|White Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus*)|
USDA photo by Scott Bauer (Public Domain)
Before going any further, I need to describe what a standard hunting exhibition was for my Dad and his three boys. It involved getting up early and making sure we had something to cook at lunch time. Dad had bought what we called a hibachi, this was a small charcoal grill that sat low to the ground, what the Japanese actually call a shichirin. (I did not know that until just now. Gotta love Wikipedia!) That hibachi/shichirin was always in the trunk of the car during hunting season. Along with the requisite charcoal briquettes and starter fluid.
My Mom claimed that all we really did when we went out hunting was drive around, find a place to cook, cook some sausage and stuff, eat the sausage and stuff, then drive around some more until sunset. Then we'd come home.
Well yes, that's exactly what we did. Okay, we did spend some time out in the woods, usually in the early morning, just after sunrise, and in the late afternoon, just before sunset. For that is when the wily white-tail comes out of the forest into the fields to browse. At least that's what they do for fifty weeks of the year. During hunting season they make themselves scarce.
While the white-tails are not generally Mensa candidates, they are not stupid. I swear they know exactly when hunting season starts and ends.
Dad actually got a deer one year, no we boys weren't with him when he did. When Dad wanted to hunt for real, he'd go out with Uncle Smitty. Or his brother, our Uncle Charlie. (Note the use of italics there. Uncle Smitty wasn't actually our uncle, just a close friend of my Dad. Uncle Charlie, on the other hand, was actually our uncle. Uncle Smitty was also drinking buddies with my Dad. That's a story for another day.)
Now I like being out in the woods, like it now, liked it back then. Looking back on it, it seems rather dangerous having been out in the woods on the opening day of hunting season in Vermont. There were lots of knuckleheads out there, most with high powered rifles.
One early morning, just as the sun was burning through the mist, I was sitting in the corner of a field. Conditions were perfect. I was overlooking a corner of a fairly good sized pasture which couldn't be seen from the road and which abutted the woods. These woods were extensive and just the type of cover a white-tail likes. The year before we'd seen the game trails back in the woods and had found evidence of another hunter's success in that vicinity.
It was a place Dad remembered to check out in the future. Well, the "future" had arrived and I was positioned to watch this corner of the field. Again, it was perfect. I was up against a stone wall, so I presented no silhouette and the wind was coming down off the hill to my front so the deer wouldn't smell me. The ground sloped up in such a way that my Dad and The Olde Vermonter were hidden on the other side of the pasture. No danger of friendly fire. Always something to keep in mind.
So there I was**, nicely positioned and we figured we might catch a buck coming down for brunch. I did see a doe back in the brush on the edge of the wood, but nothing with antlers. But it was still fairly early.
Then, off in the near distance, I heard a shot. Had to have been down the valley just a ways, it wasn't that close.
Then another shot. Kind of a pow, long pause, pow...
Then pow pow pow... pow pow pow... pow... pow... pow pow powpowpowpowpow....
It sounded like a firefight had broken out!
Shortly after that my Dad and brother came over the hill, my Dad with a look of disgust on his face.
"Let's go boys, sounds like the flatlanders have started WWIII just over the hill."
And off we went, back to the car. Time to find a diner for breakfast.
In those days, we called anyone not from Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine, a "flatlander" - it was not a term of endearment. When I was a boy we used to see (and hear) numerous stories of city fellers coming up to Vermont to go hunting and shooting everything but deer.
Farmers would actually paint the word "cow" on the sides of their cows to protect them from the flatlanders. (No, really, I'm serious.) I've heard of guys actually firing at a noise they heard in the woods. So yeah, kind of scary now that I look back at those days.
But usually we just spent a lot of time motoring around the back country. Finding a place to cook lunch, then cooking and consuming lunch. So in an eight-hour "hunting" day, we'd spend maybe an hour actually "hunting." But it was fun. (One game we loved was parking beside the road and staring intently through our binoculars. Eventually a car load of flatlanders would pull up, see the Vermont plates on our car and figured we know what we were doing. They'd all pile out their car and charge into the woods, hunting rifles carried at a high port. Heh. Ee-jits. There were no deer on that hillside and the flatlanders looked like they were assaulting Omaha Beach. Good clean fun back in the day. Heh. Maroons.)
We'd see a lot of doe, it was like the white-tail males had all fled to Canada. (Maybe my kid brother the Musician hauling the ball turret gun around scared them off. Hell, I wouldn't want to face that thing! I regaled you with that tale here.)
I did see one buck for sure. Walking slowly up a hill. He was right next to a sign that read "POSTED - Trespassers will be prosecuted." It's as if he knew he was on posted land, right next to a highway. It was just Dad and I that particular time. Dad saw it too. A nice looking animal, four points as I recall. (That buck in the opening photo appears to be an eight-pointer. Every tine of the antlers counts as a "point" - here in the East. Out West, they count the tines then divide by two. I don't know why.)
There was another time when my brothers were with us. I swear I saw a buck back in the woods off the side of this dirt road we were traversing. I can still picture him. Big and proud, with a magnificent rack (that's what we called the spreading antlers, get your minds out of the gutter, boys) standing in an opening of the forest.
I called out (in my excitement), "Look at the horns on that baby!"
Dad, slammed the brakes on, just in time to see the tail of the biggest wild deer I'd ever seen this side of the Mississippi turn and saunter off. All everyone else saw was his white tail, flicking back and forth in annoyance.
The Olde Vermonter commenced to giggling, Dad started chuckling. I looked from face to face (The Musician was on the ball turret gun, scanning our six, i.e. he was paying no attention to the rest of us) and asked, "What's so funny?"
The Olde Vermonter pitched his voice an octave lower (which is how he mimics his big brother) and shouted out, "Look at the horns on that baby!" In a very mocking tone I must say. Dad lost it, he was laughing so hard, tears were rolling down his cheeks.
Of course, I failed to see the humor in the situation. These plebeians were mocking me, certainly they must have seen the antlers on that deer.
They did not.
For years, every November, that story would be told. Always with The Olde Vermonter pitching his voice an octave lower and shouting, "Look at the horns on that baby!"
I know, deer don't have horns, they have antlers. But I know what I saw. Perhaps in my excitement I was a bit overwrought and perhaps I used the wrong terminology, but I saw what I saw.
Sometimes it happens that way, you see something, everyone else misses it.
But seriously, before you bellow something out, choose your words carefully.
Mention that phrase to my brother now, he will still chortle.
I love my brother, even when he is an asshole.
* Odocoileus—from the Greek odous, meaning “tooth,” and koilos, meaning “hollow,” referring to prominent depressions in the molar teeth. virginianus—Latin for “of Virginia,” referring to the point of collection of the type specimen. This blog tries to be educational. So yes, you will be subjected to Latin from time to time. And other foreign languages.
** While this isn't exactly a "war" story, it does involve the great outdoors and firearms. Stay tuned...