“Orange is the color of November in Michigan. Not the soft orange of aspen or maple, for the leaves have already fallen. I mean the harsh fluorescent of blaze orange that glows along the county roads and in the little towns up north on the fifteenth of the month.”
John Mitchell, “The Hunt” (1979)
My first “Opening Day” was in 2002, shortly after relocating to the United States. I knew almost nothing about deer hunting in Michigan then and set with my back to a tree on same state land between Portage and US-131. I was cold and uncomfortable and never saw a deer, that day or that season.
Since that day I’ve hunted every opening day, shared them with different friends, had good ones and survived some terrible days under gale force winds and other misery, bagged seven or eight deer, and always had venison as the center of our Christmas dinner.
The one constant in all these years is that I still wear the same blaze orange vest and carry the same Remington 870 shotgun. I now wear Under Armor and learned to be tolerant of the cold, if not comfortable in it.
Over these years, I learned to enjoy the time afield a lot more. I accomplish a lot at a tree stand or ground blind, even if I never see a deer. There is time to read, think and reflect upon life in general and how blessed we are for being able to continue to do what we like. I think a lot about my father and other friends that are no longer with us. I look forward to the magical moment when a whitetail will float into view, ghostly silent, and offer itself to my insatiable desire for venison and fresh liver. During the day I anticipate making the call home to let my wife know that I have succeed in providing her and the children with another meal; even knowing that she does not eat venison or other game in general.
Today is different. I am working in Italy, several thousand miles away from my tree stand or one of Greg’s ground blinds. I will not be driving west on M-43, passing the small cafes and diners with large orange signs that simply say “HUNTERS WELCOME”. Greg and I will not be meeting in the dark by Kay’s old red barn, exchanging liverwurst sandwiches, walking in together past the “Small South Woods” tunnel and then splitting up, one going to the “Small Center Field” the other to the “Big North Woods”. I will not hear the morning fusillade, a truly “Twenty-one Gun Salute” to the great whitetail deer, and we won’t be chatting over the radios at lunch time complaining that there are no deer left in Southern Michigan. And at dusk we won’t walk out together, discussing the highlights of the day or if successful, dragging a buck or doe that gets bigger and heavier for each foot of way.
The fact that this was the first year that I killed a buck with bow and arrow in October, does in no way diminishes the importance of opening day. But I still feel privileged, and I will be in the woods before dawn next Saturday, the 19th.