"Look, Dad!" my six year olds voice came from behind me in the dark, "it's just like the song." She was pointing overhead to the star filled sky on this early January morning. With the Milky Way visible overhead, we were making our way slowly across a cut corn field towards the stand that I had chosen for our first deer hunt together. Actually, as far as she knew it was the one I had chosen. The stand I really had wanted to hunt from was at least another quarter mile up the hillside.
It was the next to last day of the late Nebraska deer season. I had filled my first tag early on in the blustery frigid week and the forecast for this last weekend predicted milder weather. There was no way Stephanie, my daughter, was going to let me out of the house alone on this one. I was very happy for the break in the weather as I had been promising her a chance to join me for a day this season since I drew my tags in the summer.
We had done some scouting together on a few warm summer mornings and she had shown great control and we had actually seen some together this year. This pleased her greatly as it, in her mind, finally made her a deer hunter. In years past, her toddler enthusiasm was not shared by the deer and the brief glimpses we had of does and fawns made her determined to get me to bring her along on a hunt once the season came. After all, how would I find the deer without her?, she reasoned.
So, at 4:30 am, an hour we hadn't seen together since she had been in diapers, I rousted her from her Sesame Street sheets and after a quick breakfast and a lengthy bundling session for the both of us we were on our way down the highway to meet some friends to hunt on the farm of an aquaintence of mine.
The short drive did nothing did nothing but put her back to sleep on the way by the time we arrived at the farm it was very evident that although I had planned very well for bringing her along, we were not going to make it to the stand I had chosen. I had filled my first tag earlier in the week and wanted to give my buddies who had hunted hard but without luck first crack on the best stands so I had picked a spot at the top of a 30 acre cut corn field over looking a creek bottom on a friends farm.
So now, as the false dawn was already showing out over the Missouri river, it would hurry her very game but overly bundled legs to make more than the 100 yds to the near corner of the field behind the farmhouse before shooting time.
"Just as well" I mused silently, "it will make for a nice short downhill walk out." The field was still drifted over a foot deep in spots from a heavy storm the week before and Steph had to follow the flashlight beam I shone in my tracks to make any progress at all but she did not complain once on a trek that must have been the most strenuous of her young life. We reached the fence line that overlooked a small meadow beneath a wood lot that crowned the hilltop above the house. I had lugged along the many essentials for the morning; sit-upon buckets, a large wool blanket and of course, Gummi bears and Teddy Grahams to go with the quart of hot chocolate in my pack. The rifle was an afterthought and the binoculars remained in the car.
We took up our vigil about a half hour before shooting time and there was never a prouder dad ever as me as we sat together, huddled under what must be the largest Hawthorn tree in the state, looking out into the dark and not even caring if anything ever showed up.
Her smile shown brighter from underneath my extra hunter orange cap than the clearly visible Orion's belt overhead. "I love you dad" she whispered in her best hunter's whisper. "I love you too, sweetheart" I replied, "I'm very glad you're here with me, you know I've wanted to bring you along for a long time." "Dad--" her words hung on the mist in the 10' air, cut short by the strings of the first "dickie birds" in a scrub maple a few feet away. Within a few seconds her eyes grew wide as unseen a few feet over our heads a woodpecker began his quest for his breakfast.
He was not having an easy time of it, evidently as his ostinato continued on for several minutes and eventually before the sun was up, stephie had been lulled back to sleep. In complete silence she had drawn the blanket all around her and using my backpack for a pillow, was decidedly headed back to sleep at my feet. "You comfortable down there, sugar?" I whispered. "Yep, I'm fine, just like the cowboys." she chortled back. Before she drifted off I cautioned, "Ya' know Steph, it will be very loud if a deer comes and I shoot, if I warn you first it might scare the deer away." "I know, just don't miss" she hissed, eyes already closed.asked. There was no answer. Even her excitement couldn't keep her from the three more hours of sleep she was used to. Two chickadees continued to call to the coming sun from the scrub maple as I peered out over the meadow.