When the first Saturday of deer season arrived, 16- year old Luke Nimal especially looked forward to that day. He could finally hunt on his own; he was going to hunt on an uncle's land, where he knew there were lots of deer. There was fresh snow. In his pocket were a couple licenses for deer that he was eager to use.
If there was a downer it was that this young man had two older females for hunting buddies. His mentor in the outdoors, his aunt Joanie Haidle, my outdoor buddy about whom I have often written, and me, Joanie's grandmother friend. We drove 40 miles to hunt on Joanie's brother's land, land he had just sold and the new landowner was so gracious to allow us to hunt his new paradise one last time. So it was a bittersweet trip for all of us but it ended with excitement none of us will ever forget.
Before daylight we each made our way to a favorite deer watch. Each of us had a cell phone and a two-way radio so we could keep in contact. We made sure where Curt, Joanie's brother who had driven up separately, would be. It was an antlerless hunt all the way; we would shoot a buck if we could but it was a day to harvest the venison each of us wanted for the coming year.
The morning passed rather uneventfully. At dawn a buck passed my stand, one too small to be legal. Later Curt made a mini-drive and four does burst up over the hill, and I couldn't get off a shot. We chatted for a few moments. He told me there had been a nice buck with the does but it had peeled off and I hadn't seen it. He left me to go to another place and another buck jumped up in front of him, a nice 8-pointer, and he bagged it.
Luke was having good luck, however and bagged a deer early.
Then about an hour later, here came four does again. No doubt they were the same four I'd seen earlier and now they were circling back. One offered me an easy shot. I made my way down over the hill and guess what: I had missed!
I spent a lot of time scouring for any sign that I had not missed but finally had to accept that I had. I turned to return to my watch up the hill and in a split second found myself flying through the air! I pitched forward and fell flat; my rifle flew out of my hands and hit a branch lying on the ground with a terrible Whack! I knew I surely wouldn't be able to hunt with that rifle the rest of the day. So I picked myself up, realized I'd whacked my knee about as hard as my rifle and made my way tenderly back to the truck.
I got on the radio to Joanie and found she'd had an unpleasant episode with some other hunters so she came back to the truck. About then, Curt appeared dragging his buck and from another direction, Luke came dragging his deer.
We chatted about where to go next, I borrowed a rifle from someone else and despite a thumping knee, was driven in the truck by my friends and set up at a spot that I knew was good. They dispersed to go to their spots.
I didn't have to wait long. Soon a couple antlerless deer came into the small clearing I was watching. I chose the larger of the two and leveled the scope for a shot of about 125 yards. At my shot, the deep leaped into the air so I knew I had hit her but she ran down into the woods.
Hoping against hope that this would not be a long tracking episode because I was moving slowly because of the knee. I made my way down there, picked up the trail and gimped down into the woods and there she lay. I radioed Joanie and she sent Lucas up to help me. He came running with his knife in his teeth, and grabbed that deer and gutted it before I could even get my own knife out. I've gutted scores of deer in my lifetime but that day, the pain and the fact that my knee didn't want to bend hindered me.
When the chore was finished Lucas dragged the deer up out of the woods and I told him to go help Joanie. He told me that when I had radioed her, she was also doing a tracking job.
Off he went, running like a young deer himself and joined Joanie. When her deer was recovered, he whipped out his knife and gutted it. Then a short while later he was able to score on his second deer. Another relative of theirs was also hunting on the property and just about then, she got a deer. It was a circus. Fast as Lucas would finish up with one deer, someone else would shoot and off he would go. After awhile he came back, dragging two deer on one rope!
When it was time to load the deer, Lucas just picked each one up by the legs and slung it up into the bed of the truck like it was nothing. How I envied that kind of energy. When we drove the 40 miles home, he took each deer out and hung it up, skinned them and next evening spent hours cutting them up.
Not only that, but a couple days earlier, I had noticed that there was a hole in the sidewall of one of my tires, so Lucas just got the jack, changed my tire and put the spare on. I wish this kid lived close to me.
Next time anyone says all young people are lazy and whatever else they say, remember this one. Lucas could not get around fast enough to gut everyone's deer and toss them up into the truck and change tires and skin and butcher those deer.
I mentioned in a recent column about women mentoring boys in the hunting sports and Joanie has done just that. Luke bagged his first gobbler and his first deer under her tutelage and many more beside. Those two are real hunting buddies and I'm privileged to know them both.
A postcript: Next morning I packed my stuff and headed for home early because I knew a storm was predicted to hit Altoona that afternoon. I arrived home just as it was beginning to snow so I worked as fast I could with the bum knee to haul all my gear, guns etc. into the house before the storm got bad.
I piled everything in the middle of the living room floor with the intention of leisurely putting things away that afternoon while the Steelers played. But I turned around and, just that quickly forgetting l that all that stuff was stacked on the floor, I promptly tripped over it and fell flat again. I hit the bad knee and also the other knee!
So I have two beautifully colored knees, all black, blue and red. And memories galore. Obviously, my guardian angels were on duty. I've always maintained that if they ever take a coffee break, I'm doomed!