The following information on deer hunting trips comes from Chapter 14 of How to Hunt Deer by Edward A. Freeman. How to Hunt Deer is also available to purchase in print.
Now that we have a slight understanding of the basic principles of deer hunting, and some of its many problems, why don’t you, in fancy, come along up to the Maine wilderness—where the bucks are big and the bears are black—on a little deer hunting trip? I will be your guide—the best guide in sixteen counties—but don’t let it get around cause if you do I will be so busy guiding that I will have no time for hunting, and I like to hunt.
We will have to hoof it into camp from the highway. It’s just a little hike, but we had better hurry to make it before dark. Not that there is anything to worry about, but the steaks will be cold unless we’re there to eat them. Hear that noise in the distance? Another of those bobcats starting out for his evening hunting. We may hear an owl before dark, but they usually keep quiet until later. Hold it! See that bull moose? No, not there. Over there by those willows down by the edge of the bog. Big one, ain’t he? Don’t try to shoot one of those fellows. They’re protected, but I am afraid that it will not do much good. They’ve got moose sickness and until the biologists can find some way to prevent that, the moose haven’t much chance of making a comeback here in Maine.
Well! There’s the camp. And there’s our host, waiting to greet us. You know what he will say? “Welcome to the camp. You should have been here last week. The conditions were perfect then and the deer were everywhere. Now it’s not so good.” That’s the standard approach. It sets up an alibi. If you don’t get a deer, that lets him out. It ain’t his fault, but the weather’s. All of you who have ever hunted or fished or are married men, know the value of a good reason for not bringing home the bacon, or delivering the goods. He happens to be right this time and conditions don’t look good for tomorrow. But never mind, conditions can change overnight here in Maine.
Well, here we are back in camp. No deer today. That dry, hard, frozen ground, covered with frozen leaves and sticks, was so noisy that we spooked every deer within miles of camp and when we tried to drive one to a stand, they all ran the wrong way. We all feel better now as we gather in the living room with our bellies full of steaks cut from the deer I killed a week ago. Sure it’s illegal to eat it, but who is there among us who doesn’t think forbidden fruit the sweetest, and besides, the game warden is quite a ways from here.
Things look better for tomorrow. There was a circle around the moon last night. A snowbank in the southwest this afternoon. The scent of snow has been in my nose for the last two hours and the wind is beginning to act kind of shifty. Hear that owl? Notice how hollow he sounds? Yep! Snow before morning and that means a deer before night. So drag your chairs up to the fireplace, see that there’s a full bottle on the table—remember that now is the only time that a bottle has any place on a hunting trip—and I will tell you of a hunt that occurred a while back.
I will have to make it short, because we want to get an early start on the morrow.
Perhaps I had better tell you of one of my first deer hunting trips that happened before I was old enough to have a hunting license. This wasn’t in Maine, but deer hunting is the same wherever we hunt and this incident could happen to anyone.
I had never hunted game with a pump-action shotgun and on this day, I borrowed a friend’s gun of that type and went out to try to get a deer. Not knowing just where to look, I roamed the woods on the off-chance of seeing a big buck that was blind and hard of hearing, or one that would let me walk up to him for some other reason.
There was about an inch of snow on the ground which made traveling kind of quiet, but all of the deer tracks I saw were old and not worth following. Probably it wouldn’t have made much difference if I had found a fresh track ’cause, at that time, I didn’t know how to take advantage of a fresh track anyhow.
After a while I came to a thick growth of hardwood sprouts. There was a woods road running through which made easy walking, and I took this road. The brush was thick on both sides of the road and the only place where I had a clear view was right down the middle. All of a sudden, a deer jumped into the road ahead of me. I brought the gun to my shoulder, but by that time the deer had crossed into the brush on the other side. While I was trying to get another glimpse of it, a second deer jumped into the road and I swung back to cover this one. This deer also crossed before I could get my sights on it. This happened with two other deer and I never fired a shot. But, when the fifth deer jumped into the road, he did something that very few deer ever do. He turned and ran down the road, directly away from me. This time I sent a charge of buckshot right into his rear end. Of course, he kept on going and I stood there and tried to pull the trigger guard off the gun, thinking it was the second trigger of my double barrel. I never thought of the pump action until that deer was long gone. Feeling kind of bad about wounding the deer, I followed the blood trail for about two miles. The deer rejoined the others and they traveled together until they came to a river which separated two states, where I left the trail.
Do you need any help with that corkscrew, Jim?
Another time I was hunting down state, with my trusty .38/55. This is one of the most dependable guns I ever owned. It has never failed me, except one time when I broke the loading gate, and another time when I tried some reloaded fodder—loaded with homemade black powder. It is best not to fool with such stuff unless you know what you’re doing. Black powder fouls up everything. I had hunted all morning without a bit of success and, since I was near home when noon came, I went to the house for lunch.
I had some “little ones” around at that time, and I jacked the cartridge out of the barrel when I took the gun inside. However, I left the cartridges in the magazine. After eating, I went in another direction, thinking deer might be in that locality.
I hadn’t gone far, following a game trail up over a ridge, when I detected motion in the trail ahead. I stopped and awaited developments. A big doe and fawn came down trail towards me. Now in a case like this, I like to wait and see what the deer will do. In this instance, I knew well enough that the doe would keep coming until she saw me, then would swing broadside and stop for a short time until she had positively identified me.
While I waited, I considered how lucky I was to find my deer so near the road and with a down-hill haul all the way. The doe came to a point within a hundred feet of me before she saw me. When she did, things happened as I expected, and I swung the gun so that the sights were lined on her shoulder. I squeezed the trigger, and nothing happened except the click of the hammer on the firing pin. I had forgotten to jack a cartridge into the barrel when leaving the house. At the click of the gun, the doe took off through the brush. She made a half circle around me at a distance that never exceeded two hundred feet, always in sight through the trees. I fired six shots at her without ruffling a hair on her hide. Such slight things will upset the nervous system of most of us and I had a serious case of buck fever at that time. Oh well! There is always another deer.
Speaking of unsuccessful morning hunting, three of us had such a morning some years ago in the woods of our Somerset County.
There had been a heavy, damp snow during the night. It stuck to the trees so the woods were very quiet—you know that such stuff on trees will absorb any sound a hunter might make. These conditions make ideal hunting, if a man doesn’t mind a little snow down his neck; but the deer seldom move about on their own. A hunter must stalk their beds or kick them out in order to have a track to follow—if he expects to do much. We hunted all morning without finding a track. By noon, we were soaked to the skin and ready to call it a day. Leaving the woods we went to a farmer’s house, where we’d left the car. The farmer invited us in to dry out and eat our lunch. We were thirty miles from home and hated to leave without a deer.
After eating, we talked it over and, as we were nearly dried out and as the snow had dropped from the trees, we decided to put in the afternoon hunting in a nearby area. Parking the car at the side of the road, we started into the woods. Ten feet from the edge of the woods, in a large chopping, we found fresh deer tracks. We had a council of war and decided to separate and circle the chopping in an effort to see if the deer had left. If they hadn’t, one of us would scare them into gun range. As luck would have it, I picked an edge of the chopping which contained a road where there was easy walking, yet where I was partly screened from the open.
I hadn’t gone far when I heard a shout from one of my companions. Knowing what this meant, I stopped and watched for the deer. Soon I saw a doe and a buck coming from the chopping, heading for the road where I was standing, and in a direction that would put them in good shooting distance when they crossed. When the doe hit the road, I sent a bullet towards her. Instead of crossing, she turned down the road and away from me. I jacked another cartridge into the barrel, but instead of wasting it on her, I waited for the buck.
Actually, I didn’t have to wait, for he was there when I was ready. I fired at him when he reached the spot where the doe had stood when I shot at her. Both deer ran on around a turn of the road out of sight and I had no idea of the results of my shooting. Apparently I had missed both shots. However, in such cases, it is always my rule to investigate, so while waiting for my companions to arrive, I looked the place over. I found a tremendous amount of blood a short distance along the road on the deer’s trail and found the buck dead in the middle of the road, fifty yards from the first blood.
I did not touch him as he was no longer a quarry but merely an inert carcass, no longer interesting. My thoughts followed the doe and I considered her probable actions. We are allowed only one deer in any season, and I had mine, yet since there were three of us in the party, I wanted one of the others to get the doe. When they arrived, I could see that as far as they were concerned, the hunt was over. All their attention was centered on the dead buck with no thought of a living doe which had left a track that we knew was fresh—a track that would have been irresistible earlier in the day.
The excitement of deer hunting affects different people in different ways; and, in this case, the sight of a dead deer clouded the thinking of a man who was ordinarily a very efficient hunter. He had visions of the doe’s traveling for miles as a result of the scare of losing her companion. Those of you who have read my ideas of deer behavior will understand when I disagree with this thinking. I thought that the doe would wait nearby for the buck to join her—it is almost certain that she was in heat—and when I was unable to convert my companions to my convictions, I left them to care for the buck and started to stalk the doe. I found her within three hundred yards and missed one shot, and do you know what that doe did? She went back in search of the buck. I was all finished hunting as soon as I missed her, for I knew that a reaction had set in, caused by my killing the buck, which would seriously affect my shooting for a time, so I followed her tracks back towards the buck. That doe passed within a hundred yards of the dead buck, near enough so that when I arrived at that point I could see my companions dressing out my buck. What do you think of that? True? Every word.
You know there are many odd things which may happen on a deer hunt. “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip” and a hunter never wants to start eating his deer until he has it dressed and hung up. I could tell you of many such cases, some of which happened to me, others which happened to other hunters. Since I want to keep this as accurate as possible—as near truth as is possible without taxing credibility, always bearing in mind that truth is often stranger than fiction—I am going to tell you of a hunt where I was present, but one in which I did no shooting.
I was hunting with several men, including a man with whom I had often hunted. I will not reveal his name as it might cause him embarrassment, even though I am quite sure that there is a statute of limitations on game-law violations.
When quite near this man, I heard him shoot twice. He was using an automatic shotgun and when he pulled the trigger, anything he was aiming at would usually end up dead. He was one of the best wing shots I ever hunted with. Sometimes he would shoot twice at a particularly big deer, and I supposed that this was what he had done in this case. I waited for a short time, on the off-chance that he had missed, for any deer which might be coming my way. I then went over to his position where I found him standing over a nice doe.
Two other men, strangers to me, had arrived there before me. Now this man and I were used to each other’s hunting mannerisms, and were close mouthed among strangers—a Yankee habit which gives us an undeserved reputation as rather cold individuals—so that when he maneuvered to a position where the others could not see, and gave me his signal, I knew he had shot two deer. Glancing in the direction of his pointed finger, I could see nothing; however, I made no investigation until after the strangers had gone their way.
Later, when he had the opportunity, he told me of shooting two deer and of having the disappointment of watching a big buck pass by and not daring to shoot at it because of the possibility of being caught with two in plain sight. We dressed out the doe, then went towards the spot where the other deer had been lying. Before we reached the place, a fawn jumped up and bounded away into the thick woods. We were both so surprised that we stood rooted and watched it disappear. That fawn had been slightly wounded and when it had recovered from the initial shock, it had reverted to babyhood and stayed hidden and quiet until we approached its hiding place.
The big disappointment for this man was that he had not waited for the buck, but he had a good alibi. The buck was a long, long minute behind the doe, and when you think of the distance a deer can travel in that time, you can see that he was wise in taking the doe when he had the chance and not waiting for a buck which might not come.
Speaking about taking what you can instead of waiting for something better, or the “bird in the hand” philosophy, I had a similar experience with the deer that I thought might be a squirrel—recounted elsewhere in the book.
On that day, I started out with the intention of getting a deer for the house. I had been working hard, trying to provide for my family, with little opportunity of getting out into the woods. If you think it is easy for a deer hunter to spend his time during the open season working for wages, you are not a deer hunter.
At the time, I was living on Deer Hill in Kennebec County. Deer Hill was not named for a family by the name of Deer. I have always said that the last deer to be shot in Kennebec County would be from Deer Hill, but I am sorry to relate that most of it has been turned into a chicken farm and the land has been cleared of the apple trees, which were so attractive to game, and turned into an enormous—for Maine—cornfield. And they call this progress!
However, on this day, I crossed the west branch of the Sheepscot River where I was sure I would find deer. I hadn’t gone far before I kicked a half-grown deer out of the brush. He, or she, wasn’t over a hundred feet from me and was an easy shot, but I said, “Run along and grow up and I’ll see you next year.” Darned if I didn’t jump another similar deer within a half-mile of the first and this one stood and presented a broadside shot. Yet I passed it up as I had the first one. Then I came to the squirrel that turned out to be a deer. I shot her, a good doe, but instead of dragging her directly home, took her to the nearest road, which was in the opposite direction from home. Hanging her up in a neighbor’s barn for the night, I walked home.
Homeward, I met a mighty nice buck which stood in the road permitting me to walk within buckshot range before he jumped a stone wall and into a small field where he started feeding. He continued to feed as I walked past in plain sight and not over a hundred and fifty yards away. I was tempted to take him and give my doe to the neighbor who was kind enough to care for her until I could pick her up. I was able to resist the temptation, probably because I was too tired to bother with the job of caring for the second animal.
Speaking of being tired, I had another experience with deer in Kennebec County.
This time, however, I wasn’t deer hunting, but had been out after small game—squirrels, rabbits, birds—with my single-shot 16 gauge. When I started for home shortly before dark, passing through a swamp, I jumped a good buck. Since my gun was loaded with birdshot, I made no effort to get him, but continued my walk homeward. We had three hunting licenses in the family that year, one of them had been filled—the deer was hanging in the shed—so I had no real use for another. But what real deer hunter can resist the impulse to put a shell loaded with buckshot into his gun when he sees a good buck and knows he’s in good deer country! This is what I did, and when I saw another deer shortly afterwards, I could not resist throwing lead at the small buck.
By the time he was dressed out, it was beginning to get dark. I thought of that long, uphill drag to the house. This was a little too much for me to take and I began to feel sorry that I’d given in to the impulse. I decided to hang the deer and return later in the week for it. The weather was cold enough to keep the meat and we did not need it at home. I was in an area of cedars and small firs, with nothing handy to use as an aid in hanging the deer so I cut him in half crossways and hung each half in smooth-holed cedars, high enough to be out of reach of dogs and foxes.
Well, time went on—as time has a habit of doing—and I didn’t get back to the deer for at least ten days. A companion was to carry one half while I handled the other. It would thus be a simple task for us to bring the meat out of the woods. When we approached the trees where the deer hung, we began to see an increasing number of fox tracks. Something was wrong! Perhaps a limb had broken and let one of the halves fall to the ground? I hoped it was the forward half rather than the more valuable rear half. No such luck! The remains of the hind quarters were strewed over the ground at the foot of the tree. The forward half was still hanging in its place and we walked over to see what had happened. When I looked at the tree, I knew. I had not seen a bobcat’s tracks in that area for several years, but a bobcat was responsible for the condition of that deer. There were his telltale claw marks on the bark where he had tried to pull the two quarters of meat from the limb.
Did you ever see bobcat work on a deer? Well, this one had eaten practically every bit of meat from the fore quarters yet had not disturbed the hide, which hung there empty, giving the appearance of an undisturbed piece of meat. I suppose these cats have a place in the world and I don’t mind giving them a feed once in a while, but if I had had that one at my mercy at that moment, I would have gladly killed it and waived the bounty. On the other hand, probably my inherent Yankee thrift would have prevented such foolish action. I would have gone back for his scalp.
Another time on Deer Hill this adventure occurred: My wife said one day, “You will have to go to town today and get some meat for tomorrow.” Now, town was three miles away and money was scarce, so I replied:
“Never mind. I’ll go and get a deer before noon.” Of course, I was bragging some when I said that. What I intended to say was that I would try to get one before tomorrow. Along about ten o’clock I took the gun and went into the woods with the intention of stalking a bedding area about a half mile from the house. Before noon I was back asking for help in dragging a six-point buck from the woods.
This is what happened. Hardly had I reached the edge of the bedding area where I was carefully treading a deer trail, when I came to a small natural clearing. This clearing was caused by water standing in a slight depression for most of a year. It was dry at this time and covered with grass and very low bushes. As I glanced across this clearing, I saw a deer. This was one of the few buck whose antlers I saw before shooting. The very instant that I spotted it, I fired. As I pulled the trigger, I thought, “That’s the shortest legged deer I ever saw!” I never realized that he was in his bed until he leaped up when struck by the bullet, and ran into the woods. He didn’t go far, and I wasted the second bullet that I sent after him as it didn’t connect.
Yes, Kennebec County was a good place, and still is, but there are a lot of hunters there now and more land is being posted every year. I don’t know what will happen, but I still have a little piece of brush land in the Deer Hill area and maybe some day I’ll build a little shack there and spend a few days in an effort to see if deer still use the same trails and crossings of ten years ago. I am sure that they do, for deer seldom make permanent changes over the years.
Years ago, I was hunting with a companion and we took a canoe across a rather large lake. We had no luck by mid-afternoon so we decided to return to camp for the evening hunting. Although the wind was in our faces, blowing a small gale, we headed into it as we knew it would probably continue to blow until sunset. Under such conditions, we always keep as near the shoreline as possible to avoid a long swim in case of an upset—a real danger in windy weather.
There was a headland that consisted of a steep ledge with deep water right up to shore. When we came to it—paddling not over six or eight feet from shore, keeping in the lee of the cliff—my companion in the bow looked up on the cliff-side and cried, “Look!” He dropped his paddle and reached for his gun.
I looked up and there on a narrow ledge—a hundred feet above—was a bear. He had been eating blueberries, but about the time that I saw him, he started scrambling up the side of the almost perpendicular cliff. If you’ve never seen bears in action, you have no idea of the speed and agility they possess. Talk about cats. They’re slow compared to bears, clumsy looking critters though they may be.
The bear was directly above the canoe on our right when we both shot. This put us out of shooting position. The recoil of our two guns unbalanced the canoe for an instant and by the time we had recovered our balance and jacked another shell into our guns, the bear had disappeared over the top.
My companion looked at me, I looked at him, and the same idea hit us at the same moment. What would have happened if we had hit that bear? Would we have killed it or would we have wounded it? In either case it would have fallen and landed in or near our canoe. A dead bear would have broken the canoe in half, falling from a hundred feet. But suppose the bear had been wounded? Think of the situation. Two men and a wounded bear struggling in the water within eight feet of each other. What a scene for a movie shot!
The best of us will make mistakes of judgment at the unexpected sight of game. Luckily we both missed the bear. It took us nearly an hour to find a landing place and to climb to the spot where the bear had been. We didn’t go deer hunting that evening.
Another time a small group of us went on a combined deer and bear hunt near the town of Emden, down state, where bears had been doing some damage. Now bear hunting is a great sport, but hunting Maine bears is a tough proposition. I am not good enough to risk my guiding reputation by handling bear hunters. If you think our bears are no different from other bears, just ask some of the best bear hunters in the south what they think of our product. There are some pretty cagey animals in the Maine woods—and they are not all wild.
We split up and started to hunt, each in his own individual manner. I was not too experienced with bear hunting, yet I knew the chances of seeing a night-loving bear roaming around in the daytime were pretty slim. Traveling through the woods, I checked signs of both deer and bears. There were plenty of both and the strong, unmistakable smell of bears was in the air. I poked around in the likely hiding places, finally coming to a large boulder where there was a good-sized cave under the rock.
Pointing my gun barrel ahead, I cautiously peered into the cave. My heart came into my mouth for I detected movement in the dark recesses. I did not lose complete control, however, although the gun barrel wobbled so that I could not center the sights on the animal. I don’t like to shoot unless I am reasonably certain of my target, and by the time I had settled down enough to do serious work with the gun, I had recovered composure enough to identify my game as a porcupine. What a letdown! I never saw a bear or a deer that day, although I found a wild bee tree in a swampy area which I could use as a bait at some later date, to attract a bear to me as I waited in a stand nearby. I never did.
You probably don’t know it, but I am a reformed poacher. No, the wardens didn’t reform me. I woke up to the fact that such actions are not fair to you boys, to the rest of the guides, or to the people of Maine. I have even stooped so low as to sell deer to unsuccessful hunters, but in some of these cases it was sympathy for them rather than money which influenced me. I hate to see any hunter who has hunted diligently for a week or so go back home without his deer. Again, I believe that any man who is willing to spend his money here hunting should have some concrete return. I have no sympathy for the man who sits around camp all day, drinking and playing poker instead of getting out into the woods and enjoying our great out-of-doors. I don’t care whether he goes home empty-handed or not; he has got just what he came for. But the case of the unsuccessful one who has hunted diligently is different.
Some years ago, there was an out-of-state hunter who came to Maine and hunted for a week, but due to inexperience or bad luck, he failed to bag a deer. For some reason he did not hire a guide. Perhaps lack of money or a desire to hunt on his own was the reason. At any rate, the day before he was to leave he stopped at my place to admire a deer which we had hung the day before. It was not a very good deer, just a small buck. Still, any deer would look good to a man in his situation. This buck had been wounded and, although it had been tracked until dark, it did not die until sometime in the night. I had tracked it the next morning and by the time I found it, some animal—probably a fox—had eaten the fat that surrounds the base of the tail, so that the tail was missing or detached from the body.
This man expressed a wish to purchase the carcass. I was beginning to have conscience pangs at this time and was reluctant to let him have the buck. I pointed out all of the poor features of the animal, even the missing flag. He asked what had happened to it. I explained that it was a young buck and probably never had any tail. I sold him the deer and gave him in detail the tale of the hunt. I will bet that he has been back to Maine for another deer and I hope he has learned enough about the animals so that he has never needed to purchase another deer without a tail.
Speaking of poaching days and incidents. Jacking of deer is one of the easiest methods of bagging one of these animals. There is no sport in it, but it is used by poachers when there is a ready-made market for deer. Here in the deep woods, it is not so easy as in the more open areas down state. I have put a lot of thought on this problem since I reformed. The Fish and Game Commission and the Legislature have wasted a lot of time in trying to stop this practice by prohibitory means. I do not know why they have never asked a poacher how to prevent the jacking and selling of deer. Almost any of them would say, “If we didn’t have so many willing customers, there would be no object to killing deer for sale.”
This would not solve the problem, and I would hate to see the day when the wardens cracked down on our visiting hunters by investigating every deer shot in Maine. Such an investigation would be impossible, but our wardens are likely to try anything once.
I wish that in the early days of conservation, the lawmakers had given serious thought to the control of market hunting instead of outlawing it. It seems to me that a few expert jackers could have been licensed and given permits to sell a certain number of deer to unsuccessful hunters who failed to bag their game in a lawful manner. Such a system might have worked. But as it is, deer hunting, with all its faults, is still a pretty clean sport.
A lot of planning goes into a deer hunt. We guides do much work in making and revising our plans as the occasions occur that the average hunter doesn’t realize.
For example, I was planning a hunt one evening which was to take place the next day, when it began to snow. Going out about midnight, I drove over the roads which surrounded my hunting territory. I knew that there would be few, if any, fresh tracks in the morning, and that it was important that I have some idea of the movements of the deer during the night. I found a large buck’s track where he had crossed a road and I chose him as the object of the next day’s hunt. In the morning, I went into the woods where I was sure the buck would be bedded down, found him and jumped him out. Previously, I had sent my companion to a crossing which I suspected the deer would use. That buck fooled me and picked another crossing. Then the fun began. I followed that buck and tried to get my companion on the proper crossing. That old buck wouldn’t cooperate. He kept on picking the wrong crossing all day long. We never did get him, although I might have been able to bag him on some occasions when I caught a glimpse of him. I didn’t want him; he was my companion’s deer. He didn’t want to bag a deer by having the guide do the shooting. He was a sportsman and a deer hunter.
Another time when hunting alone, I found a track quite late in the afternoon. There was every indication of a snowstorm in the offing, so I decided this deer had left his bed earlier than usual to fill his paunch before the storm. I followed his track until I found out he was heading for a feeding area. Then I planned the hunt. Should I go into that feeding area so late in the day with the chance I could stalk him in the fast diminishing interval before dark, or should I leave him alone until morning and stalk his bed? I decided to wait because the approaching darkness might result in poor shooting that could lead to a wounded deer which I would not be able to locate in the morning.
Next day I kicked him out of bed without getting a shot. I followed him for a time and wounded him, breaking his leg in the process. My own fault. I tried a shot that was way out. I tried to estimate the distance and raised my rear sight for the distance, but undershot.
After I broke that buck’s leg, I followed him for a time until he went into an area where the woods had been cut off some years back and had grown up to clumps of small firs. I rounded one of these clumps and there stood the deer with his tail to me, his head turned around as he tried to clean the wound in his leg. He was not over twenty-five feet from me. At that distance, in that position, he was a dead deer. I drew a bead on him right between his eyes and tried to end his suffering. He went down, but before I could jack another cartridge into my gun, he bounced up and was gone, leaving an antler on the ground. I had forgotten to lower my sight to its normal position after the last shot. I got that buck, but only after a chase that lasted four hours. He never gave me another opportunity to get close and I was lucky to bag him at all, even handicapped as he was by a broken leg.
I don’t like to go back to my poaching days, but three-legged deer brings back memories of a night when I was foolish. I spotted a deer unexpectedly and, instead of walking to it before killing it, I took a shot from a distance. While I don’t want to tell any of the secrets of successful deer jacking, I think it is safe to tell you that the light distorts everything to a certain extent. Unless a jacker takes this sighting difficulty into consideration, he is apt to miss any but the closest of shots. I made a mistake in judgment and broke the deer’s front leg. I am apt to undershoot with my gun. The deer was in a big field and I was between it and the nearest woods. I expected to kill the deer with my first shot, or if wounded, it would come towards me in an effort to reach cover. Instead of doing this, the deer headed for the woods to our right. I knew there was a trail there which the deer would try to reach. We were about the same distance from the entrance to the trail and I decided to try to beat the deer to the woods rather than try to hit a running target after I had failed to kill the standing deer. We had about two hundred yards to go and if I had had a ten-foot handicap, the race would have ended in a dead heat. As it was, I killed the deer on the run at a distance of about fifteen feet.
Speaking of close shots, two years ago I had an experience that I would hesitate to mention if there had not been a witness to the occurrence. I was sitting flat on the ground with my feet extended in front of me and my back against a tree as I watched a crossing while two companions tried to drive a deer by me. Now my shooting position was all wrong (alibi) and I could not shoot anywhere except where I expected the deer to cross.
After a while I saw two deer coming through the trees towards the crossing. They were not very big deer (another alibi). Before the deer reached the open area at the crossing, they turned and came along as though they were going to pass in the woods to my left at a distance of about a hundred feet. I tried to get a bead on them as they approached, but the trees and shaggy brush prevented a sure shot (alibi 3). They came nearly opposite me and turned directly towards me, presenting a narrow target (alibi 4). They ran directly towards me and at a distance of ten feet they separated and gave me two targets (alibi 5). One deer passed in front of me and his footprints were not over two feet from my feet as they extended out from the tree. The other went behind me and the tree, not over six feet away. I fired two shots and where the bullets went, nobody knows. I know and you know that it is impossible for any reasonably good shot to miss a deer that is three feet from his gun muzzle, but that is what happened on this occasion.
This just goes to prove that a man with forty years’ experience is no different from a rank amateur at times. It shows that we guides are human, just as you boys are, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. How about passing the bottle, Fred?
Do you know how we guides get a reputation for being experienced in the matter of helping our clients bag their deer? This case is not typical but merely an example.
I had a young fellow come to me one time. He was not a paying guest but a boy who lived nearby. I knew that he had done some hunting but had never bagged a deer. He told me he was never able to find or see any deer. I always like to give a little aid to these young men when I have the chance, so when he said that he was sure he could get a deer if I would only take him out and show him one, I decided to give him a lift, right then. Since it was midafternoon, I thought his best chance would be to go to an abandoned orchard and wait for a deer to come after apples.
We had a walk of nearly half a mile along an abandoned road to reach the orchard and as soon as we reached the woods I knew why he had never shot a deer. He talked continuously. He didn’t care where he put his feet. He waved his arms as he talked, and worst of all, he waved the gun in his hands. When I saw his actions, I made him walk in front of me as I was in danger of my life. With him in front, I could at least see what he was doing and might be able to dodge if anything went wrong.
We came to a deer crossing where I pointed out to him that it might be a good place to watch at some future time. He had a habit of turning his head over his shoulder as he talked and all of a sudden he brought his gun to his shoulder and pointed it back along the road. I hit the dirt. I thought he had lost his mind and was about to shoot me. After he had fired, I looked down the road and there lay an eight-point buck deader than a mackerel—shot through the neck. That fool buck had tried to cross the road while that fool hunter was gabbing away like a runaway gramophone.
Do you know that till this day that fellow thinks I am the greatest guide who ever lived because I helped him shoot his first deer. He wonders why I’ve never taken him on another deer hunting trip. I always tell him that since he learned to hunt, I would rather help some other young man. I don’t know whether he ever shot another deer, but with luck like that, anything is possible.
Some of you city fellows are slightly nervous about bobcats if you happen to be out after dark. I can assure you that usually they are perfectly harmless. Of course, there are exceptions. Once in while an old cat may have trouble in catching enough rabbits for its needs. It may be unable to bring down a small deer. Or it may be afflicted with some disease similar to rabies. The likelihood of meeting one of these exceptional cats is slight, but it is better not to take any chances and to kill any cat that you see. The bounty will help pay for a hunting trip.
I had an encounter with one of these cats when I was a young man. I was courting a girl at the time who lived about four miles away by the road, but I could cut through the woods and make it about three-quarters of a mile. I liked this girl pretty well and had a well-trodden trail to her house.
One moonlight night when I was coming home kind of late—you know how it is—I had a feeling that I was being followed. Maybe you know the feeling—nothing you can put your finger on, yet something that keeps turning your head in nervousness. Once, turning my head, I caught a glimpse of something on the trail behind me. It couldn’t be a bobcat, because they are harmless. But are they? I had heard tales of their attacking men, but that is all hogwash, I thought. Just the same, what would I do if I were a bobcat on the trail of a man? Well! I would go to a tree and wait my chance to jump him from above. Then I remembered a big maple tree a short distance ahead and I thought what an ideal place for a jump! The tree had a limb which extended out over the trail under which I would have to pass.
Now in those days, I was not afraid of man or beast and never turned my course for either. I was king of my domain, whether armed or not. When I came to the large maple and saw an unfamiliar swelling on the limb, I walked bravely under the cat. I kept my eye on it and when it left the limb, intending to land on my shoulders, I stepped to one side. I had good reflexes in those days, and as he went past my body, snarling because he had missed a meal, I caught him by the tail, swung him around in the air, and dashed his brains out on the tree trunk. I never got a scratch.
What’s that, Sumner? Washington County cats don’t have tails? Well! You ought to know. There is plenty of cat bait in the county. I don’t know what else sardines are good for. But I always stick a can in my pocket when I go into the woods. Who knows, I might get hungry enough to eat them!
Speaking of sardines reminds me of the time I backpacked a whole case twenty miles in to my trapline. When I opened the case I found that they were packed in mustard sauce. Bobcats wouldn’t look at them and I thought that I would have to throw the whole case away, but I used them. You know, ‘coons wash their food before they eat it.
Say, Chick, put another log on the fire. Not that one, but that piece of yellow birch—the one with the solid red heart. Most people think wood is wood, but there is a difference. You take beech, now. It is a good hot wood, but you don’t want it in a fireplace. Oak has got a lot of heat, yet it never seems to dry out. It will simmer, stew and boil, even if it has been dried under cover for five years. Give me yellow birch for a fireplace. Old growth that will throw a lot of heat and yet last as it burns with a pretty flame.
Well boys, I think that I had better quit for the night. I am getting kind of tired, and when I get tired I am apt to start drawing on my imagination, and I don’t want to do that. I want to stick to the solid truth. It doesn’t pay to exaggerate.
I think that this old dog will step outside and see if he can find a convenient tree.
Boys, it is time to hit the sack. It is snowing outside and that means a deer tomorrow. But it means getting out at daylight, and daylight comes mighty early, if you sit around for half the night. No, no more for me. I want a steady head and good reflexes for tomorrow. It doesn’t take much of that stuff to throw me off. But I declare, you boys drink mighty fine liquor! Sometimes I wish that I lived in town so that I could enjoy some of it more often. Well! See you in the morning.