An Old Man and a Treestand

An Old Man and a Treestand

Posted 2017-12-22T06:00:00Z  by  Bill Konway

We All Have a Story to Tell

It's the journey, and not the destination, that makes deer hunting what it is. (Bill Konway photo)

The old man shoved his hands deeper into the pockets of his red and black plaid, wool coat. He refused to give into the urge to check his watch. Forty-some years of deer hunting in these same woods told him that there were only a few fleeting minutes to harvest a deer this year, but at this point that seemed unlikely. Very unlikely. It would be the first time he hadn't taken a deer in, well, he couldn't remember how long. He knew he had about 15 minutes of light left.

This stand that he unknowingly selected for his hunt this evening was one of the first spots he hunted as a child and had become one of his favorites. He had always harvested a deer from this stand. This year, it would provide him with his last chance. He could no longer draw back his bow and was left with his shotgun as his only weapon. He was angry about that. He didn't expect to feel like this but he did, and yet it didn't really surprise him.

It's about the stories. (Bill Konway photo)His thoughts turned to a rabbit hunt a long time ago on this very property when he was no more than 10 years old. His first hunt with his father when his pa actually let him carry the gun. Amusingly enough, the safest place for a rabbit to be that day was in front of his rabbit-eared double-barrel shotgun. Between the weight of the gun and his excitement, he'd have been fortunate to hit the ground with a load of shot. Although, he never did get a rabbit that day, it was the day that he could trace the birth of his hunting passion to. He had forgotten all about that day, and many more like it that followed in the years that brought him to this evening. There were about 10 more minutes of light left.

While staring into the shadows of some brush at the other side of the field, he noticed a tree that seemed to stand out from the others. It wasn't the tallest, or largest. What was it about that tree? He took out his binoculars and scanned from the base through the limbs and out into the branches. The limbs and branches now only held a few remaining brownish-colored leaves. There it was in all of its glory. It was the stand his son built into the crotch of the tree with scraps of wood he found lying around the barn.

He remembered giving his son a coffee can of various sized nails and a hammer for his project. His son was about 10 or 12 at the time and wanted to become a deer hunter, just like his pa. His son had read anything and everything he could find on the subject and had squeezed about all the information he could from the old man about deer hunting, almost to the point of being annoying.

He remembered the look of determination on the face of the boy as he marched off with his wood and tools to erect the now-rotted treestand. He remembered how proud he felt when the boy's mother chuckled, "Just like his old man, huh?" He sure missed his wife, and the days spent hunting with his son. He had about 5 minutes of light left.

Snow, that miserable icy snow that bit at your face began to fall more rapidly and build up on the old man and all his gear and the wind seemed harsher now, too. He wondered if he would have trouble climbing out of his stand with the snow and ice on the steps. It was probably the first time this thought ever entered his mind. Usually, he went up and down without so much as a thought about it. But now that he had become older, and although he'd never admit it, perhaps a bit more frail, parish the thought, he seemed concerned about the build-up.

As the light faded, he recalled how he seemingly leapt out of his stand that morning when he heard his son thunder, "I got one! I got one!" He didn't think he touched a single step on the way down, and he covered the 300 yards of terrain between them in nothing flat. He was at his son's side, who was probably 15 at the time, and with the smiles they both had, you couldn't tell which one had shot the deer. "I think he went down over there, Dad", the boy said, pointing to a thicket a couple hundred yards away. This would be the boy's first deer, if he actually got it.

There had been a few misses in the past, but the boy was certain this time there was a deer in that tangle of briars and scrub. He may be right, the old man thought at the time, after all, this time there was a blood trail. Sure enough, 20 minutes later, they were dressing out the boy's first deer, a 6-pointer, maybe 175 pounds. Surely not only a trophy for the first one, but a memory that would endure in both of their minds forever.

Getting a deer is good. But it's not everything hunting is about. (Shutterstock/CDstroik photo)Things changed between the boy and the old man after that night, somehow they seemed closer, as though they had shared some sort of sacred act. They actually did, without either of them knowing it. The slick steps to the ground looked as daunting as ever, but it was about time to get down and so the old man began the process of gathering and lowering his gear and getting ready to descend.

He had made it down safely, not in record time, but he made it down, which was more important. He began his long walk back to the house through the dark, but familiar, woods and fields that he grew up in and raised a family amongst. This was the first year he hadn't taken a deer in a long, long time, but he seemed okay with that now. He even surprised himself. He could see the glow of light from his house now in the distance and would be inside and warm in no time.

But he wasn't cold any more. The ice no longer bit at his face. He saw headlights on the road coming toward his house and figured it would be his son and his family who were coming over for dinner that night. His daughter-in-law was a great cook, even better now that he was forced to eat his own cooking night after night. He looked forward to the meal, and the company, and the conversation that they all would have that evening. His grandson was about 10 or 12 now and his dad said he was taking an interest in hunting. Maybe the old man could talk his son into letting his grandson spend the night. In the morning he and the little boy could walk out to these same woods and find a tree for the youngster to build his first treestand. The old man knew where there were some scraps of wood and a coffee can of nails.

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Editor's Note: This was originally published on December 4, 2003.

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