There was a tussle high up in a double deer stand in a black spruce on opening day. Hoarse whispers scratched into the darkness. Kevin Kezar, dressed in his grandfathers’ traditional red wool deer hunting coat, struggled to get a safety-harness arranged on his 13-year-old daughter, Sarah, in the cold morning blackness. Then stillness returned as early morning black gave in to gray. From where the two sat, they could begin to see down a tree line and into a 10-acre field in northern Minnesota.
“Pay attention now, Sarah!” Dad whispered on the cold November morning. “There could be one showing up here any time now.”
“Yeah, like that!” she exclaimed, pointing hard left behind her, just west of an old spruce.
“No, not yet, but soon,” Kevin said.
But Sarah had really seen a buck and was already swinging the muzzle of her scoped pink Remington 870 into position. The safety harness was too tight to make a left-handed shot that far back. Muffled sounds of straps pulling ensued as she settled in, and put the crosshairs on the buck’s shoulder. Dad was watching. You’ll never get this moment back again, he thought.
Take a deep breath, let half out and pull, she thought, just like Dad taught. The buck held, feeding on the lush clover of the food plot.
The shot boomed, then echoed off distant hills. The buck wheeled and raced for a swamp on the far side of the field, 60 yards away. Then the buck was gone.
No high fives, no back slapping … not yet, anyway.
Guns unloaded, actions open and down the ladder they went. They were somber, ready to investigate.
“Best to go back to the cabin and get some breakfast,” Kevin said as he knelt where the buck entered the swamp. “He’s hit, but let’s give him some time.”
A quiet duo trudged hand-on-shoulder the half-mile back to the cabin as the sun crested the popples.
After a quick bacon-and-eggs breakfast, they were back at the blood trail. Daintily painted fingernails pointed out splotches of blood on alder branches and sawgrass as Sarah helped her father unravel clues to where her little buck had run. The trail became easier to follow as blood loss increased and the deer led them through shallow swamp muck to a hammock 50 yards south.
“There he is, Sarah!” Kevin hollered, jabbing his fist in the sky. “He piled up in those red willows! Nice shooting, kid!”
Sarah scrambled to catch up, approaching the little buck with reverence. She touched the warm shoulder, inspected where her slug had found its mark. She looked at her father and whispered “I did it,” with a grin spreading wide on her face.
“You sure did, Sarah,” Kevin replied. Nice shot and a nice little tracking job, too. We were wise to wait this morning, but it looks like we needn’t have.”
She dug a knife from her pocket and began the ritual of field dressing the animal as her father offered tips, advice and encouragement. You shoot it, you make the meat. Family rule. No argument from this kid. She rolled up her sleeves and got into the job. Finishing up, she took the heart and skewered it on a forked stick for the drag back to the field, just like her Grandpa, now gone, showed her when she was only five years old.
“We gotta save the heart for sandwiches,” he always teased her. “Some day you’ll do it, and you need to know how.”