Observations of a Bowhunter's Widow
by Kann Lium

Before my husband Sonny took up bowhunting, he seemed like a relatively sane man, although perhaps a little on the eccentric side. Every year during rifle season, he would go to hunting camp up in the Monroe-Bucksport area of Maine where his buddies deer hunted It was a four or five day event that I looked forward to; the house to myself, dinners with girlfriends, a chance to throw out the pile of junk Sonny had amassed beside his easy chair. I never gave much thought to the actual hunting. The way my husband described it, it was a guy thing: pots of homemade beans, cases of Budweiser, no showers. He always came back with a good deer story or two and a noticeable absence of deer.

Last year, this all changed. Sonny took up bowhunting. Our neighborhood in Southern Maine has a rapidly-increasing deer population, many of which consider our vegetable and perennial gardens to be a gourmet smorgasbord laid out solely for their dining pleasure. As a last resort - having tried every home remedy for keeping deer off of our property - Sonny thought he would give bowhunting a try. He said that it would allow him to tag up to three deer a season in our area. Innocently, I welcomed the idea, thinking it would be nice to have organic vegetable-fed venison in our freezer and a reduction in the nightly raids on our garden.

Early last summer, Sonny began dropping hints about the tree stand that his friend's wife had bought for her husband. Being totally ignorant about anything related to the mechanics of hunting, I pictured a tree house equipped with retractable ladders. Why would anyone want to take something like that hunting? The whole concept seemed ridiculous to me. However, as the weeks went by, the frequency and decibel level of Sonny's hints increased. There was a lot of hard-core whining, which ended in a crescendo of guilt-producing accusations. It worked. I caved.

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On Sonny's birthday we went together to the sports store to buy him his beloved tree stand. Seeing the display of what appeared to be the latest technology in instruments of torture, I was hard pressed to understand how anyone could climb a tree with such a contraption, and silently, no less. Like buying an unfathomable popular toy for a child, I forked over an outrageous sum of money for Sonny's long-awaited gift.

Sonny began to assemble the treestand as soon as we got home. I chose not to witness the exercise. (Although a fine carpenter and general contractor by profession, Sonny, like many men, seemingly does not do well under the stress of needing to use directions and can be quite vocal about the process.) Eventually I was invited into the garage to admire the finished product.

"Pretty cool, huh?"

"Do you really carry that whole thing on your back?" I circled the improbable camouflage-covered apparatus with its levers and straps.

"Yup. It only weighs twenty-five pounds~"

"Really? What are these?" I pointed at trap-like metal jaws.

"You use those to climb up the tree with. Then see, you wrap these wires around the tree and clamp the jaws and there you have your stand."

"And you stand in that thing?" I looked doubtfully at a platform barely two feet square. "Yah, and you can sit. See, there's this nice padded seat back which you can turn around, and a safety bar." "Is that so you don't fall out when you get to the chin-dropping, drooling stage of your nap?" Sonny glared at me. "And you can use these armrests as well." "So where's the coffee mug holder?"

Judging by Sonny's stony silence, I assumed the demonstration was over. As confusing as the tree stand was to me, I could see that my husband was delighted. I thought that I had bought myself peace. Not so. I didn't think much of it when Sonny bought a Holt, one-pulley bow (I'm quoting him; it's Greek to me) and fancy arrows with pretty bright green and orange feathers (actually, these are vanes, I'm told). But it didn't stop there. It wasn't until later that I realized Sonny had begun a gradual decline into compulsive-obsessive behavior. Seemingly out of nowhere, pages of Cabela's catalogues, with items and sizes circled in red, were pinned to the bulletin board we reserve for telephone messages and notes for each other. Sonny, who had never ordered so much as a pizza over the phone, was catalogue shopping across the country with the best of them. He got to be on first name basis with the UPS deliveryman, and sank into acute depression on afternoons that the UPS truck flew by our house without stopping. To console himself, he made frequent forays to the local outdoor sports store.

During that two week period between Sonny's birthday last year and September fifteenth, the beginning of bow season, Sonny purchased the following items. (Mind you, I've had to piece this togeter since he was very clever at hiding the evidence, except for the four-wheeler that he tried to hide in our back yard under a camouflage cover which didn't blend well with my rose bushes.): practice target; more arrow heads and arrows (to replace the ones that lodged permanently in trees during target practice); camouflage pants, shirts, jacket, hats, mask, rain gear and a scent-lock outer wear outfit that made him look as if he'd been tarred and feathered. Then the accessories: all the camouflage bells and whistles for the four-wheeler (bow rack, cover, water bottle and bags), pouches to be strapped to arms, legs, ankles and who knows where else; deer scent (Estrogus), deer caller (known poetically as a grunt), a motion detector and timer, and Coverspray (Fallblend, of course).

It had always been standard practice for my husband and me to discuss any changes we wanted to make in our home. However, when bow season opened last year, Sonny unilaterally turned the garage into hunting headquarters; converted the laundry area into a production center of scentless clothing; covered every surface in the living room with hunting magazines and newspapers; and put the kitchen on permanent standby for cutting up deer meat.

Simply put, Sonny's entire personality underwent a transformation. Not a man who's missed many meals in his adult life, during hunting season my husband routinely went without breakfast, and ate only a light, reheated, late night dinner. So sensitive to the cold that he wears long johns every month of the year except July and August, yet suddenly he was able to sit for hours in freezing wind or rain without complaining. That nightly nap in front of the TV that Sonny likes to get in before heading off to bed for the night was sacrificed for reading daily statistics of local and New England-wide deer taggings.

Sonny did get his first deer the second Saturday out during that first bowhunting season. Easy, I thought; he'd have his limit in no time and we'd be eating venison throughout the winter. My husband and our life together would return to normal. It was not to be. Soon the Saturday hunting outings were augmented by every weekday afternoon as the quest for his second deer mounted. It dawned on me that Sonny was living in another world, the world of an addict. I tried to be patient when he told me "Got to put your time in." Yes, but 35 hours a week? Partially to humor him, to try and understand his growing problem, and so I would remember what he looked like, I began to accompany Sonny on Sundays to scout the trails near our home. The beauty of the woods was captivating as always and it became easy for me to understand how someone could spend hours losing himself in it. During our walks, I felt a twinge of jealousy of his closeness to nature, though I was hardly ready to admit it at the time.

I listened to his deer stories, and realized Sonny was fortunate enough to experience a world unavailable to anyone who doesn't put his time in. My favorite of his bowhunting stories provides a glimpse of the world of the dedicated hunter. One morning, having sat immobile and soaking wet in his tree stand for two hours, the rain had stopped and a slight mist was still hanging in the woods. All of a sudden, Sonny saw the gray-beige backs of four deer over a knoll about sixty feet away. As he described it, his heart was pounding; trying not to choke, he carefully stood up to aim at the clearing where they were headed. He couldn't believe his luck: four deer to get a shot at! Weeks of waiting had finally paid off. Peering through the mist, Sonny could only laugh as four butterball raccoons sidled their way into the opening before him.

Although life with the obsessed is never easy, I will concede to a certain admiration for the perseverance and determination that Sonny showed throughout that first bowhunting season. Now with a second season ahead of us, I know a little bit more of what to expect: I will take a back seat for the duration, most likely the deer will still plunder our garden regardless of Sonny's successes, and what venison we do end up with in our freezer will have cost us somewhere around $50.00 a pound. However, I'll get through it, knowing that the real, eccentric Sonny will return at midnight December fifteenth, the final day of a long hunting season.

Karin Lium is a resident of Kittery Point.

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