text by Jonathan Ives

I smiled, quietly closing the front door behind me with the excitement and nervousness of a young teenager sneaking out of the house after curfew. The cold of the early morning air felt like glass in my nostrils but my body was warm from the extra layer of long underwear I pulled from the trash bag moments before. Every layer of clothing I wore had spent the last few days in this bag filled with pine bows and oak leaves. I needed to cover up my smell as a human. Deer have extremely sensitive noses.

My head lamp cast a small beam into the darkness as I walked slowly across the large field behind my house. The tall grass was bent over by rain and frost, and softly crunched with each step I took. I held my rifle with both hands in a ready-carry position, the barrel pointed down. This was one of the many techniques I learned a few months ago in a hunter safety course I took at the local YMCA. At thirty-three, I had never been hunting, but I thought it might be a great way to know where my food comes from and avoid the rising cost of organic meat in the supermarket. I bought a .308 from L.L. Bean earlier that fall and spent the last weekend getting it sighted-in with my neighbor at a gravel pit down the road. After three boxes of bullets, my shoulder was so sore I had to put the rifle away until today, the start of hunting season.

At the far end of the field was a large stone wall, where thick green moss covered the tops of the small granite boulders. I carefully brought one leg over and made sure it was planted securely before swinging the second over the wall. The trees were open in this area of the forest, each pine laying down a soft carpet of red needles dried out by the sun. Even in the early morning darkness, I knew if I walked in a straight line I would meet up with a small deer trail I had found a week earlier. The trail soon became nearly invisible from the small fir trees on either side. Their branches wiped the wet morning dew onto the blaze orange vest I bought from Reny’s. A small bubbling brook crossed the trail and I stopped to listen as it dropped into the black waters of the Pemaquid River. I followed the brook away from the river until I reached a large open wetland covered in moss and ferns. This is where I would find a deer.

I climbed to the top of a ridge that looked over the marshy area and sat at the base of an old pine tree. I leaned my back against the trunk and turned off my headlamp. The low light in the sky gave the overhanging trees a dark outline, but my immediate surroundings were still invisible from the last minutes of night. Sitting in the darkness, I could feel my ears become supersonic, picking up on every little sound. Soon the sky was light enough to make out the open area below where the small brook wound around mossy islands. I looked through the scope of my rifle and clicked the back to 3x, until the ferns below looked much closer. Laying my rifle back down on my lap I scanned the area where the brook ran out of the thick spruce trees. My mind raced as I pictured a large twelve point buck walking out of those woods. Some of my friends had received Any-Deer permits during the State of Maine’s annual lottery drawing, which meant they could harvest either a buck or a doe. I missed the application deadline at the end of July so I could only shoot a buck, a deer with antlers over three inches long.

The night before, I placed a few small rags on trees at the edge of the meadow. They were soaked in dominant buck urine, a gift from my neighbor. At this time in the season the scent of a stranger draws other males to investigate their competition, figuring out where they fit in the pecking order of potential mates.

I sat in silence for what seemed like hours, hearing the sounds of chipmunks gathering acorns, and birds whistling their morning songs. I smiled and I breathed in the cold fresh air. For a brief moment I felt I was part of something much larger than myself. As the morning sun slowly rose above the trees at the far side of the meadow, I heard a twig break behind me, followed by the crunch of dead leaves. I held my breath, frozen with a mixture of fear and excitement. This might be the buck. A few minutes passed in silence and finally I heard more footsteps, this time much closer. I slowly turned my head, still holding my breath. It was a doe. She took a few more cautious steps forward. She stood at the edge of the ridge where it fell steeply into the marshland below. I watched as she lifted up her large black nose, smelling the cool breeze that made the last of the leaves shake on the hardwood trees. It was still so cold her hot breath came out like sea smoke, swept away by the breeze. Her large ears seemed to move independently, like a man moving his TV antenna in search of a better picture. I don’t know how long she stood next to me, but it felt like an eternity. It was long enough for me to fall in love with her large black eyes silhouetted against a circle of white fur.

She slowly walked away from me, taking cautious steps along the steep sides of the ridge, getting closer to the spot where the brook enters the marshland. She would stop and listen, moving her head from side to side like she was looking for something. Perhaps we were looking for the same thing.

That morning on the ridge, on the opening day of hunting season, I didn’t leave with what I had set out to bring back. I did, however, bring back something that would last me much, much longer.