Tag Archives: Deer

I Can Tell A Tree Branch From A Deer For Chrissakes! – The Rest.


I touched my Dad on the shoulder and he swung around.  “You hear that?” I whispered.  You always have to whisper.  Deer can’t hear humans whispering.

“Hear what?” He said.  His response wasn’t a whisper.

“Those twigs snapping and that clumping sound, it was definitely a deer. Something back by those trees over there.  Yeah, look I see it?”  I was still whispering.

He followed my extended arm.  “I don’t see anything. Where?”

“Right there. See?”  I pointed again, starting to get a little agitated.
The shape of a magnificent buck, the one from “Bambi”, was standing just out of the tree line.  He was standing proudly, just visible through the fog, his nostrils flaring, sniffing for the telltale signs of humans with guns.

See that buck in the background? That's what I'm talking about. I saw it.

“Do you see ‘em, Dad?  He’s gotta be an eight-pointer! Six-pointer at least.” I whispered again, but a little louder due to my excitement at spotting the animal in the distance.  It’s hard to whisper when you’re excited.

 A six-point buck, for those uninitiated, is a good-sized male deer with three brow tines on each antler. One who has made it through a few hunting seasons in order to grow antlers that size.  An eight-pointer, even bigger, and older.

“I don’t see a damn thing. Are you sure?”  He still wasn’t whispering.
Well, I didn’t think I was hallucinating this buck, but I might have been. In preparation for my shot, I lifted the rifle to my shoulder and looked through the scope.  The buck was there, lined up in the cross hairs.

“Whoa,” my Dad finally whispered, stating toward me.  “Are you sure it’s a deer?”

I shook my head in affirmation and sighted the buck again. He had turned his head to the right and I brought the sight lines just below the base of his skull.  I was certain he was looking right at me.  You know how when you look at someone through binoculars and you swear they looked right at you but they couldn’t possibly have seen you with the naked eye?  The buck didn’t budge.  He probably figured out what he had walked into by that time and didn’t figure there was much he could do about it but hope I missed.

My Dad was watching me carefully.  “Go ahead,” he said, “if you’re sure.  Don’t jerk it.”

I slowly squeezed the trigger. You have to squeeze the trigger or the rife will jerk up and you’ll miss. The still, morning air, was shredded by the sound of an explosion.  The rifle slammed into my shoulder so hard I had to choke back a cry.  You don’t cry on hunting trips.

When the last echo of the rifle shot subsided I looked to where the buck had been standing.  I didn’t see anything.  No deer body writhing in pain on the ground by the tree.  No deer blood.  No deer brains splattered on the tree trunk, nothing.  I was secretly glad.  Almost within the same instant of squeezing the trigger, I wondered how I would have felt had I killed the animal.

“Well, let’s go have a look,” my Dad said.

He found the bullet lodged in the tree about three feet higher than the head of an average buck.  At least I had hit the tree.  Not bad, I figured from that distance.

“Missed him, I think,” he said.

“Scope must be off,” I said.  It was the only possible explanation you see.

He checked the area around the tree explaining that he was looking for any signs that I might have wounded the animal.  You didn’t let any animal go off and die if you were the one responsible for shooting it.  You had to track it until you finished the deed.  That was humane.

My Dad reached up and broke off a “six-point” branch off the tree.  It looked remarkably like a deer antler.

“Think this is your buck?” he asked.

“No.” I said it with some manner of indignation.  “I can tell a tree branch from a deer for chrissakes.”

“Watch it son,” he warned.  “Okay, let’s work this area a little, but if you missed him we probably won’t see anything around here for hours now with all the racket”.

He was a little upset with me for ruining his chances of getting a deer on that particular morning.  If you shoot, you don’t miss, I guess.  And if you don’t miss there’s no need to carry all that extra ammunition either.  After all, he never saw the buck.  If he had, I would never have been allowed to take that shot.  He would have been all over it for a trophy with them kind of braggin’ rights.

“My feet are freezing,”  I whined, wishing he would call the whole thing off and we could just go home.

He reached into an inside vest pocket and pulled out a fifth of whiskey and screwed off the cap.

“Try this,” he said, and handed me the bottle.

“I grabbed it and gulped down a big swig of the golden brown liquid, just like I’d seen him do many times.  My stomach instantly burst into flames.

“Take another,”  he said with a small smile curling his lips.

“No thanks, I’m good,” I choked out.  “I feel better now.”  I added that last part so that he wouldn’t think that I wasn’t tough enough to take it. My feet were still cold and my stomach was smoldering.  I felt a little like throwing up.

My Dad took an ample swallow from the bottle then slid it back into his pocket.  He took a cigarette from the pack in his vest, and tapped the filter end on the side of the box a couple times, and put it in the corner of his mouth.  He cupped a lighted match in his hands and the cigarette glowed red. He crushed the match out on the ground by twisting the toe of his boot so the match was safely out and buried under the soil.  He dragged heavily on the cigarette and exhaled smoke mixed with his breath into the cold air.  Standing there in his gray felt cowboy hat with the cigarette hanging from his lips, I couldn’t help but think that he looked like he belonged there, a true Wyoming hunter, even though he had been born and raised in Long Island, New York.

I, on the other hand, knew with some degree of certainty that I belonged back home in bed.

“Better get on after that buck,” he said.

We never saw another thing all day. The fog lifted, after the sun got higher in the sky, and I still have my feet.

I let my Dad read this story once, years later, and he returned it to me saying “I’m sorry you had such a bad childhood.”

I asked him how the hell he got that from this story.

“I’m just sorry,” he said.

I think he was just sorry I hadn’t gotten that buck.

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I Can Tell A Tree Branch From A Deer For Chrissakes!


My last two posts have been a little, well, like ranting, so I thought I would switch up a bit, and run a story that I wrote a long time ago about my Dad and our deer hunting trip.  I thought of my Dad, and this story, yesterday as I listened to a friend who had lost his father to pancreatic cancer a few days before.  But what I really want to know is your impression of what the story is trying to say.  You’ll see at the end what my father thought.  I think he was way off base…

The fog was thick and heavy in the valley.  We could see maybe 50 yards at best and it showed no signs of lifting.  It seemed to be getting thicker as we walked.  It was 5:30 in the morning, late October, and cold, to me, really cold.  I was standing there worrying about how long I would still be able to feel my feet, wishing with all my fifteen-year-old heart that I was still in bed.
Still I was forcing myself to listen for any movement, any sound. A twig snapping or leaves crunching under an animal’s hooves that would spring me into action.  I was ready.  All I could hear was the soft rustling of the Aspen trees.

“Not going to see much in this soup,” my Dad said, breaking the icy silence.

He had been planning this father-son excursion for many weeks and the weather was not making him happy.  He usually walked in front of me, so I rarely heard what he said.  He would occasionally turn back towards me when he said something so I wouldn’t have to answer the standard, “yeah, I guess.”  This particular time he turned around and looked at me, maybe just to make sure he could still see me in the fog.

Valley fog, as this is called, is a result of heavier cold air settling into a valley, with warmer air passing over the mountains above.  Fog like this can stay for several days depending on the conditions, so it wasn’t like the sun was going to automatically “burn” this off, but my Dad said it anyway.

“It’ll burn off when the sun gets up and we warm up some,” he said.

It wasn’t my first hunt, although this was the first time out that I could remember where it was just me and my Dad.  I was gingerly carrying a thirty aught six pointed correctly toward the ground in front of me, the way my father had taught me.  I always thought you walked with the gun slung over your shoulder, I mean it does have a “shoulder” strap, but my Dad insisted the safest way to carry a loaded rifle was by holding it under the stock and point it toward the ground.  Personally, I thought it might improve the chances of shooting one of our feet off, but I didn’t argue.  My Dad obviously knew.  He had made many “safe” trips into the mountains foraging for food.

I had no desire to be a hunter, never have.  I still don’t like the taste of wild game.  I understand the logic of hunting seasons.  Without this human intrusion into the wild to cut down the populations of deer and elk, the limited food supplies in the winter would not be enough to sustain the growing herds. Killing actually guarantees survival of the majority.  It’s simple management of a natural resource—and commonly referred to as “sport” in northern Wyoming.

Every Fall, thousands of gun-totting, Jim Beam-swilling, Coors (pronounced Curs)-drinking marksmen, true macho men, head for the foothills in search of deer, elk, bear, rabbit, pheasant, duck and other assorted “natural” food sources.  They get drunk, lost, cold and sometimes shot at.  They walk for miles chasing and circling an animal that’s often been through this before and somehow knows the game.  I figured the deer could spot us pretty good too since we were all wearing bright orange vests or hats, the purpose of which was to reduce the possibility of other hunters shooting us, since, of course, deer don’t wear vests or hats.  I didn’t learn until later that deer only see in black and white, so bright colors don’t matter much if you’re trying to hide from a deer, only if you’re trying to be seen by other hunters.

If you manage to “bag” one of these animals, it must, of course, be gutted. This is a totally disgusting exercise for most of us I would think.  I know it was for me.  I could barely stand to gut fish.  This “gutting” is done out in the wild which, two-fold, serves as a food source for scavengers, and lowers the weight of the carcass making it easier to haul out of the forest.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of gutting an animal, particularly a deer, consider yourself lucky unless your future dream is to be, maybe a surgeon, and warm, steamy, sticky blood and entrails doesn’t faze you much.  I found that it generally made me throw up in my mouth.

Then you have to haul, mostly drag, the corpse through miles of freezing forest.  Up hills that didn’t look so steep going down, and thrown in the back of a pick up truck, or slung over the fender of the car in transit to its final destination: the garage.

Here the hunter’s prize is hung to “age” the meat, but it’s real purpose, I think, is to show it off to the neighbors who haven’t or didn’t get a deer this season, and to drive the neighborhood dogs into a frenzy.  I hear it a lot, but “aging” doesn’t sound like a good thing for something generally refrigerated to keep it fresh.  None of these deer carcasses, hanging around in the neighborhood garages, were in refrigerators, but I guess it was cold out most of the time.

In order to get home to the garage, you have to first pass a Forest Service check-point where a government employee, getting double-time for working on a Sunday, confirms that you have indeed killed and gutted an animal that you have a permit to kill and gut.  Not a mule, horse or cow, for example. Trust me, it happens.

There was a song out there back in the 60s, written by singer song writer, Doug McGuire, titled “Bernard the Mule”. I doubt that it was ever on the top 100, but it always made me remember those hunting trips with my father.

“Way up in Wyoming where the weather was cool, Up on the mountain stood, Bernard, the mule.”

Then in the chorus, “Oh Bernard, I’da never turned you loose. If I’da thought, Bernard, they’d mistake you for a moose.”

The song nears its end where the government employee at the check point sees that the California hunter, who has probably never seen a moose before, has done shot hisself a mule. He looks at the shoes, the brand, and the government number stamped on him, and “he smiles and says ‘Got some mighty fine meat!”

I mean the mule is already dead and slung over the fender of the truck so there isn’t much the game warden can do.  Anyway, it’s rumored to be based on a true story, and Davie Coulter whose name appears in the song as saving “Bernie’s rear from a dog-food can”, actually is/was alive and well in Wyoming somewhere.  (I’m doing this all from memory.  I know the song by heart.  I used to sing it every time I had a few drinks and wanted to humor myself more than those in attendance.   A few years ago I found a copy of the original 45 rpm record, online, and had to have it.  Yes, I have something to play it on.)

Anyway, like I said, I had no desire to be a hunter, but I was 15 and this was Wyoming.  It was necessary for the attainment of manhood.  My eyes scanned the lower tree line.  My feet were turning into solid blocks of ice and I was silently cursing myself for not putting on that fourth pair of socks.  Then I heard it, a couple of heavy thumps and the snap of a twig.  Off to the left, just back of where we had come.


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