On very few mornings, I’m somewhat sad to admit, do I greet the supposedly cheery sound of my iPhone alarm like I do on the opening day of deer season.
On that special day, I don’t grumble. I don’t engage in a sleepy argument with myself — “10 more minutes … really … I can steal 10 more minutes” — and I don’t delay.
Instead, I vault out of bed (as much as a pudgy 52-year-old can vault, that is), and rush to the shower with a spring in my step.
Opening day. No time to waste. The deer are waiting.
Or something like that.
Eight hours later, cozily huddled in a little ground blind, the toll of that early morning wakeup (along with the somewhat monotonous practice of staring at the same trees for an extended period of time) began to take its toll.
My closed my eyes — for just a second, I swear — then bolted back upright when I realized that I’d begun to dream.
Stay awake. The deer are out there. Stay awake.
As far as I know, I succeeded. I don’t think I nodded off again. Then again, taking a sleeping man’s word as gospel truth is a risky proposition at best.
This much, I know: We almost, nearly saw a deer or two on opening day. Or something like that.
And it didn’t take long for the excitement to ramp up.
After hopping out of the truck just before sunrise, my buddy Chris and I wished each other good luck, then began walking to our preferred spots. I was trudging down the soggy dirt road, nearing the path that would take me deeper into the forest, when my radio crackled.
“Just jumped something,” Chris whispered. “Couldn’t see if it was a deer or a moose. But it was headed right for you.”
Or, to be more exact, it would have been heading right for me if I’d made the kind of progress that Chris thought I should have made.
Instead, I’d stopped twice to listen, then twice more to adjust the gear I was carrying, and was a bit behind schedule.
That deer-moose-whatever-it-was never came close to me. And that, I’m certain, is something that I didn’t sleep through. The rest of it gets a bit more foggy.
Fast forward eight hours. After a morning spent in my blind, an epic lunch, a short still hunt along the edges of a huge beaver bog, and another silent creep back to that cozy ground blind, my luck changed for the first time of the season.
No, I didn’t see a deer … not yet.
That, of course, would have been fantastic. But on opening day, I’ve learned to appreciate even the most modest of good omens.
Like this: Barely 30 seconds after I’d hunkered down in that blind, made myself comfortable, and begun to watch the woods in earnest, it began to rain. Hard.
When that happens, I’m typically deep in the woods, getting drenched, cold and progressively more miserable by the minute.
This time? I sat contentedly, listening to the raindrops tapdance on the waterproof roof of the blind. Dry. Warm. Happy.
And eventually, perhaps, a bit sleepy.
After one head-bobbing trip to the verge of slumberland, I adjusted myself in my camp chair, seeking a slightly less-comfortable perch. (It’s hard to nod off when you’re uncomfortable, I’ve found). I scanned the woods, slowly, methodically, keeping my head still and moving just my eyes, just like my mentors taught me.
And then it happened.
Off to my left, 60 yards or so away, I saw something odd tucked in between the trees. It was white. It was about three feet off the ground. I hadn’t noticed it before. And it looked a lot like the blaze of lighter hair you might see on the chest of a deer.
For several minutes, I stared. I blinked, trying to refocus. The white blaze was still there. But I couldn’t see the outline of a deer. Just white. Standing there.
Slowly, I took off my glasses, swapped them for the binoculars that hung around my neck, and focused on those trees, trying to find the patch of white again.
It wasn’t there.
I panned the binocs up … down … left … right. Nothing.
I put my glasses back on, then tried to find that white anomaly again.
At first, I thought I must have been mistaken. Over the ensuing days, I’ve convinced myself that the patch of white was, in fact, a deer. No doubt about it.
Of course, deerless deer hunters can convince themselves of nearly everything.
Some can even convince themselves that they didn’t dream the whole thing.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke