And then they string them up. Braided ropes fly up through the high crotches of the old birch by the shed and slide back down the trunk like nightcrawler ghosts. Daddy starts pulling on one end of the rope, each pull pushing a moist cloud of breath out his mouth into the cold blue air. Higher and higher the deer rises until his hooves are hanging level with Daddy’s head. That’s my brother Reuben’s buck — only a yearling — but his horns’ll push three inches, and it will make him legal.
Another deer rises, cutting through the sharp air along with the sun that is sending heat toward our November morning. Reuben is pulling on the end of this rope. The deer is thicker around with well-muscled thighs and rump and will make good eating. Daddy took her because she kept standing there in the snow, stupid, just staring at him in his tree.
Mine’s next, and I can feel my legs quaking even inside my thick layers and crusty mud boots. I’m a little embarrassed that, even with him high up in the tree, you can still see the white spots on his hindquarters and that he ain’t even half the size of Daddy’s deer. But when I heard the low swift whistle from Daddy’s stand, I just pulled up quick and aimed and fired, my arms quaking hard even after I shot him. I know now that Daddy meant for me to take the big doe, but I still don’t know why I chose the fawn. Reuben says that I got the tag so I shouldn’t be worrying; it was a blessing to draw an antlerless permit, so he was mine to take, baby or not. I was glad when Daddy took his momma too; she almost looked relieved.
Sun’s not full up and three carcasses are hanging in our tree. Daddy is so proud right now, he is grinning that crooked smile. His whiskers are hanging bits of ice and frozen blood that must’ve splashed up during the field dress of the deer, and his teeth are tobacco stained. We look the same except I am thirteen and I am a girl. I have blonde hair past my shoulders, even features and clean skin, and that is part of the problem. When I hunt, I braid my hair back and hide it under my cap so that nobody mistakes me for a whitetail. When my daddy smiles, I can’t help but smile my version of his crooked smile too.