out to 30-yards, he could drill a softball every shot. He was ready, if he could still draw the bow.

Only the weather had been against him. Instead of cold clear mornings, he awoke to drizzle and wind, bad for his shoulder. But tomorrow would be different.

The forecast called for a hard frost tonight and sun all day tomorrow. As he drifted off to sleep, he thought of stalking within bow range of a Midwest monster. The fire in the wood stove popped as he comfortably turned on his side.

At daylight, he was on the edge of the little opening where he had seen two good bucks earlier in the week. He settled back against the tree and waited.

On this hunt, there would be no fancy stand hidden in the branches of a tree overlooking a likely trail. No, this time, he was doing it old way, hunting off the ground, using natural cover and playing the wind. His one concession to modern hunting was camouflage clothing. He was wearing ASAT because it was all he had that fit.

He saw them coming before they entered the meadow. He had not counted on two bucks and a doe. That was a lot of eyes to avoid and too many noses tasting the air. He wasn't in a $200 ground blind, well concealed. No sir, this was the old way, crouched at the base of gnarled catalpa tree, what they use to call Injun cigars. Twice he had seen the bucks skirt the edge of the meadow and pass within 25-yards of the tree. With three of them in the bunch, he wasn't sure what they would do.

The lead buck, the one he had seen on that earlier afternoon, stopped and looked dead at him. Healthy, the old man thought, every bit of 250-pounds with antlers well past his ears. He would do. The younger buck and the doe paid no attention. He thought, maybe that will calm the big boy down.

He wondered one more time, would his shoulder hold up? He had been having trouble with it in cold and damp weather. He just wanted to pull the 55-pound bow back one more time. Then, just like him, it would be retired.

Slowly they came, stopping every few steps to taste the wind. Oddly, the doe was in the middle. They began to mill around at 40-yards and he thought he was going to lose them. Then on they came, slowly now, changing places, always the bigger buck in the lead, the smaller buck, close to 125-inches, stopping to mock spar and show off for the doe.

In the distance, he heard Art start the tractor. So did the deer. No! Not now, don't spook now. The lead buck took four more steps and the buck behind him turned around, heading back the way they came, his hindquarters and part of the doe, partially blocking the lead buck from a clean, vital shot. One step and he had the opening he needed.

He leaned his left shoulder slightly against the tree and somehow the bow came back. His fingers brushed his cheek one last time. Once more, the way they had in years long past. One more inch...

And he would do it the old way.

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John L. Sloan, Outdoors
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