2017-07-05 / News

A Lasting Hunting Memory

IN THE WILD
by Dan Stiles Wildlife Biologist

For the most part, I’ve forgotten a lot of things that happened during my six years in college, the time spent during my hitch in the army, and my 38 years employed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fading memories may be more realistic words.

In a special place in my brain, I do remember my first car, a well-used 1949 Plymouth that had a tough time starting, and my slightly-used Nash Rambler with “freewheeling,” generally known then as “overdrive,” Of course, I do remember very well our marriage ceremony, the birth of our two children, and becoming a grandparent. And, I remember all the details of coming very, very close to drowning in the Connecticut River. It seems to me that long lasting, clear memories may very well be related to the flow of adrenalin at the time.

So, here’s the thing that in light of all this seems awkward, maybe a bit ridiculous, and probably for some, hard to believe. I do remember every last detail about killing my first, huge, 8-point buck in Vermont, on the last day of the deer season. I have quietly cherished my deer’s antlers that presently are prominently displayed on the wall of my socalled “man cave.”

On weekends, during the deer season, my Dad and I had hunted in Vermont, getting up at an awful hour, cooking oatmeal in a double boiler, and being sure we had all our essential equipment for our long trip in the predawn darkness to his favorite hunting grounds.

My mother rightfully never appeared in the kitchen at any such an hour. A bowl of oat meal was all it took, and we were off. It was about a one and a half hour trip to our destination. My Dad was an accomplished hunter, and usually successful. I was neither. Toward the end of the deer season, my mother always let my Dad know that enough was enough, but that didn’t apply to me!

The season in Vermont ended on a Sunday. I wouldn’t consider it now, but then I realized that Sunday was my last chance, so I drove my Nash Rambler to my Dad’s favorite destination, a dairy farm, where he and I had hunted many times before.

I don’t remember the morning’s events, but at noontime it was time to eat the lunch my mother had packed for me. Two bean sandwiches, each cut in half, and two Mackintosh apples. The sandwiches were carefully wrapped in what then was called waxed paper. It was a great feeling seated on top of a mountain all by myself watching everything that moved, and listening.

I remember perfectly the “grunting” sound that has become familiar in later years, of a male deer, no doubt following the trail of a doe. And, he was gradually coming up the mountain, getting louder and louder! I wasn’t sure what was happening, but all of a sudden, impressive antler appeared through the woods on my left side, 50 yards away. And, the buck was headed my way, just a little below where I sat with my Dad’s .30-.30 rifle in my lap. The deer grunted every few seconds as he walked, head down, in a direction that would soon bring him 15 yards away just below me!

I raised my rifle and aimed at a spot behind his front shoulder two thirds down and one third up, and pulled the trigger. Down he went, grinding his antlers into the leaves. He was a huge, magnificent buck, way over 200 pounds, and I gave sincere thanks for my amazing good fortune.

As best I could, I dressed him out, saving the heart and liver in separate containers. My arms up to my elbows were covered with dried blood and my fingernails full of white, thick deer fat. But, the feeling of satisfaction was overwhelming.

I wrapped his front legs to his antler with my rope to be better able to drag him down the mountain. I remember my chagrin when the rope, wrapped around my waist, broke at the first tug. With more strands of rope, I began to drag the deer down the mountain, but it took all my strength. At that time, it seemed the easiest route was to follow a stream bed, but that was a mistake. The deer and I got hung up on a boulder, and by then I was exhausted. I could go no further, and daylight was fading.

I hung my very noticeable red hat on a limb directly above the deer, and walked about a mile to my Rambler, and drove home. My Dad was watching a television program, and when I entered the room, he said, “You’ve shot a little buck?” I replied, “I’ve shot the biggest buck in the state of Vermont and need help dragging him out of the woods!” My mother was wide eyed and obviously very pleased!

I remember my Dad began pulling on his heavy wool socks and boots. It was an unforgettable moment, and he and I headed north in the darkness to the familiar dairy farm. I worried about my ability to find the deer a long way above us on the side of the mountain, but with flashlights we headed up there. It was past midnight. At the exact moment when my flashlight shown on my red hat, the wind blew it to the ground, so our arrival time was remarkably perfect.

I remember that my Dad was genuinely impressed with the size of the deer and its antlers. When he hitched his rope to the deer, it was easy for both of us to drag my buck down the mountain to my car. I could never have lifted the deer into the back of my car without my Dad’s help. Even then it was a struggle.

The antlers displayed on the wall in our home have inscribed on the metal brass plate, “Dad. Our First Deer. 1957.” All this happened 60 years ago. As most old people like to say, “It seems like yesterday.” And it does.

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