Back in the 1990s, Field & Stream ran a photo essay on deer hunting as a mystique and a way of life. It consisted of maybe two dozen photos showing bits and pieces of the sport, accompanied by captions. It was one of the best things we’ve ever done, and I wish I could remember the title.

One of the photos that resonated particularly with readers was of an old, old man, obviously barely able to walk, being helped into a ground blind. The caption said that old as he is, and without the skills he once had, the old fellow will keep his vigil with a rifle just as long as he’s breathing, because he’s a deer hunter, and this is what he does and what he is to the bottom of his soul.

I got to see that photo come to life in Maine this past week, where a dozen of us, all in our 60s and 70s, congregate to hunt very big and sometimes very scarce whitetails. This year the wear and tear was plainly showing. One fellow had two bad hips and had major spine surgery a few months ago. A second had a heart attack in the spring. A third fell this past winter and hit the concrete so hard he actually broke seven ribs loose. A fourth is pretty healthy but is well into his 80s.

On top of all that, it was a week of bitter cold (1 degree F one morning and constant snow squalls), which is hell on old bones. But there we were. Not everyone toughed it out from dark to dark as we once could. Some of us couldn’t walk very far, and the fellow with the half-healed ribs had to be very cautious, because a fall would send him back to the hospital.

But we did the best we could, because we’re deer hunters and that’s what we do, and I think that having to admit that we’re too old and too feeble to go out any more is far more painful than any physical ailment could ever be. Eventually, of course, our hunting days as well as our other days will come to an end, but short of that…