In my house I have a room that I simply refer to as “My Room.” I suppose that since I live alone that every room in my house is my room but My Room is as much me as it belongs to me. Visitors are always drawn to My Room, especially my friends’ kids. Some find it intriguing, some find it off-putting, but they all ask questions when they look around.
My Room is between my living room and my bedroom. On its surface there is nothing exceptional about it. There is a wide, cased opening between My Room and the living room and a smaller door at the back. Its walls are covered in a reddish brown wood paneling that may be outdated but I find warm and inviting. There is an old couch along the back wall that my parents bought when I was about five years old and has followed me through three apartments and into this house. The exterior wall has a short bookcase that holds my books by Ruark, Roosevelt and Rinella, as well as Leopold and Hemingway and Posewitz and other legends. Next to the main opening is a taller bookcase that holds a CD collection that long ago was converted to digital. Against the interior wall sits my desk and a pair of short file cabinets. Above my desk is a shelf that holds my baseball mementos, including a Don Mattingly autographed baseball that was given to me as a gift for being in a friend’s wedding.
What draws people to My Room is what hangs on the walls. As I lean back in my old, spindly, wooden desk chair I see the yellowing skull of a seven point whitetail deer. Some may notice the decidedly non-typical antlers, five normal points on the right, a downward hanging two point nub on the left and think “What an unusual deer”. I look at it and remember that cold November morning in 1996 before daylight when I hiked an hour back to a stand that we had built the previous summer in the farthest corner of my uncle’s property. I think about shivering there until my Dad came to me and said he saw a fresh track he wanted to follow. I remember hearing him yell “BUCK!” and his rifle going off.
I have no memory of shouldering my rifle, aiming, cocking the hammer or pulling the trigger but I can see that massive brown deer in the scope as it was only 30 or so feet from me. I remember a flash from the muzzle but remember no noise from the shot. I remember thinking I missed but knowing I didn’t when I saw the smile on Dad’s face when he saw that his youngest son had taken his first buck. I remember how proud my grandparents were when I showed them and how much ribbing I took from my brother (who had decided he’d rather sleep in) for shooting such an odd looking deer.
I remember cleaning the skull in my parents garage with my best friend who was taken from his wife and kids far too soon. But most people would just see an unusual yellowing skull.
To the left of that skull is a shoulder mounted pronghorn. The taxidermist did an exceptional job and people notice. He captured the long flight to Wyoming when I landed in a blizzard and had to stay in a hotel until the guide could make it to town. He captured the 40 mile off road drive to elk camp where I went along for the ride because why not? I can see the first time I laid eyes on a pronghorn and a mule deer and an elk in its tall black horns. I can see the massive whitetails my friend Pete was hunting that would dwarf anything I’ve seen in Massachusetts but that they considered merely average in the west. I see in its black eyes the excitement of the rookie guide who lead me on the stalk and may have been as excited as I was to kill my first western big game animal. I see the look of shock in the old outfitters eyes when I began gutting it because apparently that’s something people just don’t do. I stroke its fur and remember spending my 43rd birthday on top of a mountain trying to fill the cow elk tag I bought since I had some time to kill.
To the left of my desk is the most recent addition, the mule deer I took in 2019. It’s the biggest thing in My Room. I have sent pictures to friends who have marveled at its size but to me it smells of Wyoming sagebrush and feel like my legs after the two mile stalk up a series of drainages in thick grey, boot sucking clay that stuck to everything. I can still see the herd of elk where there shouldn’t have been a herd of elk that we spotted right before we saw this buck silhouetted against a fading grey sky.
Behind my desk are a pair of mounted whitetail deer. One is an eight point I took in New York that I still think irritates my Dad. He had hunted hard all season and I had just gotten home for my Thanksgiving vacation. On the afternoon of my first day in the woods I managed to take the biggest buck we had seen on our families land in years.
The other is a wide six point that I took on my first trip to North Carolina. It is remarkable mainly in that they had this buck on camera for years, but nobody had laid eye on it. The outfitter had been an acquaintance for a few years before that hunt but has since become one of my closest friends. Some may see a 5 ½ year old deer, but I see my friend’s wedding where he asked me to be the officiant even though I am in no way a man of the cloth.
There are other things hanging in my room. Antlers from a six point I killed on a stand that I picked because I was too lazy to walk any further. A barely legal spike horn that I didn’t want to shoot but almost ran me over. I swear it was in self-defense! A fork horn that I took at my uncle’s camp and was apparently the first deer that had been killed on the small amount of acreage the club actually owned; since the camp was surrounded by state forest. There is European mounted pronghorn skull to which I’ve glued the tarnished shell we found on the spot from where I shot it, abandoned there by some long ago hunter who also found that hill a fine place from which to fill his tag.
My Room has more than antlers. A case above the old couch holds an ancient Winchester Model 1873 that belonged to my Great-Grandfather, Ceylon, and was given to me by my Grandfather, Audus, shortly before he died and will never leave my family. It is the birthright and heirloom of all the Todd hunters and is only mine for safekeeping. The stories I wish that rifle could tell. Audus’s blaze orange hat hangs above the rifle and looking at it makes me miss the old man and wonder what he would think of My Room.
Nothing hanging on the walls of My Room will make any record book, and I couldn’t care less. Of course, primary among the reasons I hunt is to fill my freezer. Every meal reminds me of some fine thing about how that meat got to my plate. However, meat is ephemeral. I am grateful to have it but one day all the burgers and steaks will be gone and with good fortune replaced with another deer, or maybe and elk or a moose someday. There is more to hunting than just the food. The forests and fields and plains and marshes and mountains provide us with so much more than sustenance for our bodies.
Even though we live in heated and air conditioned homes and can drive across the country in days and a fly around the world in hours and with one click of a mouse have anything we want delivered to our door we are still participants in the natural world, just as much as any duck or deer.
That is the purpose of My Room, it reminds me of all my finest memories as a person and lets me know where I belong as a man.