The Heaviest Thing
by Matt Stancel
I stepped out of the camper, its metal stairs squealing underneath size nine boots. My dad followed, and we got into his red pick-up. We traveled down a bumpy trail that stretched along the side of a clearing and then penetrated the woods. The rustic road led to a clear-cut spot where a timber company was pillaging the forest during the week. On weekends, however, the landowner allowed my father and some friends to hunt.
We exited the truck, each grabbing a backpack, rifle, and orange vest to ensure that other hunters who might be in the woods didn’t get deer fever and shoot us due to some hallucination.
Since I was eleven, and despite my father’s warning, I felt the need to walk along each downed tree like it was a balance beam all the way through the forest’s bald spot. Then I followed him into the thick brush, and we hiked about a half mile through heavy woods to a stream, into which we relieved ourselves. We crossed the water on another log, and I asked my dad if we could rest a moment before we climbed the steep hill that led to his deer blind.
Though his expression revealed he was disappointed to wait, he muttered, “Okay, just for a minute.”
I leaned against a large rock protruding from the ground. It was at least eight feet tall, and being still a child, I imagined myself endowed with superhuman strength. I pressed against it, trying to feel a budge, even an inch, to no avail.
“You know most of that rock’s probably underground,” my father stated. Attempts to move the impossible stone made him smile for a moment, but he decided we’d wasted enough time and told me to get moving up the ridge.
My thigh muscles burned and throbbed by the time we got to the blind. It was basically a four foot tall fence-like structure my dad had made out of limbs, bushes, and leaves. Two folding chairs were positioned against a tree behind the camouflage wall, and they allowed us to sit in relative comfort while we waited for our prey.
I rested the rifle across my lap and surveyed the woods around me. This was to be my main pastime until dusk.
Occasionally squirrels would entertain us by chasing each other through the trees, and we watched three turkeys trample within about fifty feet of the blind. They eventually stomped away, and I spent a few minutes contemplating how forest animals could be so noisy but I had to sit freezing in silence.
My father nudged me and slowly pointed to our left. About a hundred yards away, a brown shape stepped cautiously between trees. It was the first time I’d ever actually seen a deer in the woods. I rested my rifle on a branch and looked through the scope. Pulling my gun off of the makeshift rail, I whispered, “Doe.”
She was joined by another female and a fawn. They moved quickly and quietly. The three were nearly out of sight when I noticed another deer trailing behind. I put my scope on it and counted eight points on a set of antlers.
“Buck?” my dad asked.
“Remember where to aim. Wait for a clearing.”
I was shaking with excitement, and I struggled to breathe. Feeling a hand on my shoulder, I heard “Steady” over the pounding pulse inside my ears. I took a deep breath, held it in, and pulled the trigger.
The deer’s hind legs flew into the air, and its hooves pointed momentarily at the sky, then fell limply to the ground. It tried to take a step with a front leg, then collapsed.
We stood and I immediately got a pat on the back and a handshake. My father had a bigger smile than I’d ever seen on his face, and we quickly walked toward the fallen deer. Dad pulled out his revolver in case it was still alive.
“You shot it right in the middle of the spine, there’s almost no blood,” he said.
“Uh,” I replied, staring into the glassy, black, vacant eye of the brown animal. Faced with the result of my action, I wanted to cry or run away, but my legs felt like they were rooted deep in the earth. All of my nervous energy wore off immediately, and I did my best to nod responses to my father’s questions.
Steam rose from the broken animal, and I dreaded the future. Pictures would be taken, the experience would be recounted, I would have to smile when speaking of the act, but what truly concerned me at that moment was the grim fact that I would have to drag this terrible trophy, this heavy thing, out of the woods.