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Deer hunting can be a slog

It had been at least 10 years since I climbed into a tree stand before dawn. It’s been just as many since I had the passion to hunt.

Sometime after our first child was born, I lost the desire to spend countless cold hours sitting perfectly still and hoping a buck would walk out. Back then, with a baby in tow and more coming, I didn’t have the time either.

But as my oldest child grew older, he began asking — make that begging — to go deer hunting. I resisted with every excuse I could find. We don’t have a good place to hunt. You’re too young to shoot the rifle. I don’t have time to put in the work that deer hunting requires. But slowly, my arguments began losing water.

We got permission to hunt on land behind our house thanks to a generous neighbor. My son is plenty old enough to shoot the rifle. And, even with five children, I usually have time on a Saturday morning to be in the woods.

So I began preparing to hunt again. I even acquired a hunting truck. But I didn’t plan on being back in the woods this deer season. I still had another year before I had to embrace it. Another season of sleepy Saturdays not spent sitting still and shivering. Another season of not dragging a deer out of the woods and skinning it.

I knew if my son ever got in the woods and actually saw a deer, it would all be over. I thought I had more time.

But that all changed a couple weeks ago. A horrible man I know invited us, along with several others, to go hunting at his camp in Jefferson County. To make matters worse, he put us up in a cabin that’s nicer than some of the houses I’ve lived in through the years. He provided ATVs for everyone. He cooked dinner. He did everything to make sure we had the perfect hunting experience. He even put us in a stand where there were deer. The nerve.

And, just as I feared, my son loved it. We didn’t shoot a deer that weekend, but some of the folks with us did. That experience lit a fire in my son to be in the woods at every opportunity.

So, I’ve spent the past couple weeks trying to remember how to be a deer hunter. The basics are there, but the fine details are a bit fuzzy. Does our odor really matter? What’s the deal with corn now, can you hunt over it or not? Deer still like white oak acorns, right? We’ll figure it out soon enough.

The land behind our house is full of ravines and hills, which makes walking through them a chore, but that’s our hunting spot now. The woods are too thick to get a four-wheeler through them, so I’ll be dragging whatever we kill up those steep hills. And since I’ve waited too late to get a stand set up, we’ll likely just have to make do on the ground. It certainly doesn’t sound like much fun to me, but my son thinks otherwise. And it’s his experience that matters, anyway.

I remember when my dad had to learn to be a deer hunter because I was interested. He didn’t know much, but he overcame that lack of knowledge with sheer effort. He leased land for us to hunt on, he built countless deer stands and dragged me out of bed at 4 a.m. so I could kill a deer. I don’t think he ever once shot a deer himself though. I didn’t understand then, but I do now.

For some of us, it’s not about the deer. It’s about the time spent with a son or a daughter. I could die a happy man if I never have to skin another deer. But my son won’t. So I’ll hike through thickets full of thorns, and get up at 4 a.m., and build deer stands, and lease land, and buy a four-wheeler, and buy more guns, and do all the other things required to be a deer hunter. If nothing else, my children will know how to do the same for their children one day. The Hortons may not be deer-slayers, but on any given Saturday this season, we’ll be in the woods.

And that’s enough to keep a 10-year-old happy.

Luke Horton is publisher of The Daily Leader. Email him at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.