A Deer In The Bathroom by Gary Benton
When I was a kid, hunting was a big part of living in the mountains. Every child by the age of 10 had learned to shoot and had attended basic gun safety training. My weapons safety training, while being somewhat short, was very thorough. My grandpa told me “don’t aim that gun at anything you don’t want to kill and kill what ya aim it at.” That was the extent of it. I’m not so sure it was adequate, but I’ve spent hours in safety courses offered by various state fish and game folks and they say the same thing in a little more than eight hours. My grandpa was never one to talk for an hour when a single sentence would do the job.
Some of the guns you’ll find in the hills would surprise you. I’ve seen old black powder cap and balls, modern 30/30’s, pistols of every caliber and size, and thousands of shotguns. The shotgun appears to be the gun of choice for country folks. I guess primarily because it is very versatile and inexpensive to shoot. I mean with number 6 shot you can hunt ducks, rabbits, and squirrels, and then you can use a slug and go for deer. If you could only afford one gun, most Southerners would make it a shotgun. I’ve even heard of shotguns even being used to escort hesitant grooms to weddings in the hills, so I wonder if those are considered military weddings?
I’ve seen children play and run all over a house and never touch a gun. I mean very small children, one or two years old. We were disciplined at a very young age not to touch a gun and we remembered. Most of the guns were kept loaded and ours were kept on the gun rack in the living room. You never knew when a fox would try to get into the chicken house. Also, a squirrel might expose himself on a limb in the front yard just long enough to end up in the stew pot. Today my guns all have trigger locks, stored in my gun cabinet and the ammo is stored in a locked ammo box. I am not saying it was smart to not lock our guns back then, or safe to keep them loaded, but attitudes were different and weapons safety was unheard of. However, I do not suggest any gun be kept loaded or without a trigger lock on it, ever.
My brother Larry and I used to hunt almost every evening after school. Soon as the chores were finished we grabbed the guns and started for the woods. While mom worked her fingers to the bone cooking at a restaurant in town and then went to her second job, we attempted to supplement our meat supply, she was the single parent of five kids, as often as we could. I usually got three or four rabbits a week from my box traps, we called them rabbit gums, but Larry really helped with the squirrels. He would make me so mad doing it too.
I remember one afternoon as we walk down the old logging road and into the tree line; I heard noise on a tree limb above my head and off to the left, behind me. Just as I looked up there was an earth-shattering boom behind me and Rocky the squirrel landed on the ground. When I turned around there stood Larry, breach open, inserting another shell. He never said a word, just picked up his game and continued down the road. He’s always been like that. You can spend all day with him and maybe get 10 words out of him, if he gets excited. It wasn’t long until we reached our destination, an area just covered with acorns. I knew what was going to happen as I leaned back against an old oak tree. After all, some things never change.
I wondered, why is it when you deer hunt you see squirrels, but when you squirrel hunt you never see a deer? See, I’ve always been the type to question life. Anyway, we stayed in that position for about 2 hours, and not an animal near! As usual, I got bored, got up and left. As soon as I started back down the on trail I heard the sound of Larry’s shotgun . . .once, twice, three times. Filled with anger, I meandered over by old man Lewis’s place and got a couple of rabbits. That was my kind of hunting anyway, fast. I knew when I got home Larry would be grinning as he cleaned his squirrels. But, I gotta admit, the boy was good and he still is.
For us hunting was not a sport. Many times if we had not procured game we would have gone without meat on the table. I wouldn’t have been able to imagine people hunting for fun, it just wasn’t done. If we needed food, we hunted. We didn’t kill one of Gods creatures just to have a good time, or for a trophy rack, that would have been beyond my limited understanding. Of course, now I hunt for sport, but back in those days it was serious business.
One cold day in November my brother and I got home from school and saw a nice big, fat, buck in the corner field feeding on grandpa’s corn. Our larder was bare so it only took us a few minutes of unspoken communication to decide to get him. I grabbed the old twelve gauge single shot shotgun and a couple of slugs. I never carried more than three, because if you didn’t get what you were shooting at with three shots, you’d never get him. Larry called Lady, his old mixed beagle and something or other, and we circled around that buck so the wind was in our faces. It was over in a matter of minutes. I handed the gun to Larry and he dropped the buck with one shot. It was a long shot and I knew Larry was a better shot than me, so I gave the gun to him. Nothing was said by either one of us, it was a task that needed to be done and we simply did it.
We dressed the buck and carried-him back to the house. Since we didn’t have a barn, we put him in the bathtub. To this day I am not sure why, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It was deer season and we both had tags, but we couldn’t hang it in a tree in the yard. My uncle had just cut most of the larger trees down. Anyway, we stashed the deer and went to do our homework. It wasn’t such a big deal in our way of thinking, just another trip to nature’s supermarket. But, we did surprise a few people!
First, my sister Vickie came home from school and like teenagers today threw her books on the sofa and headed to the bathroom. Only a few minutes passed before Larry and I heard a blood-curdling scream. The deer! I’ll never forget Larry’s grin as he said, “Guess Vick found Bambi.” Now, most country girls are not normally very skittish around dead critters, but you don’t find one in the bathtub everyday. I’m sure all the blood and gore kind of grossed her out. In all the years I’ve known Vickie it was her shortest trip to the toilet. Vickie found our storage procedures to be extremely gross and told us both as much. I suspected it was because not everybody had an indoor toilet, so it was kind of like a shrine for us. We showed it to all our visiting relatives. But, Larry and I didn’t worry much about Vick’s raving, because we had fresh meat.
Shortly after our sister’s venture into the bathroom of horrors, mom came home. Again, we’d settled down to our homework and Vick had started supper. I remember she was in the kitchen peeling potatoes and Larry and I were still at the kitchen table laboring over fractions. Mom, as usual, entered the living room with a cup of coffee and relaxed in her old oversized chair. She deserved her rest; she was and still is a great woman. She worked hard so we tried to make her tasks at home that much easier by helping out. Oh, we got into trouble at times and could cause her some grief, mostly messing around in the woods or lakes, but all in all we assisted her a lot. I guess she had been setting there only a couple of minutes when she got up and went into the bathroom. Larry and I grinned at each other as we waited for the scream…. it never came, but mom did.
“Daniel Boone, you and Mister Crocket get that deer out of my tub so I can get a bath.” was all she said. Nothing rattled that woman! Well, I say nothing but once she did panic a little when we accidentally set the house on fire by burning plastic milk cartons in the woodstove. Larry and I removed the carcass from the tub and took it out behind the house. Mom told us that since we had enough energy to play games to scare people we could use that energy to cut up that deer. It took us a long time to cut and wrap that deer, but we did the job. Now, when all of our families get together for the holidays the deer in the tub will usually come up. Larry will always look at me and give me a grin; some thing’s from childhood don’t have to be spoken.