For me it is today, more so than tomorrow, that is the most exciting day of the year.
Fueled by memories of over 59 deer seasons past, my anticipation of the season is as strong as it ever was. Even remembering how many things have changed over the years does not dampen my enthusiasm for the hunt. Perhaps tomorrow I will finally bag the buck of my dreams.
This year the anticipation is as sweet as ever; the traditions of the past will again happen. My gang will go to church but as soon as the last Amen is said, we will get on the road to hunting camp, stop along the way to eat dinner, conversing with fellow orange-coated hunters who have stopped at the same restaurant.
Anticipation is a collective thing; it must be shared to be truly experienced. Tomorrow morning we will meet for breakfast somewhere, about 4 a.m. We won't be telling any other hunters exactly where we are going. When we get to our stand, we don't want any company.
Getting to one's deer stand is a private and exquisite moment. We park the vehicle, don our outer gear, sling the rifle over our back and start the quiet trek in the dark to our stand. Years ago, my stand was 3 1/2 miles from the gamelands gate so I had to start early to get there before daylight. The most important component of arriving at your stand opening morning long before daylight is to stake out that territory as "yours." And to let things - mostly your own heartbeat and breathing - quiet before the sun comes up.
No one but another deer hunter doing the same thing understands the emotions and anticipation that overtakes a hunter waiting quietly, impatiently and alone for daylight to break. It seems to take forever but somehow the silhouettes of deer sneaking by us in the woods at first light is sweeter then than at any other time during the season. This is simply what it is all about.
I love the preparations for going to deer camp. Dragging out all the long underwear, sweatshirts and hunting coat, the orange hat, the rifle and shells and giving it a final going-over. Shopping for and packing up your share of the food for camp as well as cooking some of it to take along. Wondering if the smell of gun oil is as noxious to deer as human scent. Figuring it probably is and wondering what to do about it.
Getting on the highway, finally heading toward your destination. Wondering why hunters criss-cross the state to hunt. Why do we travel to their area and they come to ours? It's unexplainable. Greeting other hunters as they arrive at camp, exchanging stories from past hunts, laughing at goof-ups and misses from seasons past. Sitting by the fireplace or woodstove, drinking coffee and eating vegetable soup. Staying up later than you should yet not being able to sleep when you do lie down,
Finally falling into bed yet lying sleepless, sneaking peeks at the alarm clock every half-hour during the endless night, worried that you might oversleep.
Finally the alarm sounds and you bound out of bed (you get slower each day) eat a monstrous stack of pancakes and sausage, drink a gallon of coffee. If you are hunting from home you'll go to a restaurant catering to hunters and bask in the excitement that is so contagious. It's all such an exciting change from the humdrum of most days and we have waited all year for it.
There are some changes this year: remember that you do not have to display your hunting license on your back anymore but you do have to have it with you. Encase it in plastic somehow so it doesn't get wet.
All hunters who take a deer must fill out their harvest tag and attach it to the deer's ear before moving the carcass. The tag can be secured to the base of the ear with a string drawn very tightly, if the hunter plans to have the deer mounted. Cutting a slit in the ear to attach the tag will require additional work by a taxidermist.
For those hunters who plan to visit both a deer processor and taxidermist, it is important to remember that state law requires the deer harvest carcass tag to remain with the head at the taxidermist, and that a second hand-made tag containing the name, address and license number of the person who harvested the deer and the location of the harvest should remain with the rest of the carcass going to the processor, very tightly, if the hunter plans to have the deer mounted. Cutting a slit in the ear to attach the tag will require additional work by a taxidermist.
Properly licensed bear hunters who still possess an unused bear tag come deer season may take a bear during all or portions of the first week of deer season, but only in certain WMUs. Specific seasons and reporting requirements for taking bears during deer season are outlined on page 36-38 of the 2012-13 Digest issued with the purchase of a hunting license the Game Commission's website.