IF A 12-YEAR-OLD BOY had been granted his one biggest wish of a lifetime the morning of November 18, 1961, he would have slayed his first whitetail buck opening morning.

As he reasoned it, getting his first buck would have automatically elevated him into the coveted status of manhood. He had a chance that opening morning, but two shots at a buck rushing past him at top speed did no damage other than to shatter his hopes and dreams.

As it was, the boy slipped into his teenaged years before finally bringing home his first buck, a November 26, 1964, Thanksgiving morning buck that finally put him into the company of all the buck slayers in the world. Manhood was his. Well, not quite, but he felt like it was.

In the ensuing years, he had a mixed bag of luck, sprinkled here and there with another triumph. In 1976, the now-married father of two, at age 27, had a banner opening day, downing a buck less than half an hour after shooting time began; then, topping off the day by shooting a forked buck in the afternoon which he tagged with a four-man party tag.

In 1982, the 30-something man killed what he considered to be his first trophy buck, a beautiful eight-pointer he got after a careful hour of still hunting through a pine thicket the second morning of the season. That buck still hangs in a place of honor on his living room wall.

Through the years, as the man aged, his anticipation of deer season opening day never waned; though the hot fever it engendered in his early years had definitely softened. There were still lots of preseason scouting expeditions, rifle sightings-in, stand building and such, but his daydreams and night dreams of killing a monster buck every opening morning mellowed to more reasonable thoughts of spending a day in the woods with a mere chance of getting a buck at all.

He did kill other bucks as he meandered through middle age, three of them “big” bucks, two eights and one nine-pointer. Somehow, though they were a source of pride and joy, they no longer represented a do-all, be-all culmination of an opening day hunt.

He, just as many others who live that long can’t figure out how it happened, had slipped into his 60s. By that time, he was hunting mostly solo on a large private tract of land for which he served as a sorta caretaker, “looker after” of the property and cabin of a lifelong friend.

Whether it was simply having 70 acres all to himself or maybe having gained more skill at picking out a prime stand to hunt from, he began bringing home a buck opening day almost on an annual basis.

Deer hunting had become by this time a pleasureable ritual; a day spent in a pop-up camouflaged blind while sitting on a comfortable chair wrapped for warmth in a thick blanket up to his neck. Though he and his wife still very much enjoyed having venison in the freezer, for him an annual opening day watching woodpeckers and chickadees, squirrels and ermine, and other assorted wild critters was enough. A buck was a bonus.

When the year came that he achieved his 70th birthday, thoughts began creeping in during the weeks leading up to opening day as to how many more years he might have to enjoy this ritual. In good health, he did not doubt that all would be well this year, but he only harbored hopeful thoughts that he might live to kill a buck in his 90th year as his father had.

Opening morning of 2019 found him sitting in his blind set up in the same place from which he had killed four bucks in the past five years. Those had all been early first-day bucks and he wondered if he deserved the luck to slay yet another buck opening morning.

Pink sky was dawning as the opening moments of the hunt began. He had already heard two shots from distant points 10 minutes into the hunt, when he spied movement from a narrow valley running into the base of the long hill atop which he sat.

Through woods heavily sprinkled with oak and maple, along with several thickets of small balsam, he watched as the browsing deer slowly worked his way. He had hopes it would turn up the slope toward him and after 15 minutes of watching, it did.

At a distance of more than 100 yards he finally was able to see the deer was a buck, having nothing like a trophy rack, but nonetheless, antlers tall and wide enough to be spotted with a scope set at four power. He could have taken a shot then, but with only the head and neck visible, the body hidden behind a clump of oaks, he held off, hoping for a better shot.

It took another five minutes or so before the deer, dropping out of sight into a small depression and behind balsams at times, finally popped into view 75 paced-yards away and stood where the old hunter had a clear line of fire.

Sitting on his chair, warming blanket now open down to his waist, he steadied himself the best he could and fired. His aim was true. After one jump and a few steps his buck, which he figured could honestly be called a 41⁄2-pointer, a 5⁄8-inch brow tine on one side not truly a point, was down. He and his lovely wife would be eating grilled backstrap once again.

He took his time then phoning his son and a cousin, who had each sent multiple texts the evening before making sport of him, to remind them that he who laughs last, laughs best.

After completing the necessary chore of field dressing his buck, he walked back to his stand, determined to not be denied the ritual of eating a liver sausage sandwich, two chocolate chip cookies and a chocolate candy bar, all washed down with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

He savored the treats and sat quietly on his stand for another half-hour just for the joy of it. A doe and a fawn that had walked nearly up to him as he got ready to dress his buck circled back around him again as the sun and the temperature begin to rise.

He gave thanks for his good luck, bemoaning humorously that first-morning triumphs were denying him his money’s worth of his hunting license. Doing the math, his last five bucks had taken less than six hours of hunting time to get. 

An old hunter should be so lucky.