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During that final moment of deer season

By Oak Duke
Four yearling bucks are sorting out their pecking order by sparring  with each other after the deer season.

Deer season is over.

Give it up.

Let it go.

The final buzzer has rung down through the deep hollows, up across the steepest ridges and back down through the most tangled-up swamps.

The reverberation rattles across the wide, overgrown goldenrod fields, through the thick Buck-thorn and old "popple" slashings.

Even hits the mud on my boots and sweat on my hat.

And finality strains my soul like a west wind shakes the beech brush.

The final buzzer completes the deer season and makes it whole like the period at the end of this sentence.

Now begins our process, of learning to live with our mistakes, misses, missteps, and being fooled again by the winds.

Hunters seem to remember misses better than they do kills. Those heaviest mental images of the big buck that got away are up on a mental shelf somewhere, kind of dusty, way in the back. Haven't been looked at or touched in a long time. Got some new ones right up front now. Pushed the old ones back.

Many whitetail bucks made it. They always do. And they are laying there, right now, chewing their cuds, flicking radar-screen ears and checking out every wayward scent.

Mostly gone nocturnal.

But now it's over.

Done.

And complete.

An existential empty feeling, like a crack in time, runs like a rivulet of cold water, down my soul.

Whitetails are entering their dormant phase. They need to recoup from the rigors of their breeding season. Back then food and rest were put on the back burner.

It seems now like a long time again before this time which we love, long for, and dream about, is here again.

Winter, spring and summer need to tick by first.

Takes a while for the bucks to get fat again and grow those horns.

And a lot of days drag by before we once again find ourselves so comfortably positioned half way up a tree, deep in the woods, and holding our breaths with every "crunch, crunch, crunch..." in the leaves.

Our hearts skip.

Our knees shake.

Our thoughts are so loud they're made out of wood.

Now time to check and clean our bows and guns for the final time and

tuck them safely away.

The guns are locked.

And sure, be thankful for the venison that we were able to pack in the freezer along the way, and the lasting memories that were made.

OAK DUKE

The longest nine months is between deer seasons.

Summer and fishing times will be here, long before we once again see that flash of heavy antlers through the resplendent leaves and trees.

Other embedded seasons make up that eternity in between.

First, winter needs to plod past in its slow, cold pace.

Spring is as short as a glance, up here at the top of the northern-most thrust of the Appalachians when we can chase gobblers.

Fishing in summer goes on forever.

And then the Canadian high pressure systems once again bring a chill to the evening air.

We see a few damaged maples along the roadside, first to turn red.

And something clicks in us.

Again our hearts will start to beat with that special rhythm, growing strength, and focus.

But it seems a long time from now, here at the end.

— Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.