Sacred Hunter: The waiting game

By Bradley Carleton | Contributor

I’d been watching him for weeks.

He stood in the field, just over a hump, where only half of his body was visible. He seemed as if he was aware of his surroundings and, in a moment’s notice, could disappear into the shadows of wooded oblivion.

But it was summer and the pressure of seeking a mate was not yet present in his blood. He hung out with the other males, bonding and occasionally sparring to determine who was the most dominant. They were not unlike metropolitan humans, full of braggadocio and testosterone, accumulating hordes of possessions and cultivating an image of power.

He was not like the others. He had nothing to prove. He was older, and with that age came a modicum of wisdom. He’d seen his peers make fatal mistakes and wind up riding home in the back of a pickup, lifeless and impotent.

A younger male bent his head downward and snorted at him, as if to challenge his authority. He simply bellowed and twitched his ears backward, causing the adolescent to turn away and lower his crown of velvet, nose to the ground.

The sun began to set over the field, and the fraternity held their heads high, the sun glistening off of the fuzzy light-brown crown of bone above their heads. Ten of them in all.

Several of the young bucks lifted their heads to breathe in the shifting thermal breeze coming off of the lake. The fragrance of decaying vegetation and the acrid smell of the lake’s deep waters turning over in the bay wafted through the air.

Moisture began to collect on the brome grass and alfalfa leaves, providing sweet nectar to the taste of late summer grasses.

He stood looking at me for what seemed like several minutes, noting my curiosity and apparent lack of threat.

I was struck by the beauty and majesty of his stature and poise amongst the others. He wasn’t exactly behaving in a laissez faire manner, but he was clearly relaxed and confident in his ability to sense danger and act appropriately if necessary.

Our eyes connected for a brief moment. Through my binoculars I could see his lashes flicker. He blinked twice, then stomped his right front foot with a powerful thump that the entire group could hear.

Then he turned his head, flicked his long white tail into the air, snorted loudly and was gone.

The others followed as if on command, vanishing into the brush, blurring brown and white, into the shadows of the woods.

It was as if we had met at a party, introduced ourselves, established our paths and departed to return to our daily rituals, separate and consumed by our own patterns of life. I to my job and he to his kingdom.

It would be a full month until we crossed paths again.

This time, he was unaware of my presence, sitting high in a tree and holding a powerful instrument that has played a historical part in the survival of my species.

My heart constricted in my chest, as if I would be discovered at any moment. The pounding of my upper ventricle thumped in my chest when I took a breath and drew the arrow through the rest on my bow.

He walked slowly between the trees, merging from shadow to light and back again. I lowered my eye to peek through the peep sight and waited for him to step into the opening.

The smell of decaying hickory nuts mixed with that familiar smell from earlier last month—the acrid but pleasant muskiness of the lake turning over.

I took my last breath through flaring nostrils and held it tightly in my chest.

The arrow flew straight and true.

Bradley Carleton is executive director of Sacred, a nonprofit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature and raises funds for Traditions Outdoor, which mentors at-risk young men in outdoor pursuits.