It was mid-November in the Big Deer Woods. A northeast wind was rocking the hemlock tops and pushing a cold, pelting rain that seemed to penetrate the slicker beneath my wool hunting shirt. The damp, raw day was in my pores. Noon or not, it was time to call it a day.
Heading back to camp, I could, in my mind’s eye, smell the hot coffee and feel the radiating heat from the old wood stove. Then, two fellow hunters from camp broke out of the fir thicket and waved me down. In their early 20s, but serious apprentice hunters, one of whom was my nephew and the other a son of a close friend, they were excited. They exclaimed over the wind and driving rain, “You gotta help us, Uncle. There are two bucks bedded in the whippets in that cutting up above! We saw them twice. We think that they’re still in there.”
It was a dilemma for me. Camp beckoned. I was close to hypothermic. But the young men, operating under the illusion that I somehow was a seasoned deer hunter who would drum up a strategy to outwit these bucks, were looking for leadership. Protest as I might, they insisted that I help and show them how to pursue the deer.
“Tell you what,” I said to the eager twosome. “We’ll give it an hour, then yours truly is on his way back to camp to dry out, OK?” I offered.
With the two boys posted at likely exit corridors through the tangle of whippets in the two-year-old cutting, I began zigzagging my way through the tangle in hopes of moving a deer. The steady downpour made the deer push all that more difficult as I counseled myself to be patient and set a good example for these aspiring young deer hunters.
Within seconds, I moved a big deer and it high-tailed it in the direction of one of the posted hunters. The muffled shot I expected never came. As it turned out, the posted hunter had decided to find a different spot to post himself, contrary to my instructions to “stay put.” Big, splayed buck tracks in the mud told the story: the buck kept its appointment at the designated place of my choosing; the novice hunter did not.
I was furious and read him out for “going rogue” and not sticking to the game plan. “You blew it, son,” I hissed. “I moved that buck to right where you were supposed to be! What’s the matter with your head? Why in hell did you move? You guys are on your own. I am soaked and freezing and going back to camp.”
Duly chastised, the young hunter apologized. After things cooled down, the second young hunter showed up. “That other buck is still in there, Unc. I swear I can smell him in those thickets,” he said.
This story has a happy ending, sort of, and a lesson for experienced deer hunters who mentor young, aspiring hunters. The rain let up some. I was in the game and just couldn’t give up, not with a buck possibly that close.
With the boys posted again, I went back in the whippet tangle for another push. It was a slog, but before the afternoon was over a thick-necked, 9-point buck evading my scent sealed its fate while running in front of my nephew’s .32 Special.
His first deer and a trophy buck it was. You can imagine his excitement and the joy I felt for him. Looking back upon that proud and wonderful day in the deer woods so long ago, the memory of the joy remains tainted some, though, for me personally. Losing my cool and chewing out that eager young hunter was not the right thing to do. Those of us who bring young people along in the deer woods, or on the trout waters, need to do so with care and compassion, regardless of the mistakes they make. Relationships with people are always more important than the game pole, even in the deer woods.
By the way, the young man, who left his post that miserable cold rainy day, is now skillfully coaching his sons in the deer woods. He also has proven himself the deer hunter’s deer hunter, with more trophy deer to his credit than most other hunters I have known, including me. We still hunt together. All indications are that he has forgiven me, although I am not so sure that his mother has.