Every year opening day came. I would watch Dad get ready to go. Gear was organized and packed, stories were told, and the rifle was sighted in. I would sit and watch Dad clean his rifle with dreams of carrying it into the forest myself one day. The wood stock gleamed and glistened, boasting of great responsibility and adventure. The smell of gun oil my father used would grow into nostalgia for the rest of my life.
Each year I got older and thought maybe this would be the year I could go with Dad. While he was gone, the rest of the family would have fun slumber parties and movies in the living room. But, deep inside, I longed to be in on the real adventure. I wanted to go with Dad beyond the familiar fences to the realm of wild creatures.
Finally, after I turned ten years of age, I was invited to go on the hunt. I guess Dad must have wondered if I was old enough. Maybe he thought I would slow him down. But, Dad gave me a chance. Sure, I would not yet be allowed to carry the rifle, but I was invited into the adventure and to be one of the men.
When the day arrived, I was wide-awake well before it was time to go. Dad made sure we would be taken care of for the day with bite sized candy bars, sandwiches, and a thermos of hot chocolate. As we left home in the early morning hours, I was overflowing with excitement and nerves. Dad bounced the Ford pickup down miles of logging roads before coming to a locked gate. Parking the truck, Dad and I meandered up a rocky road in the dark. We took a right onto a game trail and found a likely spot from which we could observe a clearing. There was even a convenient stump to sit and wait on.
The sun rose and sparkled on the frosty ground. A clear-cut rolled away below to a stand of dark timber. The crisp air made me feel alive as I enjoyed the serenity of the sunrise. I waited ever so patiently with Dad; I wanted to show I belonged. Every minute was a moment I would remember forever.
Years later, I can still remember the small two-point buck slowly feed into view below. The buck grazed within 200 yards of our perch. Dad raised his rifle and took steady aim while I hurriedly plugged my ears. Boom! The rifle did its work. The buck hit the ground immediately and barrel-rolled down the steep clearing. What excitement! I had never been apart of such an experience.
I stood with Dad, admiring the two-point blacktail. It might have been a world record for all I knew. What a trophy! For the first time, I observed how to field dress a deer. I wrapped my small hands around an antler while Dad did the same on the other side. My small legs burned as we towed our bounty up to the grassy trail. Then, it was a long walk back to the truck where a Red Ryder wagon awaited. We took the red wagon back to the deer and loaded him up.
Dad took the hard job of pulling the red wagon along the bumpy road where large rocks continually caught the wheels. I supposedly helped by pushing the red wagon from behind. After some distance and struggle, Dad looked back and, to his dismay, saw me leaning down and adding weight to the red wagon instead of pushing. No wonder this two-point felt so hefty!
Later, the memory would always be a chuckle for Dad and me. But that day, Dad got home and lay on the floor exhausted while I jumped up and exclaimed, “Let’s do it again!” And do it again we would, for as many miles as our legs have and will carry us up the old logging roads and trails. Years down the road Dad will help as I do the heavy lifting and, with a smile, will remember the boy who weighed down the red wagon.