Jonathan Bartlett

At 87, Dad was slowing down. My mom, his wife of 53 years, had passed away in April. When I arrived home Friday for our traditional whitetail opener, Dad apologized: “Tommy, I don’t think I’ll make it out in the dark tomorrow, but I’ll try to drive out later.”

From my stand in a southern Wisconsin creek bottom, I spotted his station wagon tooling along the township blacktop at eight the next morning. I jogged a half mile up the road to meet him. Twenty minutes later he had his big orange suit on and was in a lawn chair tucked into a fence line, not far from the vehicles.

“Go hunt,” he said with a smile. The November sun was warm.

A half hour later, I heard his 1940s vintage Model 12 crack once. On my trek back to that little roadside hay field, I think I asked for some divine intervention. But my heart sank when I saw Dad shuffling along, head down, looking confused. Clearly, he had missed.

“Got any blood?” I asked, knowing the answer would be a mix of regret and excuse.

“Oh, the deer’s over there,” Dad said as he gestured matter-of-factly. “I dropped my glove. Let’s find it.”

We did, and then I helped him over to a fat buck fawn shot right through the chest. That whitetail was at least 50 yards from his chair. We laughed and hugged.

Age and a broken heart took the rest of Dad’s deer hunting days from us, and now I hunt opening day alone but not alone. I visit the spot of his last deer every year, and marvel at how that closing day could have ever worked out so perfectly.

For more opening day traditions, click here.