I watched as the day grew dark and then stilled. Then, everything stopped, as if the heart rate of the world lowered. Most people who spend time in the woods understand this and realize this is when the deer begin to move along their rut marks. From an hour before dark until it is too late to see is perhaps the best time for hunting. Still, the snowfall was great and had covered up the blond deadened grasses, and wisped off the branches of the gnarled spruce in front of me. I was thinking that the male bear whose tracks I saw had by now gone to den, and realized that it was about 4:20, and that I had a long walk back in the snow, along a faded logging road. And then a long drive home that evening.
I was kneeling on one knee thinking of picking up my knapsack, when I heard a slight noise. I couldn't see anything, but I did know there was a deer there. I took the safety off my rifle, took a deep breath, waiting 10 seconds. I heard another twig move. Then a loud snap.
I released my scope cover, but when I did, the elastic string vibrated. There was utter silence for a long moment.
I knew the deer had stopped, and was listening. So I knew, too, I had no time to wait. I stood and fired. The deer turned too late, a patch of snow jolting off its back. I ejected the shell, put another in the chamber and fired again. The buck stumbled, tried valiantly to stand, fell sideways, sitting up in the snow when it died. It was an eight-point buck, probably the one that had pawed the gravel the day before. One of its tines had been broken in a rut fight. It died in the only world it had ever known or understood.
It was the last year I ever hunted. I moved to Toronto, where I lived for 13 years.
There, at times, in posh restaurants, elk or caribou or venison would be on the menu for $29.95. On occasion, I would see a coyote skirting the traffic, I would read newspapers printed on paper harvested from home. And at times I would think of the young buck with the broken tine and realize I would probably never hunt again.
Once an urban boy asked, “What is it like to kill things?”
Well son, something a lot like that.
David Adams Richards's latest book, Facing the Hunter, will be in bookstores next week.