By Mark Kenyon

As I sat at my desk last night checking trail camera pictures, a surprising wave of emotion settled upon me. A sense of sadness creeped into my bones, and at first, I couldn’t quite tell why.

After scrolling through a few more photos, it suddenly became clear. I would never again click to a new picture and excitedly proclaim “There’s Six Shooter!” Never again would I stare at his impressive figure and feel the excitement run through my body as I thought of how wonderful it was that a mature deer like this was in my area. Never again would I head into the woods, just wondering, hoping, and praying if tonight might be the night I’d see him. Never again. Because he’s gone.

It’s a strange feeling.

In some ways, it seems bizarre. And in other ways, it’s seems only natural.

For three years I’ve watched him. Photographed him. Filmed and tracked him. All of this I did with the intent to one day end his life. But now that I’ve accomplished that goal, I’m almost remorseful.

A Reality Of Life

Hunting and the act of killing has always been, for me, an emotional and almost spiritual endeavor. Taking the life of another creature has always seemed to me a regretful, but natural reality of life. I suppose I don’t hunt to kill, but rather to be alive.

Every time I’ve killed an animal, I’ve felt that twinge of guilt and that whisper of a lament in the back of my mind. For I have ended something that was once alive and beautiful. But I can justify this end as a natural cycle of life, a means to survival, and as a connection to my primal past. To end a life is not something I take lightly nor do I necessarily enjoy it completely, but in the end it is still my goal.

That said, the remorse I feel today is different. It’s not the momentary guilt after a kill, but rather more like the prolonged melancholy you feel after saying goodbye to a dear friend at the airport.

While of course I wanted to kill Six Shooter, now that I have, I realize that I will miss much that he brought to my life. The many encounters. The photos. The stories and the memories. The hopes and dreams. All of this and more was wrapped up in this deer, in this hunt, and now it is all quite suddenly gone. And although it’s what I wanted most, in some small way, it’s now what I like least.

When I shared these feelings with my wife last night, she looked at me like I was absolutely crazy. And maybe I am. But I hope and I think, that maybe some of you out there can relate. After years of watching and hunting some of these deer, they somehow take hold of us in a strange way.

Maybe this is bizarre. Maybe this is natural. I’m not sure. But for me, today, it’s very real.

My Respects

Maybe I feel this way because I never quite got the closure that this journey needed. In the hustle and bustle following my recovery of Six Shooter, I sadly realize now that I never was able to pay my final respects. I never did once have a chance to quietly sit next to him and reflect. I didn’t have the opportunity to lay a hand on his chest and thank him for giving his life to support mine. I had not gotten that moment of solitude I so desperately needed to say a prayer of thanks for this wonderful creature.

I never once had a chance to say goodbye.

So goodbye Six Shooter. Thank you for the memories, for the struggle and for the challenge. For making me a better a hunter and a more persistent man. Thank you for the memory of that first moment, when the sun shown upon your antlers and caught my eye on an early October morning. Thank you for that November evening when you kept my hopes alive after a long, sopping wet day. Thank you for that Halloween night and the rush that coursed through my body when you pulled your heavy rack from the tangles of the swamp and shook off the freezing rain. And finally, thank you for that December evening, when all hope had nearly faded.

Thank you my old friend, and good bye.