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11/24/08 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) Deer hunting holds other pleasures than pulling a trigger, as commentator Bill Mares was  recently reminded - on a Northeast Kingdom hillside.

(MARES) In the dripping darkness, I settle into my little foxhole of granite field stones left from century-old wall building.  By feel, I move the twigs and leaves and settle onto my hotseat.   Rifle over my lap, I treat myself to coffee straight from the thermos and a hand-full of gorp, and wait for the dawn.
This small corner of the Northeast Kingdom is familiar; it's the only place I've ever deer-hunted in Vermont.  Gradually, through breath-fogged glasses, the gray light begins to reveal mown fields, dark pines, maple saplings and birch limbs.   A quarter mile away a pencil plume of smoke rises from a neighbor's wood stove.   My eyes and ears become merry pranksters.  A fluttering beech leaf at five feet looks like a deer at fifty yards.  Solitary raindrops sound like deer footfalls
From several directions comes the ragged drum roll of rifle shots to proclaim the opening of deer season.  I tense.  Deer in the distance must have cousins nearby.  I scan the trees and fields until my eyes ache.  
And then I relax.  Face it!  No deer will appear.  In 34 years I've never killed a Vermont deer, even on the highway.  I suppose that makes me a poor hunter. Or, more charitably, maybe I just don't try hard enough, or in the right places.  
And bringing home venison isn't really why I'm here. (I can rely on more successful friends for that.)  I'm here for the memories, the generational communion of hunting that began 55 years ago with my father in Texas, where, yes, I did kill a number of deer.
Surprisingly, the Central Texas Hill Country, where we hunted  was very much like Vermont, except that the cattle were Herefords, not Holsteins, the trees were mesquite and live oak, not maple and birch, and the ground was bare.
My father was an extremely hard-working chemical engineer who rarely took a vacation.
He was a stern taskmaster to himself and a stern father to his sons.  He was a man of few words, and he loved aphorisms that prized silence, like "The steam that toots the whistle never turns a wheel."                    
But on hunting and fishing trips he was relaxed and approachable.  I would bring school books to study; he would bring a stack of chemical journals.  In deer camp I learned to drink coffee and make chili.  While we played hours of gin rummy, he told about his own hunts in Montana with his father, an immigrant from what is now the Czech Republic.   In the field, we usually went to different stands, but occasionally we would hunt together in patchwork blinds, sharing Hershey bars and licorice sticks as we scanned the landscape in silence.  One morning, in nose-dripping cold, we watched the sunrise across the valley in a handful of minutes go from pink to salmon to orange and finally blazing white.  

"You know," he said, "it would take a hundred years of this to kill you."
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