Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Farewell Hunt... With Much Gratitude.

To equate opening morning of the general season of C zone to something relative and significant and the anticipation of such, I could only describe it in the same way as a child looking forward to Christmas Day. For the past five years of my life, I  looked forward to this specific hunting season more than any other. I still remember the first trip up there to the mountain, in which I was invited to accompany a friend on his hunt. I didn't have a deer tag for that year, but I was able to carry a rifle with the possession of a bear tag and that's exactly what I did. The plan was to help my friend look for deer and if the opportunity presented itself, I would make an attempt at killing a bear. As it turned it out, we both left that trip with our tags in our hand, but not all was lost. Over that weekend, I saw potential and opportunity like I hadn't seen in California since I was a just a young boy. There were deer there, and it was exciting. It gave me hope, and it reminded me of my younger days with my family driving through the Sierras looking at deer, a past time that seems to be slipping out of one's hands more and more each day as our Department of Fish and Wildlife continually report on the decline of the California deer population. That mountain was and is a special place.

The very next year after that initial trip, we put a plan together with a small group of folks, my father included. We spent an entire week up there, during a rather "hot" year, not action wise, temperature. It made for some tough hunting, but through perseverance the majority in our group prevailed. I was able to witness my father shoot his first deer after a very long absence, a memorable moment to say the least. I also shot my first bear up there, got to share that moment with my father as well. That trip turned out to be such a success, we decided to build on the precedent we set and eventually initiated a plan to make that camp, into an official deer camp. We put the word out to our closest friends and family, and before we knew it, deer camp became official. A week long celebration of sorts with like minded individuals, who shared similar passions and the same goals,  putting meat in the freezer... and that's exactly what we did.

The few of us with schedules that allowed it, would begin scouting in the summer months. Hanging trail cameras, looking for migratory trails and keeping tabs on the local bucks and bears. We literally dissected the area, we knew the routes of travel and we knew where to position folks in our group based on their skill level, physical ability and knowledge of the mountain. Our plans worked out, and really so much that they exceeded our expectations. The following three years, we had just some phenomenal hunting and our harvest numbers for the entire camp were exceptional, to the point that it definitely struck a nerve with some of the other surrounding hunters, but we earned it, every successful person in our camp did. The formula for success, is hunt hard and hunt harder... never give up hope, stay dedicated and persevere. You have to keep your head in the game, to achieve your goal.

2013, opening morning... A day like none other I have experienced up there, high winds and bone-chilling-cold-non-stop-rain. I was supposed to be in a tree stand off a deer trail, but due to the weather I chose to set up my ground blind instead, which I did the day before. Three of us were in my pickup at my drop off point, one of the first ones on the mountain, pretty much typical for our group. Plenty dark, I was the first one to get dropped off. That walk I took that morning, into the darkness, was one of the loneliest walks I had ever taken in my life... I watched the truck drive away and take what little light it brought with it... Alone, cold, and beginning to get wet, I began my ascent in the direction of my blind.  Something felt bad about what I was doing, not sure exactly how I came to that feeling, but it was almost like I knew something terrible was about to happen. Uncertainty, it encompassed my thoughts. I was not fearful, maybe uneasy, but I felt something that morning, which was unlike anything else I felt before. As I made it to my blind, I slowly unzipped the back of it, and quietly entered. If I thought it was dark before, it was black, completely, inside that ground blind and I could barely hear myself think with the constant pounding of rain atop of it, but I was dry, still cold, but dry. I learned very quickly, that I was not too fond of sitting in a ground blind during a rain storm, it took away one of my senses that can prove to be essential for survival, sound. Inside that blind, I was relying solely on my sight... and then it happened, my suspicions and the suspense of everything I felt that morning colliding together at once, with my life hanging in the balance of it. Vulnerability, and uncertainty confirmed, I had my back up against a wall with only seconds to make a decision, based on what I saw... a creature, that was more than capable of helping me meet my maker, as cliche as that sounds. It is every bit of truth.  I used the only thing that I could to level the playing field, between me and the beast, my pistol. One shot was all I knew I would get, and I hoped if I missed it would be enough to turn the beast away from me... Call it fate, but that bullet seemed destined for a specific path, right through the skull of the imminent threat I was faced with. So there I sat... processing what happened, because I hadn't the time to do so before. I felt alone. I could not see where the animal laid, so I waited until I was certain it had expired. I still did not feel safe... but I just sat there. Replaying what had just happened, trying to slow it down in my head, thinking if there was another way I could have pulled out of this situation, did I do the right thing? How will I explain it? Who will believe me? Opening morning, 2013 of the general C zone season, was not a good morning for this hunter... I was safe, but uncertain if that even mattered.

The effects of what I felt after that morning, stayed with me several weeks after the incident... but I'd say that I was largely affected, the days immediately following. Imagine, the weight of a three hundred pound man standing directly on your chest, or perhaps a three hundred pound anvil... it's heavy, yes? I was anxious, probably worrisome, and a bit distant. Maybe I hid it well, maybe I didn't, but what I felt and what I was going through was different from anything I had gone through before, and there wasn't a word anyone could say that could change it, I couldn't change it. I was told there would be some sort of effects from dealing with a situation like I had, but I guess I just brushed the thought of it off... until it was happening. Regardless, the next day, Sunday morning... the weather had broke... and I was alone on a big clear cut hill side, waiting for the warmth of the sun to peak over the tall mountains in the East. This felt good. As the sun brightened the hill side and draws, I began to glass the areas around me. It was very quiet, which is quite typical after a heavy rain. I felt like this gave me an opportunity to move back and forth on the hill side with ease, staying in the shadows. If I was in one spot, I couldn't see the other, so I would quietly pick up and move about every thirty minutes or so, hoping to catch a buck coming out of the tree line for some morning sun. After about two hours of practicing my method, I picked up and once again slowly walked towards the other side of the clear cut... I reach my destination, and something caught my eye from up above. There he was, feeding on some brush at the tree line, in the morning sun... about 100 yards, facing directly away from me. I glassed him and knew right away that he was legal. I rested my gun on a stump in front me, steadied my rifle and fired the second he turned broadside. He expired right where he stood, in a matter of seconds. It felt like redemption.

I can't say the rest of deer camp this past season went well for me... Filling my tag felt good, but that was about it. I was buried into my thoughts, engulfed entirely, and as the days went on it began to wear me down. I think it began to affect some of my friendships in camp as well. My saving grace, was spending time with my wife, who desperately wants to shoot her first deer. I tried my best to keep her motivated, my plans were whatever she wanted to do, and that's what we did. She was my focus for the rest of the week. It's hard to give encouragement to someone who hasn't had the opportunity to share in the same things you have, such as filling out that deer tag and attaching it to the antler of your buck. When much time passes, with little to no success, it's hard to remain in good spirits. I know this feeling well, but I am cut a little different and wired a little different from her, and that is perfectly fine. We gave it our all, but once again, came up short... sorry, darlin'.

So why is the title of this post called, "Farewell Hunt"... it's due to the fact that I realized something up there this past season. Primarily, for the fact that I would not be able to achieve my personal goals by continuing the week long tradition of deer camp in California. I've enjoyed my time on that mountain in ways not easily described in words, it's just been a special experience for me, but I feel my time has run out and moving on is the best thing I could do for myself and my family. Not because of what I went through up there, but if there is anyone who shares my goals exactly... it's my father, and call it destiny or not, the mountains and hillsides of distant lands having been calling our names for quite some time now and I feel it's time we answered them... and begin a new chapter in our lives. So thankful for the friends and family who I was able to make life long memories with up there, I'll take them to my grave.

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