We had been tracking the deer for a while, I don't remember exactly how long. It was my first time hunting. I was with my dad. Somehow hunting was the best way for us to bond. It was a man's sport, and I wanted to prove to him I was no longer a child, even though I knew he would treat me like such for the remainder of his life.
The tracks led us on and on, weaving in and out of trees. The snow under my feet, a pure, crystal white hue, crunched softly as my boots walked upon it. It was freezing, the cold taking pieces of warmth from my face and body. But it was a good cold, the kind of cold a man feels.
My father had always been a fervent hunter. I assume that influence came from his father. He had been handed a rifle at the age of thirteen and my grandpa, his dad, would take him out to a cabin in the heart of the woods for weeks on end, living off of the sustenance the land provided. There was something delicate in that story every time he told it, something behind his eyes. Perhaps a glimmer of lost childhood, a different memory that the cabin would evoke. Perhaps I just imagined it.
I held my rifle in my hands the way my father held his. He walked carefully, thinking about each step before he took it. His eyes would swivel through the trees, curve around them, the deep blue looking for mahogany hide.
After a few hours I was too cold to continue, so we went to the truck and warmed up, sharing a can of beans between us. I felt bad. Taking this break would mean we would have to track the deer all over again, but he didn't seem to mind. He told me stories of him and grandpa, about the huge fish they caught one year out on Lake Erie. Dad kept the picture up on the mantelpiece. Some nights when I couldn't sleep I would go downstairs and catch him looking at it, his mind miles away, his eyes on the verge of tears.
We got back out in the woods after a couple hours in the truck. Only this time we found the deer quickly. Apparently it had backtracked its steps once we had stopped chasing it. My father aimed his rifle and I waited for the gunshot, but there was none. He looked at me and lowered his gun, smiling. He nodded to me and I smiled back at him. I aimed the rifle like he had taught me, looked through the iron sights, and pulled the trigger smoothly. The butt of the rifle kicked back into my shoulder, and the bullet sped to the deer.
When I saw the deer crumple, I raised my hands in triumph and my dad gave me a huge hug. I ran over to the deer to see my kill. The only problem was that it wasn't dead. The bullet had hit the deer in the side, mortally wounding it. Blood was splattered all over its once beautiful hide. I remember it was a female because it didn't have any antlers. Blood began leaking into the snow on the ground, turning it a deep crimson. The deer's eyes looked up at me feverishly almost as if she was begging, pleading, for me to kill her and get it over with. I almost did too, until I heard something to the side of me that made me vow never to shoot a gun again. It was the deer's fawn. It had come out from amongst the trees to find its mother when she had not followed it. I saw the hurt and pain in both animals' eyes. But I couldn't prolong the deer's suffering, so I put another bullet in her. The fawn ran back into the woods.
I vowed never to shoot a gun again. I vowed to God. My father told me not to vow something because vowing is an excuse for God to make you do the thing again, just to show how low on the totem pole you really are.
He was right.