Deer Me by Gary Benton
A few years back I had a good hunting buddy, let’s call him Lane. Now, Lane was not your usual hunter. He was, and most likely still is, one of those guys who goes over board not matter what he does. Lane and I were both in the military when we hunted together, so we have since moved apart. I have lost all track of him, but I still remember him. He was one of those guys who just made you feel like an experienced hunter, even if you couldn’t spell the word. See, I usually start my deer scouting and getting a feel for land early in the year, say August or so, and continue up until the season starts. Lane always went with me, but our techniques were a bit different. This story starts in the later part of one of our deer scouting seasons.
The morning was cold as I bent down and placed some tinder on the gray coals from last nights fire. I could see my breath as I blew life into the dying coals and then leaned back to watch the slight wisp of smoke move skyward from my tinder. Suddenly, the tinder caught fire and I added a few small pieces of kindling to get the fire burning better. I cupped my hands on each side of the fire to feel the newly found heat. I enjoyed the cool early mornings on our scouting trips. Mother Nature and I have always been close, and I am sure if I had been born 150 years earlier, I would have been a mountain man.
It took me a few minutes to get Lane up and moving. Well, perhaps more than just a few, see, he likes to sleep in when we camp. I usually don’t mind it much, but this morning we were to scout an old logging road on some private land that ran down a fence line. The road ran parallel to the fence line in an east and west direction. I suspected the bucks and does were moving between the alfalfa field and the river. If they were, we just had to find the spot where they crossed. However, Lane took his usual time to get moving. As my old grandpap would have said, “That man is slower than dripping molasses in the dead of winter.” I had put on a pot of coffee, had two cups of coffee and was cooking breakfast, before he had made his morning toilet and finally got dressed. All he had done so far was complain about the cold and how hard the ground had been the night before. I shuddered to imagine what he was going to say about breakfast!
Breakfast was quickly finished, without a word from Lane, and we were soon at the road. As we slowly moved east I had to constantly remind Lane to keep his voice down (he was listening to his cd player with a headset on). The road had not been used in years, but there were still a few old ruts holding water. Here and there you could spot the tracks of a few deer. The sun had finally broken through the clouds and was starting to shine as I noticed the first real clear track that indicated a deer had crossed that morning. Lane, still half a sleep, had stepped on many of the tracks and that made them harder for me to read. From the depth of the track, as well as the size, it looked like a very healthy buck had crossed the road just a little before we had walked down the trail.
As we reach about mid point of the road, I saw a doe standing off to the right, in some trees. I have always been fascinated watching deer and this day was no exception for me. There is, to me anyway, something magical about seeing wild game in the woods. I don’t have to be hunting to enjoy myself. I stood watching the doe, expecting her tail to twitch up and for her to bounce off, but it did not happen for a while. We were down wind, and stood motionless, so I guess she was unable to detect us.
Or at least she was unsure of what we were, until I heard Lane say, “Come on, I don’t wanna spend all day looking at a dumb doe.” At the first sound of his voice the doe was gone, or it may have been his singing along with the cd he was listening to that scared her away. One thing about Lane when he sings, you get the urge to cry.
The morning and then the rest of the day passed too quickly in my mind and it was soon evening. It had been a productive day. We had discovered where the deer were crossing and I placed a few lines of sewing thread across a couple of trials to see if the deer were moving at night. I wanted to know what was happening in the area. Lane had laughed at me and turned in to his sleeping bag early.
The following morning I decided to sleep in and heard Lane get up, dress and leave the campsite while it was still dark. I knew he was going to put up his tree stand, but I have to admit, I was surprised he was up before daylight. I slept another hour, got up and had a small breakfast. By the light from a false dawn I then walked out into the bush and checked the thread I had placed the night before. Deer, a lot of them from the tracks, had been on the trail since I had set the thread. (In one spot though, I saw where the thread had been broken by Lane’s number eleven size boots). Well, now I at least had an idea now where the deer were moving at night. I did not reset the thread then, but decided I would reset it an hour before dark. I could check it after dark to see it they were moving through the area at dusk too.
It must have been near noon when Lane returned because he had taken a large load to his stand. He was very hungry and over a noon meal of burnt beans and franks (he did the cooking) he told me of his newly constructed home in the tree. From what he told me, Tarzan would have been jealous. He had a plywood floor, railing, a bench that ran 360 degrees around the stand, and a gently sloping full roof. He even had a spot picked out for his portable heater, his radio (he used earphones), and place to hang his lunch box. I asked about a television, but he informed me the reception would be poor. As soon as he had eaten we walk out and took at look. I must say, it was, well, different. Try to imagine a mini-condo, built by someone with very little skill, in a big old oak tree and you have the idea.
We spent the next few months scouting the area and were both very excited when deer gun season rolled around. The day before the big day, we arrived at our usual campsite with my jeep filled with a ton of gear, most of which belonged to Lane. Since we had a little time before dark, I walked to my tree and stuck a reinforced cut piece of plywood in the V of a big oak tree. That and my safety harness would be the whole tree stand. Lane, however, was bend over carrying all of his extra gear to this stand. I had dinner done by the time Lane returned that evening.
An hour before sunrise the next morning we were both in our tree stands. I leaned against the old oak and listened to the early morning sounds as the surrounding woods came awake. At one point I spotted a red fox crossing the road about one hundred feet east of my stand. I always enjoyed this part of the hunt. It was as if the time of the day and the silence gave a man time to think and relax. I took a glance at my watch and noticed deer season had officially opened ten minutes earlier. The sun was peaking over the distant hills and I could see very clearly. It was at that exact moment I noticed a deer moving toward my stand.
I can never figure out how they do it, but deer seem to “just appear” at times. I suspect it is due to the human mind and eyes always moving and we just done see them. But, nonetheless, a nice big buck was coming in my direction and regardless of the number of years I have hunted I got excited. I didn’t raise my rifle or even move. I wanted him to get in close. It seemed to take hours for him to slowly move to within about fifty feet of my stand. As I watched his head lower, I slowly raised my rifle and fired.
I was not the least bit surprised to see the deer jump and then run off toward a group of trees. I placed my rifle on safety, unloaded it, check the chamber, removed the bolt, attached a piece of nylon cord with a locking snap hook to the sling and lowered it to the ground. Once my gun was safely on the ground, I got down out of the tree. It was then I heard Lane running up to my stand.
“Did you get one?” He asked with his eyes dancing with excitement.
“Yep, he’s in that group of pine trees over there.” I said as I pointed off in the direction the buck had gone. “Let’s go get ‘em.” Lance said in a loud voice as he looked off toward where I had pointed.
“Nope. First I am going to have a cup of coffee and then we might go in a bit.” I spoke as I pulled my thermos out of my butt pack and unscrewed the cup.
“Are you crazy! He’ll get away. You’ll have to track him all day!” “Nope, Lane, I got him with a solid hit. Let’s give him time to bleed a bit and find a spot where he thinks he is safe. We rush on him now and his adrenaline will kick in and we will make a mess of it. Let’s let his stiffen up a bit and bleed. He ain’t going no place. Besides it would be cruel to pester the buck now, let him go in peace.” I poured the steaming coffee in the cup and took a drink as soon as I had spoken. Lane, like so many other hunters, did not agree with my plan.
The next twenty minutes were filled with silence and constant shakes of Lane’s head. I guess he thought I had lost my mind. But, I knew from hunting as a youth, if I just let that old buck alone, he would not go far. Finally, I recapped my thermos and moved off toward the trees. Lane, with his rifle at the ready, looked like the military man he was. Only, it was just like I had said, the deer didn’t go far. We found the buck dead, under the low limbs of a tree, maybe 100 feet from my stand.
I continued to hunt with Lane for a few more years and skunked him all but one year. I only know of him filling his tag once, the last year we hunted together. At least I suspect it was a deer, but it was awfully small, so it may have been a large dog with antlers. I spent years attempting to teach Lane to enjoy nature, to spend a great deal of time knowing his hunting area, to scout as often as he could, and to disturb the natural surroundings as little as possible. Well, my lessons never did really take fruit. Hunting is challenge for most of us to a degree, but a lot of it is just plain common sense and doing you homework. You can’t pass any test if you don’t study for it, and I view hunting as a test. So, do you homework, study hard and I will see you at the check in station! Oh, and if you can, leave Lane at home