The big white-tailed buck strolled past the tripod stand, where I was perched with a crossbow.
It was the last Saturday of the 2011 archery season on a ranch in DeWitt County. Soon it would be dark.
The buck was in no hurry. He stopped frequently to scan the ground for food. He was an eight-pointer, and his antlers were thick and tall. But he wasn’t the biggest deer on the ranch.
Twice that season I caught glimpses of a 12-point buck, and other hunters saw him, too; some claimed he had a drop tine.
That was the deer I was hoping for, so I let the eight-pointer walk. Then I got a text from my 16-year-old daughter, Eden.
“Hey,” it started. “I’m kind of hungry.”
“What do you want to eat?” I replied.
“I’m thinking pizza.”
“OK, we can do that.”
I climbed out of the tripod and trudged back to the ranch house, where Eden was waiting with our teacup poodle, Norman. It was a complete anomaly to have them along on a deer hunt.
A hunting heritage
Eden and her two older brothers had always enjoyed coming to the ranch, but once the boys entered their teens, they lost interest in hunting.
When they left home for college, I realized that my family’s hunting heritage, which reaches back to my great-grandfather, might end with me.
It never occurred to me that my daughter would want to hunt. She certainly wasn’t in favor of this trip.
My wife was at a convention that weekend. Eden assured us that she would be fine at home alone in Fort Worth, but that didn’t work for me.
“Nope,” I said Friday night. “Pack a bag, gather up your magazines and some movies to watch on the computer. Got homework? Bring that too. Oh, and get Norman ready.
“You’re going to the ranch.”
Eden was disappointed but she didn’t fuss, and we had a nice drive down to country that Saturday morning. She got hold of my smart phone and added new stations to my Pandora account.
I got ready for the afternoon hunt, and had Eden walk to the tripod with me.
“This is where I’ll be,” I told her. “If you look closely from the house, you’ll see me, just above the treeline. Text or call me if you need anything. You good?”
I watched her walk back to the house and go inside with Norman.
Later I texted, her: “What’s up?”
“Nothing, just chilling, watching a movie.”
“ Pirates of the Caribbean.”
It was dark when we drove into Cuero for dinner at the Pizza Hut. The next morning I let Eden sleep while I sneaked out to the tripod.
‘No, I’ll stay’
The big drop-tine buck never showed, but the eight-pointer reappeared. The day before, I casually watched that deer, but now that I decided to take him, my heart raced wildly.
He went down with a clean shot. I decided to bring the truck around to get him back to the house. Eden was up when I walked through the door.
“Your Pap got a buck,” I said. “A nice one.”
“Really?” she said. “Can I see?”
“Sure, and you can help me get him into the truck,” I said, tossing her one of my camouflage T-shirts. “But you better change.”
“Oh, OK. Should I wear jeans or sweats?”
“I don’t care, baby. Whatever you don’t mind getting dirty.”
“OK, then … jeans.”
We got the deer to the yard and I hoisted it onto the game pole for field dressing.
“This is going to get nasty,” I said. “It’s OK if you want to go back inside.”
But Eden was curious; she settled into a lawn chair, with Norman on her lap, and watched me make the cuts.
“That is so disgusting,” she said.
“You can go inside,” I reminded her.
“No,” she concluded. “I’ll stay.”
Her revulsion morphed into curiosity.
Soon she was out of her seat, holding the carcass steady while I kept working.
I removed the deer’s hide, and she was even more inquisitive.
“So, that’s the complete muscle structure?” she asked.
“Yep, which is the meat that we eat,” I said.
“Oh,” she said. “Now I get it.”
Getting ready now
A few months later I walked through our front door and tossed Eden a bundle. She unfurled it and was amazed to see that I had gotten the hide tanned at a taxidermist.
“That’s your reward for helping me clean that deer,” I said.
She took the hide with her to college at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where she just finished her first year.
“People say, ‘Why do you have that?’ ” Eden said. “I tell them, ‘Oh, I went hunting with my dad and skinned a deer.’
“And they say, ‘That’s so crazy. Where are you from again?’ I say, ‘Texas,’ and they say, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ ”
Eden recently announced she wants to hunt.
“In ancient times there was a basic human need to feed and clothe yourself, and that’s where the animal comes in,” she said. “I’m really intrigued by that human process, and I want to experience it for myself.
“I think that it will be an emotional experience for me, because a white-tailed deer is a gorgeous animal, but I think it will be a very inspiring experience, too.”
I told her we can hunt during her winter break, but we’re going to get ready now. A hunter’s safety course is required by the state.
And when she comes home for the summer, I’ll take her back to the ranch to get her comfortable with firearms or archery equipment. Then we’ll go for a walk to see which bucks might be in the neighborhood this fall.