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A Long Ago Deer Hunt
The cold fall day was filled with falling leaves and the scent of the woods as I crossed the river on a foot log before dark and moved into hardwoods to try and take a White tailed deer.
As early as October in those years of the nineteen seventies there was often frost, and not far into November came the first hard freeze. Not like the warmth we now so often have. The log was only a temporary fix, since the next good flood would probably carry it away, and I would have to return to using my canoe to move back and forth across the water.
In one flooded November crossing, the rains had raised the fast flowing waters to a serious level. You couldn't cross square with the current in a seventeen foot canoe unless you had a real death wish. The thought of getting swept downstream on a dark fast flowing stream made parts of my anatomy contract to a decimal point. What I had to do was keep the craft pointed directly up stream while side sculling with a long paddle. Getting sideways would be a one time mistake. My rifle lay in the bottom while I held the flashlight in my teeth, light shining on the brown flood passing beneath me. I shake my head now at some of the daredevil antics I used to take entirely for granted.
Crossing the main channel was the worst part, and this was after paddling two hundred yards through flooded timber. The water roared and made a lot of noise as it passed around the hardwoods. You could hear it long before you got close to the flow.
I had left the house well before daylight that morning and walked back to the ridge where we now live. The long sloped hogback down to the river bottom was the easiest trail to take, and the sounds of the stream flowing over shoals surrounded me as I crunched down the moonlit slope.
Countless Indians had taken that same trail when they were still masters of this land. I found several arrow heads when we were clearing our present house place, one hundred feet above the stream at the top of the slope. Now it was my turn to hunt these grounds. I'm not nearly the hunter those original owners were but I enjoyed and enjoy it every bit as much. Even more since my stock of good memories has increased.
It took only about fifteen minutes to reach the stump end of the tree. As I stepped from the log the brilliant light of the high moon cast my shadow on a huge White Oak. It was growing next to where the top of the Sycamore had come to rest when it fell. The memory of that shadow is very plain as I write this. I removed my rifle sling from my right shoulder and the heft of the Browning .308 lever rifle felt good in my hand. It meant that I was in the woods carrying a rifle again and that unexpected adventures might be just over the next ridge, or down in the hollow just ahead.
The brown dry leaves cracked beneath my tread as I waded through the bottom land woods to the place I wanted to take a stand. I pushed limbs away from my face as I went, the flashlight hardly needed with moonlight showing the way.
In those days I used no tent blinds or climbing stands or anything similar. It was all just sneaking around through the woods and stopping from time to time to take a seat in a likely looking spot. It was the only way I knew. It is still one of the most exciting and fulfilling ways to hunt deer, one against one no holds barred.
I made my way through the thicket that grew from the river to two hundred yards west, where it then opened up into hardwoods. It was at this edge I took a sitting stand to wait for full daylight. As the sun crept up the squirrels, now mostly on the ground, were out searching for hidden acorns, and a flock of crows had found another excuse to start a raucous riot. With the sun up some now, the moon had paled into second place.
About ten o'clock or so I spotted movement on the Northwest slope of the little valley I was sitting in. It was a buck feeding on acorns as he moved along the slope. He was in full view as I placed the open sights of the rifle on his right side and squeezed the trigger. He dropped right in his tracks, with his knees buckling under him. I got up and made my way to him, and stood there over him for some time admiring the beauty of the nice little six point buck.
I field dressed him and then prepared him for carrying. Kneeling in the leaves, I skinned each leg skin from the hoof back to the knee joint, being careful to leave the dewclaws right on the end of each of the four straps. I then tied the strap from the right front leg to the one on the left rear. The left front strap was tied in the same manner to the right rear. The dewclaws kept the wet rawhide knot from slipping and coming loose.
I now had a pack of venison with built in straps. Leaning my rifle against a tree for easy access, I squatted down and placed my arms through the deer leg straps. With a grunt and a groan the load was up. I grabbed my rifle and headed back down through the corner of the thicket and out into the sage grass field of the old abandoned Masoner farm. I had wanted to stay out of it coming in for fear of spooking any deer that might be feeding in the open.
The fall smell of newly fallen leaves and wild grasses filled the air, and I breathed in their scent like I would never get another breath. The grasshoppers and crickets were making that mellow, laid back fall chirp they make. So different from the grating insect noises they make in the summer. I held onto the buck's rack with one blood smeared hand to keep him from swinging as I walked. The clear blue sky of the fall morning after a frost topped off all of the other sights, sounds, and smells. I glanced down at the deer's head from time to time, feeling the satisfaction you get on a wonderful hunt.
I could see our ridge above the river beyond and wished that I and my load were already there. I made it back to the log and rested my load, leaning against a tree without setting it down. It was much easier to rest in this way, using some tree to carry most of the load while I caught my breath. If I ever sat the deer down, it was tough to lift it again.
As I crossed the log, the clear cold waters of the Middle fork flowed below me, its surface dotted with bunches of colored leaves making their way south. Looking down stream, the branches of Oaks and other hardwoods that overhung the water were laden with colors bunches of brown and of yellow and of scarlet.
I made my way to the foot of the sloping ridge and began my difficult journey to the top. Stopping to rest two or three time I made it to the place where the trail peaked. Looking back out over the river valley, I could see the area across the river where the deer was killed, a half mile away.
It was two hundred fifty yards on to the shed where I dropped my burden. After telling my story to Martha, who is always gets just as excited as me, I rested for awhile, then I hoisted the deer into the limbs of the Oak where I always hung them. The next day I went across in my canoe, I was tired and also didn't want to risk falling from the log. I managed to shoot a three point buck and also brought him back home.
I killed that deer in the same sage grass field I had crossed the day before. He came across right out in the open only one hundred yards from where I tied the canoe. I was out there looking for tracks from several deer, including two nice bucks, I had jumped.
There are the remains of an old Indian mound in that field across the river. It had been disked down by farmers over the generations until it was only a one hundred foot diameter circle a couple of feet higher than the rest of the field. Deer would lie on this I discovered, to keep anything from sneaking up and surprising them. Their sharp eyes could spot danger from their slightly elevated position. I would never have figured out what the raised area was except for those deer. I was standing out there looking around when a little buck came right by me like he was blind. He couldn't have been thirty yards away. We had venison for the winter in those two nice bucks. There would be pleasant days of wood fires in the stove and venison stew with cornbread.
Those deer were killed on a Monday and on a Tuesday in mid-November about thirty or thirty five years ago.I can still smell that fall day, and see those leaves floating high on the clear moving water, and feel the heft of that Browning in my blood smeared right hand as I carried that buck across the stream on my back.