It has been your goal, your motivation, the thing that drives you from the warmth and comfort of home day after day through the month of November and into December. Then one day the opportunity presents itself and you make a successful shot. It’s the logical conclusion to all your efforts. It’s validation, a symbol of accomplishment. But it comes with a dear price, for killing a deer is always bittersweet.

You set out to match wits with the wily whitetail, whether it be striking out on foot and tracking it down like a wolf, or lying in wait like a lion. You study your prey, its haunts and habits. Then it becomes a battle of endurance, whether that be withstanding long, cold empty hours on stand or plowing up and down the ridges through knee-deep snow.

Each hunter sets their own personal objective. For some, it’s any legal deer, meat for the freezer, pure organic protein provided by their own hands. For others, it might be a deer meeting certain self-imposed criteria: a buck, an adult doe, an older buck. You’ve experienced success and you want to challenge yourself further, to become a better hunter. And for a few it might be a specific buck, one you’ve seen in person or on a trail camera. Regardless, the odds are firmly stacked against you as fewer than one of every five deer hunters will experience success. You know that but you go afield anyway.

Then it happens. After the surge of adrenaline and excitement subsides, you pause to admire your prize. From a distance it seemed a bland, pale brown but as you run your hand over the dense, warm fur, against the grain, you notice each individual hair revealing a graduated change in color from the black tip to the pale base. Then there are the antlers, the work of nature’s art. Their dark, chocolate-brown bases are gnarled with perlations. Main beams curve forward, then inward toward their tips, tall ivory tines rising upward along their length with remarkable symmetry. Had the deer eluded you, these prizes would have soon been cast off and left lying on the forest floor for some passing rodent to gnaw on. Instead, they’ll be displayed and admired by all who view them.

Soon, the remorse creeps in. You’ve taken a life. It’s the cycle of nature but as sentient beings we are conscious of the consequences of our actions. You must respect the deer in death as you did in life, so you pause one more moment to ponder, and pay respect.

Success also represents the end of your quest; victory, but it is indeed, the end. The beast that has driven you to scout for weeks before the season, to rise each morning well before daylight and to endure long, empty hours in cold, rain and snow only to return home each evening and see or hear about the success of others, is dead. You gradually begin to realize it was the quest, the journey that mattered most. Now that it’s over, you feel an emptiness, a sudden lack of purpose and a realization you must return to your civilized life.

And in Maine, it means your season is over. The season you’ve waited 11 months for, prepared for, dreamed about, is done. You may relish the first few mornings remaining in a warm bed but soon you’ll pine for the woods again, for the challenge, the quest, the contest. In time the burning desire fades, only to be rekindled later as the first crisp northerly breeze stirs the changing leaves.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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