My best friend Gale Storey and I started a “manly tradition” years ago in Illinois where he and his family live. We have been friends since basic training in the Air Force where we met over 30 years ago and each year we try to meet at deer camp to hunt.
Whenever I am blessed enough to make the trip to Illinois to spend time with Gale and his family, he is always faithful to work himself too hard to set everything up at the camp, scout the deer, set up stands, and all the other things necessary to insure a successful event. I have said many times that no other person on the planet can do what he does as well, and I always enjoy the trip. It has become one of the things I most look forward to each year.
On this particular trip I had been feeling particularly manly because I had overcome my fear of heights to a degree. Gale set up a tree stand that was so secure that there was no way one could fall but that didn’t ease my nerves much. Once I convinced myself to just do it and got up the tree, all was well, just as he told me it would be.
Even though I was strapped to the tree and on a solid frame, I somehow found a way to lose my balance at just the right time to scare away three deer that had come up right in front of me. I think Gale nearly fell out of his tree as well but only because he was laughing so hard at me. I think I am a constant source of humor for him and Ms. Penny while I am in town. They are so kind that they rarely laugh “at” me but usually “with” me although they are well within the bounds of good taste if they were to laugh me out of the state in most cases. They are simply “good” people and great friends.
One afternoon late in this particular trip I decided that I had been in the tree enough and asked Gale if it would be a good idea to walk out across from the camp and ground hunt that evening. He made the necessary calls and got approval and before long I was geared up and on my way across the massive field to “stalk” my prey in a very manly fashion. I was all decked out in camo, had my trusty bow and arrows ready, my new knife on my hip and plenty of jerky in my pocket. I was ready for an extended test of my ability to survive in the wild, heart pounding, proud, and ready for battle. Well, at least for a couple of hours. It was a little cold so no need to press things right? But hey, in my mind, I was Bear Grylls on a frozen tundra a million miles from civilization. It was a great feeling.
I had missed a couple of shots at deer earlier in the trip but Gale, being a gentleman, didn’t berate me about it. He was supportive and kept me focused on the future hunts. I was intent on putting “meat on the ground” on this day to support my self-image and help me to face Ms. Toni when I got home. Gale had even solved my issue with my bow sights being off earlier that day. My bow was dead on now. We won’t talk about how he did it, but let me just say that he pointed out that nothing was wrong with my bow, but I needed to shoot without my glasses. He is a genius. Pure genius!
On to the hunt. I had sat in a large brush pile on the edge of a fence line for about an hour. I was tucked in nicely and well camouflaged with tree branches. I had my knife out and ready, my jerky was within arm’s reach and my water bottle was at my side. I was a “real man”, ready for everything. I was stealthy with every movement. I had every avenue of approach covered and had gone over every possible shot in my mind a dozen times. I WAS READY!
As the sun began to set and as I was chewing a particularly tough piece of jerky and trying not to choke, I looked up to see seven deer coming across the field directly at me. I swallowed hard and grabbed my binoculars. Yes, they were deer. All does, but deer, and they were headed toward me at a trot from about four hundred yards away. Then the choking began.
I had forgotten to swig down some water to wash down the tough beef jerky, (I like the teriyaki kind), and suddenly realized that I was in a pickle. Choking and hacking I quickly dropped my binoculars and grabbed my water bottle. Yes folks, the wild can be challenging, but I was in this to win so I remained undeterred. As I carefully turned up the bottle of water, tears running down my face, I saw him.
Not twenty yards away stood the largest buck I had ever seen in person. He had run out ahead of the does and I had missed him completely. Now he was standing in front of me trying to figure out what all the gagging was about. I admit it. I panicked a little.
Shaking and choking I put down the water bottle and reached for my bow. I masterfully “knocked” an arrow and took aim. “This big boy is going on the wall!” I thought, as I released the arrow, knowing it was an easy shot. Heck, I could taste the deer jerky already! “Oh wait, I need some more water.”
To my surprise the deer didn’t move as the arrow whizzed through the air. “Man! I am so good he didn’t even know I shot him!” I thought. He continued to stare at me as I began to wonder how this miracle could happen. “How is he still standing with an arrow through him?” I wondered. Then I saw the arrow in the ground under him. It missed by at least a foot. “Stupid crooked arrow!” I thought.
The deer was kind enough to stay still while I fumbled for another arrow and finally got it loaded and drawn. I released it with just a little less confidence but still sure that he was going down and I would be bragging for years over this kill. To my amazement he didn’t move a muscle much less fall to the ground. Through my tears I noticed a puff of dust off in the distance and realized that the shot was high, very high. I believe Mr. Buck was not only confused but was also somewhat concerned about what kind of idiot was sitting in a brush pile choking on jerky and shooting ineffective arrows at him. Apparently he was curious enough to hang around because he gave me time to shoot my final arrow which missed again. Hey, it was getting dark and I was choking. Give me a break on the aiming okay?
I exhaled as the last arrow flew off into oblivion, embarrassed and not knowing how I would explain such a massive failure of manhood. But Mr. Buck was kind as he tipped his ear, flagged his white tail at me and trotted off confidently to meet the does just a few yards away now. One of them huffed at me and the group scampered away joyfully, seemingly laughing at me as they pranced off into the sunset.
Frustrated and deflated, I threw on my backpack, grabbed my gear and bow and started walking through the dusky dark back to camp. “No one has to know.” I thought. “I still look cool in my camo and boots and still have my new knife.” “I will just say I didn’t’ have any luck.”
As I walked and pondered how much fun the hunt was even though I missed, I began to feel better. A slight smile came across my face as I hiked along with the heavy gear on my back. I knew that it was going to be a great day no matter what so I relaxed and headed back in peace. That is, until I saw the little dark image walking towards me.
Before I could think twice I realized in terror that I had walked blissfully upon a mother skunk and she was not too happy to see me. In panic I staggered backwards dropping my bow and losing my balance. I landed on my back tangled in weeds and my backpack. As I drove my heels furiously into the frozen ground trying to get traction to scoot way, the skunk raised her tail and charged me!
Seemingly a million thoughts went through my mind as I fell and attempted to get up, first and foremost was the thought “Toni isn’t going to let me in the house!” Then I thought, “Gale is going to laugh at this one.” and “Oh man, my tahoe is going to stink for weeks!”, just to name a few.
Somehow I managed to get to my feet and run. I had covered somewhere close to fifty yards or so and thought I was at a safe distance when I began to slow. I glanced over my shoulder only to see the little stink bomb still on my heels! “Are you serious?!!!” I uttered out loud. I took off across the field and sprinted as long as my lungs would allow and finally lost the monster of all monsters just as I approached the road. I crossed it and the ditch to safety.
As I dragged myself into camp and explained to Gale how my day had gone I wondered internally how manly I really am. Truthfully, I don’t care. I had a great time with my best friend and made it home to my great family without any real harm. That is a successful trip in my book. But, I cannot help but think that the deer and the skunk were in on it together and that they still laugh over the water hole at me. I just hope they found my new knife because I lost it on top of everything else in my run for the hills.
At the end of the day, we have to look at the fiasco’s in our life and try to find some humor in it. As it turns out, I have an easier time finding that than I do wild game. Oh well, there is always next year.
(To my friend Gale and to his wife Penny and the girls. Thank you for being there to help me find the comedy over the years. God blessed me with you as friends and I am eternally thankful for all that you do.)
I would like to dedicate this true story to two of the giants in this world that I had the great fortune to meet and know, Mr. John & Mrs. Louise Storey of Enfield, IL., Gale’s mom and dad. They passed away recently and we will miss them terribly. They were truly two of the best examples of what it means to be a good human being I have ever met. They will always be giants in my eyes and the world is better because of the examples they set and who they were. Rest easy friends, and Mrs. Storey, I hope to go fetch the paper for you in heaven someday. I know Ms. Toni and Ms. Penny will laugh at me there right along with you.