If you ask Gabi, I may have waited a year or four too long in asking her to marry me. Just like before, I still have plenty of excuses, but I know they fall on deaf ears. Regardless, when I finally decided to pop the question I knew that I had to make it something special and worth the 9 year wait.
Gabi and most of my friends know that I disappear to the woods from the end of summer to beginning of winter chasing deer with my bow back on the farm. Bowhunting has turned into a great passion of mine over the last few years, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pick up the behaviors of an addict in hunting whitetails. Once I have decided that the wind is just right or a perfect cold front is pushing through or that Up-Down or Lefty or any other stud buck may be on a pattern that I think I could hunt, there isn’t much that will keep me out of the truck and headed back to the farm. I am a lucky man in that Gabi understands this, and she always lets me go knowing that she would rather having me happily pursuing my nitwit ideas than trying to put up with an anxious, pacing, irritating me in our apartment. Knowing this, I decided to use it to my advantage.
In the beginning of our relationship, Gabi and I spent a lot of time back on the farm. As the oldest child blazing a path through puberty and life with a teenager for my parents, privacy at home was a laughable idea. And as a 16 year old boy with more than his fair share of bad ideas, I would often throw Gabi in my Jeep and head to the farm to try and sneak away. We spent a lot of time on walks through the woods, laying under the stars, and generally falling in love with one another during those trips to the farm. I still look back on those trips with a smile, and I can honestly say I remember the night I fell in love with Gabi.
We were down on the farm and went out to the “starry hill” to try and sneak away from our parents. I know Gabi was thinking I was such a sweet young boy headed out to stare into the depths of the galaxy and listen to each others angsty teenage problems, but the two brain cells of mine that maintained function in her presence really were hoping just to get to second base. Nonetheless, I remember laying out under the stars staring into the depths of space, and my world was slowly changing. We lay there staring into the thousands of stars, an impressively clear Milky Way visible in the dark country sky, and watched shooting stars streak across the horizon. I remember starting to think that there was something special about this girl, and realizing that a part of me hoped that by some slim chance I may be able to stay with her forever. I don’t think I managed to tell her that, but looking back I still remember that moment clear as any. And of course, like any other teenage couple we did makeout and that was pretty awesome too.
Once I had my ring and decided it was time, I knew I wanted to propose to Gabi on that hill. The master plan was to have all my family down on the farm that weekend and pretend that it was just like any fall trip down to bow hunt. That evening I was going to go out to sit in the treestand, and the girls would hang out and work on dinner until the boys got back in. Wyatt and I suited up in full camo, faces war-painted, bows in hand, and headed out to the woods. It would be nothing out of the ordinary for an early season hunt.
The real plan, however was that Wyatt and I would sit until about dark, and then I would head back to the house claiming that I just managed to arrow the biggest deer of my life. I was going to tell Gabi and Wyatt to wait while I track the deer, make sure it was dead, and then she and my brother would come and help me drag it out. While they were on their way I was actually going out to lay out a path of lit candles through the woods leading up to the starry hill, and there I would wait until Gabi was dropped off. She would follow the candlelit trail, and then I could propose to the love of my life. It was a foolproof plan, and hopefully something special enough to warrant the wait.
The twist in the story came a few hours early however. I went into the woods that evening really with no intention of taking any deer that night. It was a perfect cold front and unusually cold weather for early October, the perfect recipe for an early season hunt, but my mind was on bigger matters. I remember sitting in my tree stand for those few hours that evening nervous as hell. I fidgeted. I talked to myself. My mind raced. I worried. I am sure the squirrels and critters around me thought that I was headed for the electric chair that night because I was so anxious. Nonetheless, I was sitting there with my mind going at ~1000 miles an hour, and I heard a branch snap to my left.
I still do not know how I did not have a heart attack right at that moment, but as I looked back for the noise I saw the biggest set of antlers I ever laid eyes on coming through the woods. It’s probably a good thing my mind was so occupied with other things or else the buck fever would have been so bad that I am sure I would have left a large brown streak down the tree I sat in, fired my bow straight up in the air, and watched this deer of a lifetime bound out of my life. I did still nearly hip fire my bow the first opportunity the deer presented, but somehow I managed to have the mental fortitude to pause and collect myself. The deer had no idea I was there, but had managed to effectively walk out of all my shooting lanes eating behind a tree. Somehow by some divine intervention or mere luck, I hung out of my tree stand, drew my bow, and sent an arrow through the 4 inch circular break in the branches and right into the deers chest cavity. 30.1 yards on the dot. The deer took off and I heard a crash not even a few seconds later. It all happened so fast that I almost did not believe it.
I told myself that any decent bowhunter gives a deer at least 30 minutes to an hour to ensure it expires and does not get bumped or lost in trying to track it. I may have made it four before I jumped down from my stand and took off after the deer. Not even 20 yards from where I had shot, the deer lay there dead. Once I got down to the ground and saw this creature, I honestly could not believe what I had just done. I actually cried. For three years I had been chasing whitetails without much success and I knew right then and there that I had just killed the deer of a lifetime. I knelt beside the creature, petted its fur, and thanked it and the powers above for allowing me to harvest such an animal. I hate killing things, but I feel that I have to be able to provide my own food and know that I can harvest wild game. Outwitting a wild creature in its natural environment is something that only those that have tried will understand.
Nonetheless, I looked at the hooks, horns, tines, and character of the deer’s antlers, looked at the size of his neck and his body, looked at the scars down his back, I realized that I had just harvested the monarch of our woods. I tried to process all these feelings, but in all honesty I could not. I eventually snapped too and realized in my new, fully crazed state I still had to collect my proverbial shit to propose. I called my brother telling him that I had just arrowed the biggest freaking deer of my life, and he responded with a casual, “Jake I know the plan.” I insisted he come to my stand, and he was actually irritated and could not understand why the hell I was making him leave the woods early. When he finally did come, he lost it. We ran it circles, stammered like idiots, pounded on our chests, hugged each other, and laughed with overwhelming emotions. Our efforts to manage the farm and be successful in the woods had finally come full circle, and the excitement of what was to come that night were too much.
We managed to get back to the house and carry out the masterplan as before. As I waited for Gabi and gave her my proposal, I honestly forgot about the deer. With all the emotions and all the time spent waiting, my proposal was a blubbering, tearful, and genuinely special event. I told her:
“You know I have a million hobbies, and it may seem like I have been pursuing them more than I have you recently, but there are a few things you should know.
There is no mountain bike trail that could ever be as fun as you are. There’s no rock climb that make my heart race like you do. There’s no monster buck I could wait for like I will for you. There’s no trail worth following like I will for you. There’s no mountain top view that could ever be as beautiful as you are. There’s not an adrenaline filled moment that can take away my break like you can. There’s not a person on Earth I could love as much as you. And with all that there is no other person I would rather spend the rest of my life with than you. You are my best friend, my true love, my one and only, my always and forever, and there’s nothing I want more in the world than for you to be my wife. Gabi Ann Elizabeth, will you marry me?”
And with a very tearful yes, the deal was sealed. We hugged, we kissed -and again it was awesome- and we cried, but we were officially getting married. Once we both got ourselves back together, Gabi asked me, “So where is this deer?” I had forgotten, but I told her that there honestly was not supposed to be one, but she would not believe the deer I had just killed.
We went back down in the woods, and it was kind of surreal to see the deer again. We took pictures and laughed, and then I worked to get the deer cleaned and back to the house. We put up a picture of our engagement and phone calls, texts, and social media notifications started pouring in asking about the deer and the engagement. It was an unbelievable night and one that I really could not process until weeks later.
The deer turned out to be the #2 deer taken with a bow in Ohio that year and scored over 200”. It made it into the Boone & Crockett, and Pope & Young record books, and I just got an award and plaque from the Buckeye Big Buck Club for it this year actually. Gab and I are still trying to work out our thoughts on who the big man upstairs may be, but we both are pretty spiritual lovers. For us, nothing could have been more fitting than to have a hunt and deer like this on our engagement, and to me I took it as just another sign that I was meant to be with this girl. It could have been divine intervention, a hell of a coincidence, or even just old-fashioned good luck, but either way our engagement night turned out to be one hell of an experience. I hope you enjoyed the story, and I can’t wait to share it with my kids and grandkids as we grow old. I cannot wait to marry this girl and continue building our story together. Gabi really is the love of my life and I am a very, very lucky man to have her. That October night I still tell everyone, I got the trophy of a lifetime and shot a pretty decent deer too.