As we make the transition from Thanksgiving season to Advent, I offer a story that combines both — offering thanks to God and waiting for his blessing. It comes from Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul and avid deer hunter. In his own words:
“The first weekend of deer hunting opener, I was stationed in a stand one hour west of Bemidji. I saw a total of 10 small 1-year-old deer at different moments in the morning and late afternoon. The party I hunt with abides by the rule that one never shoots a buck with less than eight points on a full rack, so that the young bucks can grow, and one never shoots a yearling unless you want to be made fun of.
About fifteen minutes after sunset, I decided that I would get on my knees and thank God for the beauty of his creation — the sun, the moon and the stars, the vegetation, the snow on the ground, and all these 1-year old small deer frolicking around the tree line.
It was not but thirty seconds after I knelt down and offered my thanks to God that a larger 2-year-old fork buck trotted past my stand. I saw it head toward the woods 40 yards to my east, and watched it elegantly scope out the territory before heading into the woods.
As I am a guest on Jerry and Bitsy Dehmer’s land, I abide by the same rules they follow, which is again not to shoot any bucks with less than full racks, but to let them grow to full stature. Suddenly, the fork buck took off running at high speed away from the woods. I thought, ‘Wow, there must be a bigger buck in that woods claiming the territory and chasing him away.’
So, I lifted my rifle and got in place, ready to shoot. The next sight was stunning. I watched a 200-pound black bear climb a tree on the edge of the forest like a monkey. I was in awe at how fast it ascended and descended, and realized, ‘One trying to escape a black bear by climbing a tree would never make it.’
Then, it climbed a second tree. I’m not sure what it was looking for, as the trees were barren, but the sight left me in awe. I continued to thank God for his small and great gifts of love.
The second day followed a cold storm, which lifted about midnight, leaving a very bright moon to shine on the landscape. As a result, most deer were out feeding in the night, and no one saw deer in the morning’s hunt. At dusk Sunday evening — and, mind you, I had celebrated Mass the evening before with the whole Dehmer clan — we all went out to our stands, and I took the stand on what is called, ‘Machinery Hill,’ as a few old combining pieces rest on the 15-foot hill overlooking a patch of corn and beans.
Jerry Dehmer, the grandfather and owner of the land, instructed me to go to Machinery Hill because there was more food left in that area for the deer to graze. Internally I wondered, ‘Maybe I should go to another stand in which no one has yet sat,’ but this little interior voice told me, ‘Trust Jerry’s advice.’
You see, Jerry has been hunting and trapping since he was 8 years old. For much of his youth he trapped fox and skunk, selling the hides for money. He is an expert huntsman, who has shot many whitetail deer, elk, antelope, etc. So, I trusted Jerry and went to his recommended stand. One other thing about Jerry and his family: No matter how good the hunt, one always gets out of his stand on Sunday to go to church!
Now sunset was judged to be 4:46 p.m. that evening; thus the final minute to shoot would be 5:16 p.m., which is one half hour after sunset. As in the first day, I saw only small yearlings, but this time 13 of them in different packs. They were cute and playful.
About the last 10 minutes of my hunt, because I could not go out on the second weekend, I decided again to simply thank God for all his gifts of love, in creation, in prayer, in the Sacraments, in the Scriptures, in my family and in friends like the Dehmers, in my vocation as a Catholic priest, and in these 13 small deer who scampered around 20 yards from my stand.
As soon as I completed my prayer of thanksgiving, sure enough, this large buck comes strutting out of the woods. It chased some of the yearlings, only to discover they were not ready for mating, then left a large scrape on the ground under a twig, into which it pressed its facial gland, leaving notice to any does in heat.
Sighting the buck in my scope, I recognized the antlers widened beyond the ears, revealing it to be a fully mature male whitetail deer. My first shot was over the buck, highly unusual for me, but the sound the bullet made in the woods behind him confused his judgment, and thus he stood for another second trying to get his bearings. This gave me the opportunity to lower the rifle and put a bullet through the heart. Upon retrieval, I found that it was a 10-point buck with a beautiful, full body. God is good to the grateful man!”
Congratulations go to Father Becker! I’m sure that made quite a story for dozens of seminarians at SJV. We’ll have to see if that buck makes it to the wall of his office. If it does, it will join two other handsome buck mounts already there.
I think my strategy for next year should include asking Father Becker to bless all of my deer hunting gear, especially my bow and my gun!