By A. Ray Lee
Cold nights and crisp afternoons of late January warm the hearts of old die-hard deer hunters, stirring them to go again to the woods and fields after a disappointing year, hoping an elusive buck might come out of hiding before the season ends.
I remember such a day when lingering snow lay in the shade of big pines, and icy ground crunched under my boots as I walked to where I would take my stand.
Lew and I had met at the Little Dixie motel and made arrangements for the night. He left his car there and joined me in my four-wheel drive Jeep pickup.
Twenty minutes later, I parked on the side of an old logging road and hurried to where I set up my stand.
It was a grand afternoon for hunting. The sun was shining through a cloudless sky. Birds scratched in the leaves, looking for a snack. A fat fox squirrel placidly gorged himself on seeds from pine cones. His grey cousin scolded from high in the bare limbs of an oak tree. From somewhere in the distance, I heard the raucous cawing of a crow.
The contrast of the deep green of pine needles and the bare branches of hardwood trees was worthy of a Currier and Ives painting.
About two hours before night, movement caught my eye that was not related to the birds or squirrels. Almost imperceptibly, a doe and twin fawns appeared in front of me.
With anticipation, I turned my head to look down the trail behind her, hoping a buck would be following. After 10 or 15 minutes of intense concentration, however, my heart rate came back near normal, as I was convinced the doe and her yearlings were browsing alone.
Nevertheless, I stayed on full alert for the rest of the afternoon as the sun slowly set. Under the spell of the moment, I lingered in my stand until I could no longer see the trail before me, hoping a buck would materialize in the gathering darkness.
Suddenly I realized night was upon me, and I was far back in the woods.
In haste to reach my stand, I had not paid adequate attention to my surroundings. In the darkness, without any points of reference to guide me, I soon became disoriented and had no idea which way would lead me back to the truck. Unless I could find my way out, I was in for a cold night.
Surely Lew was waiting for me and would reply if I sounded the hunter’s SOS. I fired three evenly-spaced shots.
There was no reply.
A crescent moon had risen, and I used it as a guide over my shoulder, lest I travel in circles, and began walking. Forty-five minutes later, after having struggled through briar patches and stumbled through rotting treetops, I found a blazed trail that I recognized and made my way to the road.
About that time, I heard the sound of a horn in the distance.
Finally arriving at the truck, I found Lew placidly leaning against the hood, casually smoking a cigarette. When confronted as to why he had not answered my three shots, the son of a bank president – and a federal bank examiner himself – replied: “I shoot silver-tipped bullets. They cost me 60 cents each. I don’t waste them.”
I was sorely tempted to drive away and leave him standing in the dark.