Those Old Bones: A Hunter’s Story
By Dr. Dustin Day
It all started over 70 years ago while walking through his timber after shotgun season. My grandfather came across a deer that had caught his antlers in a barbed wire fence. This wasn’t a normal deer, but a very large and unusual one.
When he bent down to take a closer look, he couldn’t help but notice this deer’s antlers. Yes, they were big, but the uniqueness of them was very intriguing. While he could not do anything for the deer, he could do something with the antlers.
For years, we visited my grandfather at least once a month. The drive was just an hour, but for a young child, it seemed like an eternity. However, it was definitely worth the wait.
The first thing I would do when I arrived at the old farmhouse was go to an old back room that collected junk. I would take these antlers off the freezer and parade them around the house. My grandpa would say, “What do you want with them old bones? They’re not good for nothing.”
I would always reply, “I just think they’re neat. When I get older, I’m going to get me a deer that looks just like this.” Grandpa and my dad would both laugh at my unbridled enthusiasm. At the time, I had no idea that a deer this size was one most hunters would never see in their lifetime — let alone harvest.
Years passed and my grandfather got older. When he looked at me, he saw a teenager full of energy but with very little discipline as a hunter. In him, I still saw a hero and someone to always look up to — not only as a hunter, but as a person. And every time we visited, I would go back and get those old bones. I was tall enough now to reach the top of the freezer.
One spring day, while I was sitting on my front porch, my grandfather drove up to visit us. It was a surprise visit, and I was excited. I met him at the truck and he told me he had a few presents for me.
Inside the truck were those old bones. He said, “Your grandpa’s getting older, and I want you to have something.” He handed me those precious antlers that I had held so many times before. He also handed me something else. He handed me a gun case. He said, “Open it.” Inside this old case was a beat up 97 Winchester shotgun. He said, “This was my shotgun when I shot my first deer, and I want you to have it.”
As more years passed, my grandfather’s ailing heart was beginning to take its toll. He moved a little slower, he was a little grayer, but he was still the wise hunter he had always been.
Our last deer season together, I was sitting next to him when he shot his last deer. It was a small buck. My grandpa use to say, “It’s not the size of the antlers when hunting, but the story behind them that is the most important.”
I thought about it for a long time after he passed. I came to the conclusion that it was one of my biggest accomplishments as a hunter — being with him on his last hunt.
Presently, when I am out hunting, I feel closest to him. I feel that he is with me when I am out in the woods. It’s a relatable feeling, among those who’ve lost a loved one. When I am sitting there, the woods are noisy with animals. The sun hits my face, the leaves fall, and I feel that I am the luckiest person in the world to have had someone who took the time to teach me these little luxuries in life.
As I sit in my living room now, at the age of fifty, and look up at those old bones on my wall, I think about not just those antlers, but the experiences I had growing up. I still get them down off the wall and rub my hands over the antlers and feel the massive bases. Only this time, I share these experiences with my two girls, hoping to give these old bones to them someday.