KEVIN TATE: Chasing the last of childhood across the sand

KEVIN TATE

Dry leaves covered the ground, thinner along the crests of ridges, then deeper in the valleys between. The air smelled like wood smoke, anticipation and December. The deer hunter among my Old Men walked at a brisk clip and I panted and hustled to keep up, a heavy rifle weighing on my shoulder, my heavy clothes already filling with sweat.

Many times I wondered how much farther but didn’t dare ask, because I knew I’d asked for this already. Hinted and asked and begged for months, in fact, and I could tell all along from the Old Man’s reactions he thought me much too immature.

From today’s view, when a successful drive along any rural highway involves not killing deer, it’s hard to picture a time when the critters were still scarce on the ground, but that was the case throughout my formative years. Deer hunting trips required camping out or driving through the night for hours on end in the frosty dark. This, my first hunt, was one of the latter.

Lumbering along in heavy boots that morning I left no rock un-rolled, no stick un-snapped and pretty much no noise un-made. Eventually we topped our dozenth ridge as sunlight began to break through the trees off to our left. The Old Man paused for me to catch up.

“You sit here along this ridgeline and I’ll make a wide loop around,” he whispered. “Any deer I jump should come down this draw to get away.”

I found a spot at the base of an oak and flopped down as he strode quickly out of hearing and sight. Growing daylight revealed a draw filled with hardwoods, some strung with muscadine vines, most populated by squirrels, the largest furred game I’d see that morning, or for many more such mornings to come.

I didn’t have to wait for retrospect to see that morning’s plan didn’t have very much plan to it, I could tell that even then. At the time, modern deer hunting was in its infancy, and it grew up even slower than I did. This year’s rookie deer hunters don’t know how much they’re not missing, the lucky rascals.

Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.

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