“T. Rex doesn’t want to be fed, he wants to hunt.”
Dr. Alan Grant (actor Sam Neill)
from the motion picture Jurassic Park
THE PASSION, the instinctive urge to hunt, the genetic memory that connects me to prehistoric humankind, has been slipping away. I admit that I did not have much desire to hunt and kill a deer this fall, although we enjoy the venison and know that it is more healthful than most commercially produced meat.
Nevertheless, I took a nice whitetail doe with the crossbow from a ground blind yesterday evening. Credit the rekindling of my enthusiasm to the fighting bucks. And thank Abbey, my French spaniel that is my best-ever tracking dog, for making it an adventure with a positive ending.
The battling bucks. Friday evening I was sitting in the ground blind at the corner of our shelter belt with no more purpose than to escape the house, watch the stormy weather sky, and see some wildlife. I was daydreaming when a doe jogged over the dome of the hayfield about a hundred yards away and increased her pace as she ducked into the butt end of the shelter belt.
Since the wind was in my favor, I was sure that I was not the cause of her panic and guessed that she was being pursued by a buck in the heat of the rut. Sure enough, a few minutes later a big-bodied eight-pointer swashbuckled over the dome and followed her into the cedar trees.
Mundane stuff, but at this point it gets more interesting.
From the end of the shelter belt emerged a much bigger 10-point buck, gray-coated and with heavy beam antlers, obviously the preferred mate of the doe. He was pushing the smaller buck ahead of him, and with hunched shoulders and swelled neck he was saying. “This doe is mine!”
The smaller buck was definitely fighting out of his weight class. He put up a good battle for several minutes before he backed off and sauntered away over the hill. His body language said, “That doe is ugly and too skinny. You can have her!”
This is only the second time in 40 years of bow hunting that I have seen bucks seriously fight. From my blind I was able to watch them with binoculars. When I paced off the distance later, the battleground was about 40 yards away. I felt my urge to hunt come flowing back.
Vowing that I would bag that big-bodied, 10-point, heavy-beamed, gray-coated buck, I abandoned my previous “no desire to kill a deer this season” attitude.
Saturday dawned cloudy and windy, but in the grip of new passion I moved another ground blind from the far northwest corner of the hayfield to the end of the shelter belt where the bucks had fought for the heavyweight championship of the farm. Because of the sudden appearance of a new blind I did not expect them to return the very next evening, but experience has taught me that in four or five days the deer on our farm get accustomed to intrusions and ignore them — especially since the blind had been sitting in the same hayfield six months.
Then Abbey and I went for a long, slow walk around the perimeter of the farm, pretending we were pheasant hunting. I was actually deer trail scouting. She was not fooled and was more than a little annoyed.
Back home, we had a few chores on the to-do list. A widow-maker tree was hanging over the driveway, so I hooked a chain around it and pulled it down with my pickup. Surviving that (the danger was more apparent than real), I cut up the tree with my chainsaw, loaded it into the pickup, lugged the wood splitter out of the garage, split the wood, carried it all up onto the deck and stacked it. Ah, the comforting security of an additional two weeks’ worth of firewood.
But at age 72 this much work is wearisome. I was running low on energy, so after sweeping out the box of the pickup I took a short nap before an evening hunt.
I sat in the same corner blind, not the newly repositioned one, with no intention to shoot a deer, just to enjoy a peaceful couple of hours in the wild. I watched the gathering snowstorm in the northwest sky. A flock of six crows flew by, doing aerobatics in the wind. Two eagles were soaring over the Trout River valley. I was contentedly nodding off to sleep.
That’s when the doe appeared. I opened my eyes and there she was, grazing on clover 15 yards in front of my blind. I must have bumped the crossbow against the window frame because she tossed up her head and dashed into the shelterbelt about 10 yards to my left. That put her slightly downwind of me, so I figured the evening’s hunt was over.
Never underestimate the power of scent-killer sprays. A few minutes later the doe emerged, obviously thinking, “The wind is gusting, so that accounts for the bump and rattle from this blind.” She walked right back to the same patch of clover and resumed grazing.
I was not going to shoot this doe, having seen the aforesaid big-bodied, 10-point, heavy-beamed, gray-coated buck. But this was a really big doe. A toothsome chunk of venison, not some leathery, testosterone-laced, five-year-old slab of meat fit only for summer sausage, jerky, and hot sticks.
Centering the crosshairs of the scope low and behind her shoulder, I slipped off the safety and it made a slight click. She flinched, I pulled the trigger, and the bolt hit higher and farther back on her body than I had intended. She dashed out of sight toward the woods to the west, but I was sure it was a killing shot.
Note. When you shoot from a tree stand, the arrow goes down through the deer’s body, allowing the blood to spray along an obvious trail you can track. When you shoot a deer from a ground blind, the exit wound is sometimes higher than the entry wound, resulting in much less blood spoor — or maybe none at all — along the deer’s flight trail.
I waited 20 minutes before I exited the blind and started tracking. The blood-covered bolt was lying in the grass about five or 10 yards from where it had passed through her body, and I expected to find spatters along her escape route. Mixed rain and snow were falling, it was nearly sunset, and there was not a drop of visible blood. Damn.
Time to ask for Abbey’s help.
Walking back to the Clubhouse, I changed out of my camo coveralls, put on an orange stocking cap and a headlamp, boarded Abbey and my beautiful blonde wife into the pickup, and drove to the scene of the crime. It was the dead flat dark of a snowstorm night. At the spot where I had last seen the doe, I let Abbey smell the bloody bolt and said, “Hunt dead!”
She quartered back and forth across the hillside, tracked to the fringe of the woods, followed a trail about 20 yards into the trees and brush, and there in the light of my headlamp lay the deer. Time required: about four minutes.
“Is this what you were looking for?” Abbey asked.
“Good dog! Wondrous dog! Amazing dog! The greatest tracking dog in all the world!”
This is the fourth or fifth deer Abbey has tracked and found for me. I have great confidence in her ability to pull my chestnuts out of the fire.
The snow was falling in wind-driven sheets as I field dressed the doe in the headlights, and then came the challenge of hoisting its carcass onto the tailgate. I love my old Ford F-150, but it has an impossibly high tailgate, especially since my BBW and I are five-foot-six.
“Let’s do this on the count of three,” I suggested, and with the help of her Wonder Woman strength (perhaps motivated by weather conditions) we lifted and wrestled the deer into the box of the pickup.
And that, except for washing off the blood and drinking two beers, is the story of the fighting bucks, the unfortunate doe, the world’s most amazing tracking dog, and the renewal of my passion for the hunt.
To read more stories about life in the North Country, visit the Author Page where my books are listed for sale in paperback and e-book formats.