The hunter had to be at the deer stand by sunrise. Parking at the western trail head made it a five-hour hike over a mountain to the deer track that wound around a popular watering hole.
If the hunter parked a vehicle near the killing field, it risked spooking the prey, but the hunter didn’t mind the hike, or the early hour.
The deer stand was a familiar place. It sat in a big maple tree close to the pond. It was late autumn now, and the tree might still be hidden under a colorful end-of-season canopy of leaves.
It had been a successful hunting season. The hunter was excited for the prospect of another good kill today, though technically, hunting season for most game had ended already.
The wind was sharp on the mountain trail. The night sky overhead pulsated with bright stars. The moon came late and painted the woods with a stark monochromatic aura. It made the scenery eerie, dreamlike, the trees like giant shimmering ghosts.
The hunter appreciated the mysterious spectral beauty in spite of the journey, and the frosty cold, for which, they had outfitted with warm, top-notch gear. And, there was good coffee in a well-insulated beverage container.
The occasional rustling of life in the underbrush, the yip-yip-yip of coyotes like friends who were entertaining, but not to be trusted, kept the hunter alert.
The hunter arrived at the deer stand as a faint hazy gleam appeared in the east. The maple tree had lost its leaves already. It made it easier to get spotted. The hunter didn’t worry about it now. Worrying this deep into the hunt was pointless.
Hunting was living on the precipice of each moment, no regret for the past, no speculation about the future. Like a meditation, this moment. Now. Then, let it go, each exhale a tiny death, each inhale a rebirth into the moment. The eternal dance of life and death.
Once settled into the tree stand, there was coffee sipped from a tin cup and a breakfast of venison jerky. Birds woke and went to work doing what birds do, their songs like melodic conversations that warmed the morning chill.
The hunter had field glasses with a clear line of sight to the deer trail where it followed the pond’s shoreline. A group of does had appeared, spotted yearlings trailing. They were skittish, like they knew deer season had ended, but that it was all a sham. Who could blame them for that conclusion?
At 6:10 a.m., as expected, the prey appeared. The hunter got into position and pulled an arrow from the quiver. The prey continued down the path and disappeared into a gulley where a creek emptied into the pond, before reappearing on the path and into the target area.
The hunter nocked the arrow, drew the bowstring to the anchor point with a deep breath. On a three count, the arrow released, but the prey had slipped in that same moment when a morning dove rose nearby, both startled by the others presence.
The shot hit high and missed the kill zone. The broad head arrow pierced the base of the prey’s neck, its razor-sharp steel lodged in the cervical vertebrae. The target dropped on the path, limbs in spasm. Blood leaked around the arrow’s shaft and stained her dun-colored coat.
The hunter climbed down from the stand and walked with bow in hand. The prey, a young woman, had been out for her morning run around the pond. Now, she lay on the trail. Her short dark hair had gathered a crown of autumn leaves as her hands clawed for purchase in the dirt, like trying to hang on fast for her dear life.
Blood burbled from her mouth. Her neck wheezed, wet and sopping as her lungs struggled to breathe through the wound. Her eyes, bright blue in the morning sun, were a terror. The hunter pulled a skinning knife from a belt, bent at the knee and sliced through the thin neck, releasing a torrent of blood. In thirty seconds the prey released her grip on the earth.
The hunter left the arrow, took a small souvenir of the hunt, then set out to hike back across the mountain to the trail head with a few hours to contemplate how the hunt had unfolded. Things don’t go as planned, but time to enjoy the scenery and marvel at the wonder of life was time well spent in the hunter’s opinion.