It’s 35 degrees and I am shivering. 35 is not really that cold but I am probably chilled because of how I am dressed. Cheap cotton long johns that got soaked climbing the slope I had to ascend to get here are now going to freeze me.
The torn rubber pac boots I’m wearing are also low quality and I already have a couple toes that are numb. The light snow on the ground, actually a good tracking snow, just seems to make it colder. I am on a deer stand in southern West Virginia and I turned 18 years old about a week ago.
I look down and admire the rifle I am holding for about the tenth time. It’s a beautiful Winchester Model 70, pre-1964 era, chambered in .30/06 caliber. The stock is a monte carlo style and the wood is fancy. I shiver and study the deep bluing. The fact that it has no scope and open sights bothers me not at all. Cradling this gun at this stage in my life I figure I am very well armed. I don’t remember seeing any deer this day, but I can remember the day, the rifle, and enduring the cold on that brush choked ridge.
I don’t think much about birthdays these days. At least my own that is. I enjoy others special day like family members and friends, but my own day of turning another year older doesn’t seem so special. Does it have something to do with wanting to hold back the years? I don’t know.
Years before the deer stand episode, I stand on the edge of muddy river almost hip deep in the water. The temperature is about the same, as this is on or about November 15, my birthday. I am if anything even more poorly outfitted. I have hip boots on, I am sure they were cheaply made, and at least one of them is leaking. The water seems much colder than the air temp in the 30’s but I think they told us in science class that is not possible. I have got myself in a position where the water depth is about to come over the top of my cheap boots. The mud on the bottom of the river is squishing downward which of course makes the water come up higher to the critical point at the top of my boots. I going to be wet and a lot colder before I get to the house.
On this particular gray winter day, I am checking muskrat traps and envisioning myself as a wilderness trapper in Alaska or Canada. Reading magazine articles in Fur Fish Game and the stories of authors like Russel Anabel I am sure stoked these fires and kept in me out in the cold. At some point in my Junior High years, I was set on living the lonely life of a trapper in some snow covered territory. Time and life and reality took care of all that I guess.
Setting the way back machine to a forward setting in years I am once again in a lonely place, and it is if anything even colder. I think to myself what a way to spend your birthday for maybe the tenth time. It is about one in the morning, and it is one of those clear nights where the temperature takes a nosedive. I am on a barren hillside behind some brush in a position to watch a deer that was killed several hours ago, illegally by the way.
Why, you might ask am I here once again shivering, watching a dead deer? Well, a few years prior to this birthday I took the oath and became a DNR Conservation Officer. I was at the time the youngest, and probably the most gung ho (overly enthusiastic and energetic) as well as the only single Officer in my district. Any form of an unwanted and unpopular task that came up, such as doing a stake out on a deer killed out of season, went to you know who. “Just send that single boy, he is young and what does he have to do anyway?” I’m sure that was said more than twice.
In truth I don’t think I grumbled too much about these jobs, I was enthusiastic about my job as a game warden, and I probably thought I was living the dream. Youth is a wonderous thing, why does it have to fade?
Well, there have been a lot of birthdays since all these little adventures. I look back on them fondly and I am sorry I painted a dismal picture of what I thought of birthdays earlier. I hope to have a lot more.
No, whoever shot that deer I was watching on a cold November night over forty years ago never did come back to get it, that just happened sometimes. I am however going to look into what is the latest in thermal long johns and cold weather gear.
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