My very good friend killed himself a couple of years ago. For some reason known only to himself, he took a handgun of large proportions and ended his life. I am sorrier for this than anyone could ever imagine. I hadn't seen him and his family for several years; there were problems between he and his wife and we had moved from Pennsylvania to Montana, much too far away to be of any help if even we could have provided any. I had made a few feeble efforts to contact him whenever we would go home to visit, but I knew they were still having problems and had since moved out of state. So what was a friend to do? I know now what I should have done; I should have taken the time to find him and offered whatever help I could to his marriage, his wife, and his sons: period. That’s what friends do for friends. I don't blame myself for his death. If Dean was at that point where he had no hope or was in such despair that he saw this as the only way out, it was already too late for any help I could have given him. But, there was a time, a period of time, a window where I could have either stopped this or slowed it down until we could have made other options available. He loved his wife and sons with a deep and powerful strength, but that is not always enough to keep a marriage and a family together. I know this is what finally drove my friend to do what he did; I also know if my wife and I had been able to talk to them we could have provided a venue for them to have worked through this. We weren't and they didn't. I can't imagine the pain his wife and sons went through and must still be feeling, even after two years. My prayers are with them, but more so with my friend. I pray to my Lord that Dean would be forgiven for what he has done and our God will allow him to be taken to heaven with the rest of his children. It is said that God would forgive even suicide if the burden was more than one could bear. I know that nothing less could have caused my friend to do such a thing.
This is what I remember about my friend:
I met Dean through my cousin Joe. He Knew I loved to hunt and this also applied to Dean. Dean, however was one of the most unsuccessful hunters that ever lived. He tried, he displayed great enthusiasm and was eager to learn, so I finally agreed to give him what help I could provide. I didn't know we would become the closest of friends. Dean had several handicaps-he was born blind in one eye and wore glasses with a thick lens on the other eye. He was also one of the best pistol shots I ever saw, while I couldn't hit anything with his handgun further than about five feet. He was also handicapped by the advice he had ingested from every other hunter he had ever listened to. They all had surefire advice and it all differed from one "expert" to another. Still, he was willing to listen to one more-me, which shows how desperate he was.
Dean and I hunted everything from groundhogs to deer to raccoons. He became a good shot and a passable woodsman but he never reached the goal that meant the most to him-an antlered deer. Still, he never gave up or stopped trying.
Dean and I had carried sheets of plywood, nails, hammer and saw to the top of the hollow where I had been hunting since I was thirteen. Several trips were made to get everything on site, but finally we had everything there. This was a forest with a high diversity of trees and under-story. There are various pines, hemlock, oaks, beech, hickory and numerous smaller growths that provided good browse for the large deer herd that lived in and around the area. Across the road from where we had parked there are large fields with corn, alfalfa, oats and wheat. If any place was better suited to produce a healthy, stable deer population, this was it. I had killed either a buck or a doe every season there since I was thirteen. Although Dean hunted there with me for five or six seasons, he never killed any deer of either sex. Still, he never lost his passion or his love for hunting. The day we were pounding nails, sawing plywood and 2x4's and keeping up a running conversation throughout, we saw two does and two small bucks within 100 yards of our two stands. Dean was beside himself with anticipation. He was sure this was the year for him.
This is what happened that first year we hunted together.
"Do you have your carbide light", he whispered as we were shouldering our packs." I've got everything I need Dean, we went over our packs last night didn't we"?" Well just checking, he said, we don't want to get clean up to the stands and find we forgot something." "It's okay, just calm down; we've got everything." "Now fire up the carbide lights, we have to walk across that big water pipe to get to the trail up to the hollow." "Now no more talking."
We walked in silence up the trail through "Hundred Springs". The early morning was cold and clear, our footsteps crunching on the frozen path and our breath turning into liquid silver as it rose in the glow of our carbide lights and trailed behind us. The lights showed the Mountain Laurel and huge Hemlock on the right side of the trail, while on the left were the big oaks and hickory. The small stream made familiar sounds as it ran along beside us, and we could make out the tracks of deer and the occasional raccoon crossing the trail in front of us. About halfway there we stopped to catch our breath and cool down so we wouldn't be sweated up when we got to our stands. While waiting and talking in whispers we heard a great horned owl calling forlornly for a mate. We just looked at each other and grinned, how could it be better than this. We turned off the trail and ducked under an old White Pine, which led us into what I called the hidden hollow. The new trail ran right up the middle of the hollow, slowly traveling upwards. This was a time for the utmost quiet; the higher we went the closer we got to our stands and we could run any deer out of the area if we weren't very careful. This was before the days of high tech underwear and Thinsulate. Many times walking to my stand, I stopped to take off clothing to avoid becoming sopping wet before I climbed into my tree. Several times I was naked from the waist up and still too warm walking, even though it was the beginning of December. Once we reached the top of the hollow Dean turned right to walk to his stand. It was about a hundred yards up the hill and to the right of my stand. I knew his stand was in solid shape because we had just built it the day before. It was in the fork of a twenty-foot tall Rock Oak with a seat and a rail around it with a wood framed roof covered with tar paper and old carpet around the sides. Any deer coming up either hollow would have to pass between Dean's stand and mine. I wished him luck and headed for my tree. Mine was built within the embrace of three Red Oaks that formed a triangle right at the top of another hollow. Easily twenty feet high, it had been there for over fifteen years. The old gentleman who had occupied it for many years before had suffered a stroke and it became mine soon after. He had promised it to me when he finally gave up hunting , but neither of us knew it would happen so soon. I am still grateful for his kindness and guarded it jealously for twelve years myself. The stand was at least twenty feet off the ground and overlooked one hollow to my left, and turning to my right I could watch the other hollow we had just walked up. There was a triangular seat with a corrugated tin roof and three sides held firmly together with heavy spikes. There was also heavy carpet that could be rolled up or down depending on the weather.
Pausing at the base of my stand, I took off my pack and tied my rifle to the rope I carried with me. Once in the stand I pulled the rifle up carefully and loaded it and placed it in the corner. After putting on the rest of my clothes, I sat down on the seat and waited for dawn. The crows were always the first to break the silence, invariably right at daybreak. As dawn grew closer, you could begin to make out distinct forms of trees close to the stand. Then the leaves started to become clearer and soon rustling could be heard as the two gray squirrels that lived just over the hill in an old White Oak started their morning search for acorns. The chickadees were not long in making their appearance either, flitting from tree to tree before settling down to amuse me by walking upside down in the very tree I was sitting in, and eyeing me with seeming indifference. If I leaned out the front of my stand and looked to the right and up the hill, I could just make out the red cap that Dean always wore.
About an hour after daylight I heard something walking up the bottom of my hollow and heading up the right side. Even when you clearly hear a deer and have a good idea where it is coming from, they can still be difficult to spot. There had already been numerous shots both near and far from us and I knew Dean would be excited and nervous while trying to focus his attention on the terrain around his own stand. There is nothing as exciting as the first morning of buck season. With the tension building I leaned out the side of my stand watching intently for the deer I knew was moving slowly into both sight and range. Then, there he was. A little four pointer meandering his way up the hollow, stopping to eat an acorn about every minute or so; In no apparent hurry and not minding the sound of rifles going off in the distance. As soon as I saw him I knew he would be passing in front of both me then Dean. I had already decided to let this one go and hope that Dean would get a chance at him. The buck would have to pass in front of him before he would be able to see it. I never could remember which was his bad eye, if he didn't tell you, you would never know he had a disability. As the buck worked around the side of the hill, I thought about hollering to Dean to warn him of the approaching deer. But, I didn't. I knew if I did I would probably send it past Dean all right, but at a speed he wouldn't appreciate. So, I let the buck ease it's way past my stand and right over to Dean's; I hoped. The buck disappeared into the patch of Mountain Laurel just twenty yards from Dean's stand. "There you go buddy, you can't miss this one". The next hour was spent in breathless anticipation, waiting for a rifle shot then the whooping and hollering. Nothing , no sound at all. Just when I didn't think I could bear it another minute, I heard the sounds of something walking from the direction of my friends' stand. Soon Dean came into view, and in a minute he was at the bottom of my stand looking up and waving his hands like someone had just been called safe at home plate. I didn't have a clue as to what he was doing, so rather than discuss it at a vertical distance of twenty feet, I waved him up. Dean climbed carefully up the tree and crawled in after he handed me his rifle. "What happened" I whispered "didn't you see that little four point?" "Oh I saw him all right, he said, along with about ten others." "Well, weren't they close enough, or what?" " Yeah, they were only from ten feet to twenty yards from me, and there were three bucks in the herd." "Well why in blue blazes didn't you shoot one, it would have been your first buck?" Wordlessly he handed me his rifle and said simply, "look". I shouldered the rifle and looked through his Bushnell scope and just as wordlessly handed it back. The crosshairs were missing in the scope. When I asked him if he could see the nearest buck in the scope he said, " Nope, The dang thing was fogged up until about five minutes ago. " Well we stayed in that stand for a couple of hours while I pointed out to Dean the places I had killed deer all around my area. While I did shoot a nice six point from my stand later that season, this was the beginning or the continuation of Dean's bad luck deer hunting. But, never fear; I have more stories of hunts Dean and I shared over the years.
A great read Leep!