The tale of the compensatory deer



ELLSWORTHIsn’t it funny how things always seem to have a way of working out, if you’re patient enough?

Earlier this fall, Diane and I made the long, costly drive to western Colorado to hunt elk with our boys. Not our first elk hunt. Although we planned this adventure down to the nth degree, nothing went according to the plan or the vision. Five of us hunted hard during the 5-day elk season, but we came home meatless, with coolers stuffed with sleeping bags instead of back straps.

I know. I know. You don’t measure hunts by the meat. Colorado is spectacular in early October and we never tire of its grandeur. Still, when you work hard and invest a lot of money and sweat, you like to have something tangible to show for it besides good memories. Or at least we do.

As the elk trip’s Head Packer and planner, who was forced to make some tough, last-minute decisions about hunt areas and camping locations, I came home second guessing myself and, frankly, feeling a tad melancholy. Maybe I could have done better?

Like Maine, Colorado experienced a brutal winter with record-depth snow packs that may have taken its toll of elk, though state wildlife biologists have yet to concede this.

My lament was short-lived though. Son Josh, who wasn’t on the elk trip, invited me to share the opening day of the Maine deer season with him in his neck of the woods. He had a plan. It sounded like a good one. We were to paddle our way up this long, boggy dead water at first light and spend the morning still hunting a hardwood ridge that skirted the bog.

What I liked about the plan was the idea that we might be able to get in a good position quickly with minimal noise and scent. The hope was that other hunters coming toward us from the roads might move some deer. We made it to the “take out,” stashed our canoe and headed out in opposite directions. Josh was right. It was prime deer country with giant oaks, lots of acorns and bedding areas nearby.

About 8 a.m. I took a break, boiled some tea and sat for a time in some hardwoods. Above my head, protruding from the old dead ash I was resting against, was the biggest gaggle of fresh oyster mushrooms I’d ever seen. I picked them all, placed them in a Ziploc bag and buried them in my daypack. “Wiggie Robinson would go bananas over this find,” I thought to myself. My late friend, a true hunter-gatherer and a lover of wild mushrooms, taught me just enough about wild fungi to be dangerous. But I share my late friend’s passion for oyster mushrooms butter-fried in a skillet with some venison back straps.

About an hour later, as I worked my way into the freshening wind toward Josh’s likely position, the thick hardwoods opened up some next to a small brook. On the other side of the brook there was a long plateau that was studded with some of the largest, old-growth oaks I have seen in years.

“Nice funnel for deer,” I told myself. “Good place to linger for a while.”

At this moment, unknown to me, Josh was a couple hundred yards below me watching the flickerings of two deer at a good distance through his glasses. Before he could get them in his scope, the doe split off toward the bog and the buck, on cue, trotted in the opposite direction downwind and up the higher ground in my direction.

Josh later told me that about 10 seconds after he saw the deer he heard the one Kapoom! of what he thought might be my .270.

“Would that be you, dad?” he queried on the handheld radio.

“Yes, that would be me, Josh,” I came back with a smile in my tone. “A plump 6- pointer.”

“Alright! Way to go, Dad,” Josh exclaimed over the radio. “I’ll be right there.”

Checking out my kill, Josh seemed happier than I was. Not only had his dad performed a make-good on the elkless elk hunt, the bog hunt was one of those plans that actually did come together! We high-fived and he kissed me on the cheek.

“What the heck are those white things in the plastic bag in your pack?” Josh asked, as I honed the blade on my hunting knife.

“Mushrooms, my boy. Hand-picked, wild oyster mushrooms.” I said matter of factly.” I always try to pick a few before I shoot my deer.”

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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