It never fails. Each year I have dreams of climbing up a tree for opening weekend of bow season. In my dream, there’s a gentle breeze on a cool, crisp October morning. The sun rises and burns off a light fog revealing an array of autumn colors in the trees. Squirrels chase one another and knock acorns from a large white oak. Suddenly, the sound of a breaking twig interrupts the busy morning. From seemingly out of nowhere, a large buck appears under the white oak for a morning snack. The wind is in my favor, and the buck has no idea I’m even there. Slowly, I raise my bow and take aim. The buck is broadside at a mere 30 yards. My hands are steady and my breaths are light. I release my arrow and…I wake up.
Every single year on the eve of my first hunt, this is what I envision happening. And every single year I’m left completely disappointed. I’m sure that somewhere some fortunate soul is living out my dream. However, as long as I continue to open the season in Mississippi, it will just have to remain a dream. In my defense, it was only just barely over a week ago that the weather was almost perfect for bow season. Then, in true Mississippi fashion, the humidity shot up and I was reminded that summer is still upon us. Good weather or bad weather, I still had every intention of being in a tree for opening weekend.
The older that I get, and I’m not old by any stretch, the more that I understand there’s no such thing as a concrete plan. I believe being a parent has taught me this as much as anything else. You may make plans, but they are always fluid. Kids get sick. The weather forces changes. You have car problems. Something comes up at work. Stuff happens. It’s a part of life that is hard to accept, but the quicker you learn to adapt, the better off you are.
For weeks I’ve been planning my opening weekend. I’ve shot my bow, inspected my climbing stand, aired out my tent, and put together a gear list that would make Janis Putelis blush. My initial plan was to go up on Friday as soon as we finished fall practice (remember, I’m a baseball coach first), set up my tent, and hunt the following morning. I’d mapped out a general area of where I thought I’d have success that morning, and another area for an evening hunt. As long as the weather cooperated, my plans for a grandiose opening weekend were falling nicely into place.
Amidst all of the planning and visions of what I hoped would be a bang of an opener, I got an unfortunate phone call. I’ve been blessed over years of playing sports to have had some great friends and incredible teammates. When you lose one, especially unexpectedly, it really puts things into perspective. Opening weekend all of a sudden didn’t seem so important.
On Friday, we had practice, just as planned. However, when practice ended, Vicksburg was not the direction that my vehicle was pointed, as formerly planned. My wife and I drove down to Robertsdale, Alabama to pay my final respects to my teammate and his family. The line at the funeral home wrapped around the building, a true testament to the type of man he was. Joe was a good ball-player, but an even better person. Needless to say, the world will be a much lesser place without him.
On the ride home, I began to reminisce on my days of playing college baseball. It warmed my heart to see the outpouring of support for Joe’s family from my former teammates. I may be biased, but I think those guys were the best. Not only were they winners; they were, and still are, high quality individuals. The loss of Joe is a reminder to get the most out of each day, and no matter what, be a good teammate.
Saturday morning arrives and I’m tired. The week’s events coupled with the drive on Friday night have me moving slowly. Instead of an opening weekend hunt, my plan is to go up and put some cameras out. If I have time to get an evening hunt in, I’ll do so before heading back home. By 9:30 a.m., it’s already hot, and the weather is showing rain off and on all evening. I, almost reluctantly, load up the truck and head to Vicksburg.
Pulling up to the land has a totally different feeling than in the past. We now only possess about half of the land that we had last season. I get out of the truck and the air is so thick you could almost slice it. There’s been a light rain, and it’s threatening again. Quickly, I jump to work to get cameras out to ensure that I have time to make a quick hunt. On my route to put out camera number one, I make brief stop on top of a big hill that I like to just sit and relax on. It’s good medicine for a day like today.
With three cameras deployed, I have time to make a hunt before the rain and darkness end the day. I strap my climber to my back and hike uphill a good ways before finding a suitable tree. The scenery, nor the weather, come close to my dream for opening weekend. I’m pouring sweat, the mosquitoes are eating me alive, and there’s no giant buck feeding under a white oak. Actually, I’m pretty certain that every deer within a three mile radius can probably smell me.
I sit for a couple of hours until darkness falls. A light rain begins to come down as I walk out of the woods. While hiking out, my mind races. I think about my camera placement and whether or not I got them in the right spots. I think about the long ride back home. I think about Joe. I don’t know what the season will have in store for me. Things happen and plans change. The one thing that I do know is that I will give it my best effort, no matter what…because my teammates taught me that’s the only way to do it.