The cold air hovered, ready and waiting for me. It pinched my cheeks, nipped my nose, and kissed my eyelids.
I tugged at my knit cap and scrunched further into my sleeping bag. From the cot next to mine, Robin Hood’s voice floated, muffled by layers of blankets.
“Are you warm enough?”
“I’m fine,” I answered, since my brain cells and vocal cords were too chilled to produce really satisfactory profanity.
We hunkered down. We were in Texas, in a cabin on land owned by Robin Hood’s family. Our mission: for him to hunt deer the next day, and for me to watch and learn. The cabin is a work in progress. It has insulation but no heating system, save a propane device that, hilariously, decided to start leaking right when we needed it. Out went the propane. On went layers of clothing and blankets. Lots of them. I aimed grim warnings at my bladder to stay calm so that I wouldn’t need to make a shivery trip to the outhouse in the middle of the night.
Yup, hunting is fun stuff.
Sometime before sunrise, the alarm went off. I heaved myself out of bed and into more layers of clothing with more speed than I’ve shown in a long time that early in the morning. It was a good thing, too: we were racing the sun. I hastily slurped down some instant coffee (the cabin does have a microwave, thank God), scooted to the outhouse (if one can “scoot” in layers similar to Randy’s in A Christmas Story), and we were off to Robin Hood’s tree stand.
If you’re not familiar with tree stands, picture a rudimentary tall-ish ladder, topped by a small bench, in or very close to…you guessed it…a tree. I eyed the contraption warily as we approached, conscious of my unwieldy outfit, general clumsiness, and occasional mistrust of heights. But there was no time for any fretting. The sun was rising, deer were potentially lurking about, and Robin Hood was standing there asking me if I wanted to go up first.
I clambered up the ladder and angled myself onto the bench. Robin Hood followed with his bow and arrows, and blankets that we arranged under and over ourselves. The bench had a rail around it, giving me a small but much appreciated sense of security.
Then we sat.
You’ve probably heard stories of folks on tree stands suffering from a combination of bitterly cold temperatures and boredom. I had braced myself, but surprisingly, two hours went by fairly quickly. I guess all those layers paid off – and as for boredom, taking time out of a busy schedule to sit quietly outside, with an attractive gentleman no less, really isn’t a bad way to spend a morning. I watched birds, prayed, whispered occasional comments to Robin Hood, and of course looked for deer.
The deer, it turned out, had gone somewhere else for breakfast. After a while, Robin Hood decided it was time to exit the tree stand and patrol the woods. We walked around for a bit, then went back to the cabin.
We wouldn’t go back out to hunt till just before sunset, so we had time to kill. Robin Hood had brought a couple of guns along, including a .22 pistol. We plinked away at some cans and plastic water bottles, which provided me some target practice and provided a cottontail rabbit a possible stroke – he shot out of the brush right next to where we were shooting immediately after the last round was fired!
A little later, Robin Hood’s parents and brother joined us, bringing lunch and good company. We relaxed, visited, and enjoyed the warmer afternoon temperatures. Before I knew it, it was time to get ready for the evening hunt.
Robin Hood chose to swap his bow and arrows for a rifle, and the tree stand for a reportedly prime ground spot. We set ourselves up at the spot and again sat quietly.
The air cooled. The sky pinkened. Coyotes howled – not just the yips that I’m used to hearing, but howls. I didn’t even care about the cramps in my legs. It’s not every day that you can be a true witness to nature, and I was having a great time.
And then I looked up the hill. And there she was: a doe, paused for a moment on the hilltop. I knew I wasn’t supposed to make noise, so I sort of quietly swatted at Robin Hood until he confirmed that yes, he saw the deer. He aimed his rifle. The doe walked briskly towards a patch of trees. He got up and stalked silently after her, murmuring for me to stay put. I stayed put, and nearly gave myself whiplash as I first turned my head uphill to keep up with the doe stalk, then downhill to see if any other deer presented themselves, then back uphill.
No dice. Robin Hood came back shaking his head – the doe had been too quick. The sky darkened, with no other deer sightings.
We called it a day, packed up, and headed back to Fort Worth. The hunt had been fruitless, but the experience? Far from it. I got my first real taste of the world of hunting. I can’t say that I love it yet, but I would definitely go back for seconds.
Just maybe with a functioning heater.