- An old deer, an old man, an old treestand, and the click of an old muzzleloader.
- Broken antler tips, a little slump to his back, a limp in his walk – it was a big old buck.
- The old man and the old deer looked at each other…
By Larry Whiteley
It was Christmas Eve Day. Christmas trees and decorations were in every room of the old house. Outside too. Torn wrapping paper was everywhere. It had been a good day.
The old couple stood at the door hugging their kids, grandkids, daughters-in-law, granddaughter-in-law, and future grandson-in-law as they were leaving. They would all be busy on Christmas Day. The old couple was happy to have spent Christmas Eve with them. They all did remember to wish the older man a happy birthday. Just in case they got busy and forgot to call him on Christmas Day.
The old couple watched them out the window as they all got into their cars and headed off to their busy lives. Both had tears in their eyes. They talked for a while about Christmas memories from the many years of their marriage. Then, they started cleaning up all the messes and getting ready to go to the Christmas Eve service at their church.
On the way home from church, the old man asked his wife what they were doing on Christmas Day. She said she planned to start packing away all the Christmas decorations she had been putting up around the house over the last month. He said, “The alternative deer season started today, so I think I will get my old muzzle loader rifle out and go deer hunting. It will be cold, but I don’t care. I am going anyway.”
His wife wanted to talk him out of it, but she knew he needed this time alone with his thoughts. She told him to be safe, have a good time, and supper would be ready when he got home. Christmas morning, he kissed her as she slept and whispered he loved her. He paused at the door to look back at her sleeping peacefully, then looked up and thanked God for her.
The old man sat alone in a treestand on Christmas morning. There was no one else out hunting on Christmas Day. They would soon be opening Christmas presents. He thought this was a great way to celebrate his birthday and the birthday of Jesus. His mind took him back to his grandpa and grandma’s old farm. He was born there 76 years ago. He also thought about how much the world has changed since then. He thought about how many of his friends and family were no longer here.
He also thought about the times he messed up and made mistakes in his life. He wished they had never happened, wished he could take all of them back. He knew he could not. He knew God had forgiven him. He believed God gave him the gifts of writing stories and speaking to help others find Him too. God had changed him. He can change anybody.
Sunlight was beginning to filter through the trees. The frosted field spread out before him and sparkled like tiny diamonds. Fog rose from the creek on the other side. He could hear the sound of flowing water.
He held the old muzzleloader rifle in his lap. He loved that old gun. It was a 50-caliber Hawken like the mountain men of long ago had used. He loved reading about that era of life in America and watching every mountain man movie ever made. “Jeremiah Johnson” was his favorite. He figured he had watched it at least fifty times or more. He often daydreamed about living back then. To have hunted and trapped and roamed the Rocky Mountains.
As he waited silently in the darkness, he thought about all the years he had been a deer hunter. Memories of deer hunting with sons and grandkids flooded his mind. Now, they are grown and gone. Busy with their own lives and hunting in other states. It is just him, alone in a treestand with his muzzleloader. “Is this the last time I will be a deer hunter,” he thought. He wipes away a tear.
The sun rises over the top of the trees, crows talk to each other, birds flitter from limb to limb, and squirrels look for acorns. A fox crosses the field, then stops to scratch himself. The old man has seen and heard these many times over many years. He still loves all of it.
Getting a deer was always just a bonus to him. At times he needed to get one to help feed his family. Being out in God’s great outdoors was most important. It was all the memories he made with family, friends, and alone in the deer woods.
The old buck crossed the cold creek, then stopped at the edge of the woods. His eyes scan the field. He sniffed the air for danger. He was a wise old buck and had done this before. He had spent lots of years wandering this land. He had watched many of his family grow up here and die here. He turned his head to lick some scars, then slowly started walking into the field, stopping at times to look and smell.
Out of the corner of his eye, the old man saw movement. Slowly he raised his binoculars and brought the deer into view. It was a big buck. Old like him. A lot of gray around his muzzle. Broken antler tips, a little slump to his back, and a limp in his walk. He was alone now too.
The old man put down his binoculars. The old muzzleloader stock now rested against his shoulder. He found the old buck in the iron sights and cocked the side hammer back. The old deer heard the click and saw movement. He knew someone was in the tree. He could have raised his tail and fled but did not. He slowly walked through the field. The old man and an old deer on Christmas Day.
After looking through the sights for several minutes at where he planned to shoot, the old man lowered the hammer back down and put the gun back in his lap. The old man and the old buck just looked at each other for a while. The old deer finally put his head down and kept walking. He was waiting for the old man to shoot, but the shot never came. He stopped several times to look at the old man in the tree. Finally, he walked into the woods, never to return to the field. The old man turned his eyes toward heaven and thanked God for all the deer hunting memories and the old deer on a special Christmas Day.
He lowered his rifle to the ground and climbed down from the tree. He paused to look around the valley he had hunted so many times over many years and then walked toward his truck. It was his last deer hunt. It was his last Christmas Day.