I’m going to be honest here. I am not a hunter. My grandpa Ed was a hunter, I think. I mean, the family has more stories about the improvements that my grandfather (a physics professor, a consummate tinkerer, and lover of duck tape) made to his bow, scope, deer blind, etc. than we have stories about his actual deer kills. Maybe I am wrong. After all, the story about my Grandpa Ed’s improvement to his scope—the one that captured more light and was more accurate than existing scopes, but a WHOLE lot HEAVIER—is funnier and more memorable than remembering whether he bagged a deer during the 1982 bow hunting season. But then again, I am not a hunter.
Okay, that disclosure aside, last Friday, I got to track a deer. It wasn’t a deer that I shot. My Uncle Jeff did that part with an arrow last Thursday, at dusk. So, when my father and I showed up at our family’s cabin for a “work day” Friday morning, he informed us that the first task of the day was to find his deer. This was something new. I had never tracked a deer before.
We set off up the trail toward his blind where he had shot the deer. He had been lucky (skilled) enough to find (and mark) a few drops of blood in the fading light, so that is were we started. We stood a few feet from either side of the marked blood drops so that we wouldn’t stand on the possible blood tail and looked for the next tell tail signs of the deer’s flight. I would have thought that a deer shot with an arrow (or a bullet) would leave a bloody trail, a trail easy to find, but it wasn’t.
Instead, it felt like we were CSIs . . . looking for tiny miniscule blood droplets on the mottled autumn colored leaves. We stood there, swiveling our heads from side to side, pointing with a stick when we though we found a new droplet. More often than not, they were darkened holes in the leaves, but as we went on . . . following each drop . . . my eyes started to figure it out, finding a particular red-brown shape, sometimes completely round, sometimes with a little tail pointing to the next drop. And sometimes, the drops would come in fast succession, bright vicious red trails . . . that would stop suddenly . . . and then we would scour again, in circles, until we found another small red clue.
Each clue, we’d mark with a small length of plastic tape. Hunter’s orange in color, the tape pointed the deer’s path through the woods, in fear and pain.
The deer went straight, then it zigged and zagged and zigged again. We lost it in a gully, found it going uphill (a direction we didn’t expect) and then back down (okay, that made more sense). It was slow going, bushwhacking through brambles, but slow fun like filling in a NYT Sunday crossword while simultaneously looking for Waldo.
We laughed that we’d just stumble on the deer, heads down looking for the next clue. About ½ mile into the search, I was leaning up against a tree pointing with my stick to the latest clue, while Uncle Jeff circled to the right side of the blood drop. I’d already started looking for the next drop, when my uncle laughed and said there it was. I looked around the tree that I was leaning on, and there was the deer, nestled up against the uphill side!
It wasn’t bloody, and the only sign of distress was it’s tongue hanging out, frozen solid. My uncle pulled out his hunting knife, and then turned to ask me, his vegetarian niece, if I’d be okay with this. As a resource vegetarian who had just helped locate a dead dear, I “gamely” said, “no p” and agreed to hold the deer’s hooves while my uncle field dressed the deer. (For those interested, field dressing started with zip tying the deer’s butthole so that it doesn’t spew feces, then cutting off the buck’s privates, cracking it’s ribs, pulling out entrails and organs (steaming, even though the deer had been dead for hours), and then relieving its bladder (smelly)). It was strange to see how quickly a small, sharp knife could remove the organs and entrails of a dead deer.
Then, it was time to DRAG. We tied a rope to the buck’s antler’s, made two loops at each end, stepped into the loops and started pulling the deer uphill through the woods toward the path. Lucky for my uncle, I’d just come off the New Orleans ride and was in tip-tip shape for hauling a deer uphill. It was like a workout drill from hell . . .
We pulled it up the hill and then my uncle took off to get the ATV, while my father and I pulled it along the, now mostly downhill, path. We used the ATV to do the rest of the work . . .
I wish that I had more photos of us hanging out at the family cabin—Calendonia, but we were too busy working – hanging a deer, splitting and hauling wood, and making the ancestral cabin ready for the large family Thanksgiving gathering in a few weeks.