With light fading fast on the final day of hunting season, the one deer I'd seen all afternoon melted into the woods. I glanced at my phone. Ten minutes left of legal shooting.
I looked through the gloam at the fields before me, wondering if this would the last time I did. The landowner had big plans for his property and said it would all look different by next fall. I caught some movement out the corner of my left eye. A doe, crossing the ridge, north to south.
She made her way toward the hedgerow on the property line, and another one materialized behind her. I looked at this one through the scope at about 200 yards.
As they got closer, I twice raised my muzzleloading rifle, the deer, within 150 yards now but lots of branches between us. Again, I looked at the time; four minutes left, and the second doe turned in my direction, moving faster now.
I trained the rifle on the spot where I wanted her to be, and a strange thought crossed my mind. I thought about when my Aunt Jean told me the story of Uncle Jim taking her hunting.
She'd told me she looked at the deer just before Jim squeezed the trigger.
"Run beauty run," she'd silently implored.
But another ten steps and the deer I watched would be dead. One minute left in the season.
Then the deer turned and went back to the northeast at a trot. I watched it crest the ridge and disappear into the nighttime that had enveloped the fields.
I waited a few minutes, until the darkness was complete, and climbed down from my stand. Slinging my rifle over my shoulder, I made my way up the familiar path along the hedgerow without a flashlight.
Even in my sadness at the end of deer season , I became aware that a little smile had spread across my face. And I knew that even as that deer had turned away from me and toward another day of living, so too had I taken a turn.