It’s a long drive to Missouri — 15 hours if the traffic cooperates — but I-70 near Indianapolis has been a real bottleneck the last two years with long backups of traffic plaguing travelers going both East and West.
We found the traffic as congested as last year and dropped down to Rt 40 to bypass the traffic snarl. Slower going, but you’re not sitting in traffic for an hour, either.
Frank Schultz would be driving out and hunting with us this year. This was the rookie’s first trip, and he was excited at the opportunity to not only shoot a nice buck, but possibly win a free hunt, as well.
After a safe arrival, our group met up at the dinner buffet that evening and Frank, naturally enthusiastic, was all questioning and raring to go. After dinner, the computer selected each individual hunter’s stand for the morrow’s hunt.
Once you have your stand number, you meet with the land owner to get the low-down on your next day’s hunt. The room was alive with the buzz of conversation and anxious expectations.
The breakfast buffet begins at 3 a.m. For some vans leaving the motel as early as 3:30; long, long days are part of the hunt. Immediately after breakfast, a bagged lunch awaits you in the lobby.
No matter what time your van leaves, you’d better be there on time. With a line of other vans behind yours impatiently waiting, a tardy hunter will be left behind.
Frank had drawn a tough stand that first morning. His van left at 3:35. He was up at 2, ate as quickly as possible and was waiting for his ride on time.
After a long drive, his guide dropped him off and he followed the markers until he reached his stand. He waited for an hour and a half for daylight and saw he was overlooking a large field.
Soon, a herd of cows wandered into sight and stayed. A spike appeared around noon, but that was the only deer he saw all day, not returning to the hotel until well after dark.
However, his lot improved when the stand he drew turned out to be on Ronnie Danuser’s property. Not only was his stand a good one, he didn’t have to leave till 4:45 a.m. Things were looking up.
Ronnie dropped Frank off, told him the old logging trail he stood on ran downhill for about 400 yards, crossing one fence on the way. As he walked, his head lamp picked out the reflective tape and ribbons guiding him to the ladder stand.
It was pitch black, only the faintest glimmer of light showed in the East, then vanished as clouds obscured the sky and a light rain began to fall. Fortunately, it only lasted a few minutes. Soon after he reached his stand, climbed up and settled in.
The sky cleared, a gentle breeze rustled the oak leaves and, as Frank relaxed, the darkness settled over him like a cloak. Dawn was still over 30 minutes away.
In those so rare, quiet, introspective moments when your mind is totally free of any distraction, including sight, one’s thoughts are free to roam and contemplate existence, the past or future. Life’s priorities often fall into their proper perspective; what is of real worth and what is not.
Frank’s thoughts turned to his childhood, his father and mother, his siblings. So many memories swirled in a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, emotions.
Today was Sunday, and Frank reminisced with a smile how special Sunday had been for his mother. Chris was gone now and Frank missed her terribly.
He smiled as he remembered how she loved to cook; it was her special delight to prepare a big, beautiful family meal for her family every Sabbath. An ardent Bills, fan she enthusiastically cheered her team on. From 1-4 p.m., that was her football time.
Mom loved wild game and always pulled for the men’s success. But, she always said an additional prayer for Frank to bag the biggest turkey or buck. Her favoritism was obvious; Dad just shook his head.
Frank looked up, his memories so poignant, tears in his eyes and there above him in the dark sky shone a single bright star. Could that be his mother’s star?
“Hey, Mom,” He prayed; “I miss you so, but think of you everyday. If you’re watching, could you help me out here? I’m not having any luck at all.”
The sky was lightening now and a grainy, grey light grew. Dimly, he saw a ravine running to his left, in front of him scattered oak, cedar and pine trees. Suddenly, magically, a doe appeared only 30 yards in front of him and behind her, head down a racked buck.
Gulping, he pulled up the rifle, but the scope caps were closed. He flipped them up, the slight noise stopping the doe and causing the buck to look up. A shooter!
He centered the chest and fired, the 300 Winchester Magnum dropping the buck instantly. Clambering excitedly out of the stand, he ran to his deer. Wow, a beautifully symmetrical 10-point with nice tines and some mass.
He couldn’t believe his luck. He was so thrilled and over-brimming with pure joy and thankfulness.
Then, he raised his head to the sky.
“Thanks, Mom. That didn’t take long.”
And, suddenly, tears streamed down his cheeks and sobs shook his body.