People often ask what my favorite part of hiking the Appalachian Trail was, and I answer, in hindsight, how nice it was that life was so simple. No bills to pay, no appointments, no concerts or new iPhones.
All day, every day, I focused on one thing: walking. But while I was hiking the trail, the simplicity was monotonous, and it wore on me psychologically.
The same is true about deer hunting. When November rolls around every year, my calendar is empty. I schedule no appointments, no dinners with friends. I stop going to the gym, I don’t clean the house and my meals resemble those of a college student: frozen pizza and boxed mac ‘n’ cheese.
All day, every day, I think about one thing — deer hunting.
Like my thru-hiking experience, in the moment, deer hunting is usually boring. But I also recognized the freedom and privilege of only having one thing on my to do list.
Though there are many deer in southern Maine, there are also many hunters, and many houses. I didn’t grow up down here, so unlike back home in Machias, I don’t know people who own land. It has taken me years to finally have a few places I can deer hunt. All the deer I have shot have been out of friends’ tree stands.
I received permission to hunt a parcel just 20 minutes from my office in South Portland. I put up game cameras and scouted. I chose the tree to put a stand in and my fiance, Travis, put it up for me.
I saved my vacation time and left work at 2 p.m. the first two weeks of the season and hunted every single afternoon. I hunted every Saturday, sunup to sundown.
From my stand, I watched brood flocks (hens with their now grown poults) fly down from their roost in the morning. I watched the same group of 50 turkeys drink from a pond every evening. I saw hooded mergansers dive in that same pond and marveled as geese acrobatically landed on a windy day.
Crows squawked and harassed an eagle in a tree until it flew away. Red-tailed hawks hunted. I called in does with my bleat call and saw another hunter almost daily, 400 yards away.
I was a bit discouraged. It was Nov. 10, the Thursday of my second week of leaving at 2 p.m. I didn’t have enough vacation time to leave early the following week; I would only be left with Saturdays.
Then, around 4 p.m. I saw a doe and a 6-point buck, but he didn’t give me a shot.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” I told myself.
With the end of legal hunting looming close, it was getting dark. Then I saw a buck walking across a small clover patch 100 yards away. I lifted the binoculars out of my chest harness.
“Definitely a shooter,” I determined.
I placed my .308 rifle on my shooting stick and zoomed in my scope. I grunted at the buck, trying to get him to stop walking, but it came out sounding like a sheep, “baa aaah,” as my voice cracked nervously.
He didn’t stop.
I removed the safety. The buck was just a few steps away from the tree line. I aimed and squeezed the trigger.
He dropped in his tracks. I watched him, motionless, through my binoculars and when I was sure he was dead, I called Travis. He was on his way up north to a hunting camp.
“I got one! He’s big. He’s down,” I said.
“Do you need help? Are you still in your stand?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m still in my stand. I think it’s the 12-pointer I have on camera maybe. I don’t need your help, but I think this is a big deal and you’re going to want to see him,” I replied.
“OK, I’ll turn around. I’m about an hour away. Send a picture when you get to him,” Travis said.
It wasn’t the 12-pointer, but a 176-pound, 8-pointer the landowner and I had named “Tall Tines Jr.” There was also a “Tall Tines Sr.,” but this buck had slightly smaller brow tines.
After a quick self-timer photo with the sunset, I field dressed my buck. Travis arrived and it turned out I did need his help getting the large deer into the back of my 4Runner.
I am very grateful for the life of my beautiful buck. I will cherish every meal he provides, and he will have a permanent place of honor in my home.
I am also proud of myself. My planning and perseverance paid off.
Hunting is inherent in our species and the subject is eloquently addressed in the book, “The Last Whalers.”
“We all descended from foraging cultures. Our bodies, minds, and hearts are still calibrated by tens of thousands of years of evolution and our hunter gatherer past. No matter the disorienting demands of the present,” the book says. “Shouldn’t we at least try to shape our contemporary lives to honor our original nature? If we forget our ancestors, we will lose an essential part of our future.”