Anyway, I will now do penance. At about three o'clock in the morning, I'll hop into dad's truck and we'll take off to go sit in trees and be laughed at by whitetail deer. It was snowing on my way home tonight, and although the ground is still too warm for snow to stick, it's supposed to be around 15 degrees Fahrenheit when I settle into my tree about an hour before sunrise. Then it's supposed to warm gradually all day until it reaches a balmy 30 degrees by mid afternoon. But I've got silk long johns to go under my cotton long johns, and gloves to go under my mittens. I've got thick boots with thick felt liners, and thick overalls with thick down filling. I've got an insulated blaze-orange baseball cap, a blaze-orange stocking cap, and a blaze-orange fleece balaclava. I've also got a pot of hot coffee ready to brew automatically at two in the morning so I can fill my new Thermos bottle (Esperanza bought the Thermos and set up the coffee maker. She put in "Tiramisu" flavored coffee because, she decided, "Ginger Bread" flavor was just not manly enough for deer hunting.)
We have two permits apiece, and on the land where we hunt, it's entirely possible that we'll fill all those tags before lunch tomorrow. On the one hand, in a bitter-cold year like this one, that's something of a relief sometimes--and I know it makes grandpa feel good, because the cold doesn't do anything good to his knees, nor really much of anything else. But honestly, we wouldn't be out there in the freezing cold if we didn't love it, so it's nice when I get to be out a little longer. I do not, however, pass up shots. We're strictly meat hunters, and we hunt more like a tribe than I think a lot of modern hunters do. If I take a small doe and dad takes a big buck and grandpa takes a tiny button buck, we'll all end up with about the amount of meat we want, since we all butcher the deer together at grandpa's house. No one of us worries too much about "waiting for the big one." We still take some pretty impressive trophies that way, actually, if only because Pike County, IL has an abundance of the biggest trophy whitetails in the world.
I wonder sometimes how long our permission can last. I'm the third generation of our family to hunt this land (for you USPSA types, it's only a few miles from PASA Park, where the USPSA Nationals used to be held) and we've always hunted for free. My grandpa was promised that he and his family could always hunt there for free. But when it comes to whitetails, Pike County farmers who let people hunt for free are passing up income. Grandpa was never much for bow hunting, and eventually we lost the chance to bow hunt where we hunt during shotgun season, because paying customers appeared. These people drive up from Mississippi and Alabama, spending thousands on gear, and spend weeks in tiny towns in Illinois. If they can find a farmer who will let them put up stands and have exclusive rights to hunt a given stand of timber, they'll pay thousands more to him. There aren't many farmers who can afford to pass up thousands of dollars of annual income from land that doesn't produce crops, especially when you consider that the hunters are removing animals that overrun the farmers' paying crops and make his roads more dangerous.
I'm not bitter about this--it's only fair that the man who owns the land decides who hunts there, and if some can pay for the privilege, it's only fair that he get paid. I just wonder whether my sons will have places to hunt when they're my age. Maybe I'm just feeling a little bittersweet about the whole thing since this is the first year we'll be out since Uncle Bob died. He wasn't able to come with us last year, and it was a bit of a wrench, but he was alive at home, and he was there with us at Thanksgiving saying prayers before the meal and passing out presents. Now he's really gone, and it's going to be different without him. I guess it's always different, though, isn't it?