With all the deer hunting going on this week around our edge of the Sterling sand barrens, it brought back memories of the second buck I shot. It is a mystery story, how can you kill a deer without leaving a bullet hole?
I couldn’t see clearly enough to spot the horns until he walked to an opening in the ridge directly ahead of me at least 100 yards away. I heard him rustling as he walked by below the ridge I had sat on for the past three hours, but he stayed in the deep in the prickly ash brush. I saw glimpses of him, but with a buck’s only license, had to wait to be sure. I aimed, drawing down trying to gauge his middle, difficult as he was walking directly away from me. I squeezed off a shot with Uncle Chan’s old octagon barrel Winchester 32 Special I borrowed each of my first few years of hunting. It had a long barrel with a gold bead and the rear site filed down for quick and accurate shooting.
At the explosion, the deer jumped, reared up, and went into a series of twists and turns that looked just like a rodeo bronc trying to throw his rider. His show amazed me so I didn’t think to take another shot. Then, as if he had thrown his broncbuster, he streaked straight north, running wide open, disappearing down the ridge into the trees. Surely I hit him hard to make that kind of ruckus. I visually marked the spot where I first shot him and again where he disappeared, and headed over on the crusty snow to look for blood and a trail.
Back in the 50s and 60s it was hard to shoot a deer. There were fewer of them for many reasons including almost every piece of land was farmed either in crops or pastured tightly—not much cover or food for deer. The deer that were around were hunted heavily. They never seemed to get much of a herd. Most of the time we had a buck only license, and often did not see a buck during the whole season.
Our expectations were lower, and so when we did see a buck, our excitement higher. I helped shoot a buck my first year of hunting along with Dad and older brother Marv, but then came a dry spell of three years—no luck at all, not even a shot. We had good hunting areas in our own cow pastures and fields, but just didn’t see bucks.
In those days, we didn’t use deer stands, didn’t feed deer to lure them in, didn’t use deer scents, cameras etc. What we did do was scout the woods for a natural blind along a deer trail and find a nearby stump or log to sit on and then park ourselves there way before dawn and patiently wait, and wait, and wait!
The first morning of season always seemed to be the best chance of shooting a buck. They weren’t spooked by being shot at yet and didn’t yet realize the woods was full of people trying to kill them. My goal was to get into the woods and onto my stump earlier than any other hunters, so when they stumbled in, the deer might move in my direction. I was in a full hour before dawn.
I watched the sun come up over the field to the southwest and light the big ridge across Wolf Creek where Uncle Maurice would be hunting. Brother Marvin was hunting on his own forty on down Wolf Creek a quarter mile and should have heard my single shot. Dad and Everett were headed to the cornfield on the sand on the other side of the River Road. It was cold, 15 degrees and a chilly wind, and my three layers of clothes weren’t enough. Not being able to afford hunting clothes, Mom sewed red hankerchiefs onto our old coats and pants. Our red hats were our regular winter caps with the big ear laps and chin strap. In those days, blaze orange clown suits hadn’t been invented yet, so Santa Claus Red or checkerboard red and black were the style.
The week before had been cold. The swamps were frozen enough to walk carefully across. Wolf Creek was low coming out of Roger Lake into the widening shallow pond along our land the neighbors called Lily Lake. Deer naturally followed the big ridge just east of the creek. The wind was from the north, so I watched to the south expecting deer to be traveling into the wind. We wore our hunting clothes into the barn a day or two before hunting season to get them permeated with cow smell, something the deer were used to in those days and wouldn’t worry about.
I beat it up to the spot where I figured I hit the deer. The snow was trampled, but no blood. “Shoot, I must have mostly missed him, but the way he jumped around, I must have done some damage,” I thought as I followed the tracks north to where I had last seen him. There was enough fresh snow from the previous day so I see his new tracks following a regular deer trail.
“If you wound a deer, wait a little before you follow him. If he is wounded seriously, he will stop and lie down if you don’t push him,” was advice Dad and my uncles had given me many times. I knew there were hunters in the next cow pasture to the north, but no shots from that direction, so hoped the deer hadn’t gotten that far.
I waited as long as I could stand it, probably 20 minutes after the shot, and then stalked briskly along the trail trying to warm up a little but yet sneak up on the deer. No blood along the trail. I reached the barbwire fence at Arnold Swanson’s land north of ours. Hair on the fence! The deer must have hit the fence instead of going over it. Just across the fence, a deer bed on the snow and a nearly foot in diameter blotch blood soaked into the snow. He must be hit bad, probably heard me coming and took off again.
I was on the ridge just east of Wolf Creek. I could see down to Lily Lake, where ice lined the open center channel. “Deer won’t cross here—too much of an obstacle, probably will follow the ridge right up and past Roger Lake. I readied my gun and stalked ahead following tracks and watching all around.
There was no more blood. More deer tracks converged and soon I was unable to figure out which ones were my buck. I followed the ridge north until I came to the next fence. Across it, I recognized my neighbor, Roy Brenizer, positioned to watch the ridge I had come up. “Did you see a buck come through here? I shot one down on our place and followed the trail up into Arnold’s but lost it. He was headed right towards you.”
“I heard your shot, and watched real careful, but nothing came through here. I can’t see down in the brush right on the edge of the lake, so maybe he got between me and the lake. You should walk down to where they put the boats in and see if you can see any sign of a trail there.”
“Thanks, I’ll do that. There is some blood back there and he laid down for a little, so I think he must be hit pretty good.”
I hunted my way back to the lake trail and down to the lake carefully scanning the ground on the way. A few older tracks, but no blood. “Doesn’t seem to have gotten this far; must have laid down somewhere in the brush along the lake,” I thought. I spent the next hour thoroughly searching the brush, canary grass and cattails along the mostly frozen lake edge. My feet broke through thin ice a many times filling my boots with frigid water. Finding nothing, I headed back to the boat landing trail to see if he might have crossed and I missed it. I walked out to the edge of the lake.
Ice extended out about a third of the way into the lake with the middle open. It was a raw, windy day, with waves out on the lake. “Quite pretty,” I thought and had about decided to give up and go home to warm my feet when I spotted something floating out in the lake, near the north end. It was at the edge of the ice, so far away I couldn’t really see it, but it looked out of place. “Better look closer,” I thought.
I floundered through the wide band of cattails and brush around the lake until I got to the north end, then worked my way out to the edge where I could see. Sure enough, there was a deer floating in the open water right on the edge of the frozen area. I could even see a small fork horn!
It was 10:30, two hours since I shot the deer and five hours since I had first started hunting and I was freezing up. I looked for neighbor Roy, but he was gone. “So how do I get the deer out?” I asked myself. The ice was way too thin to be safe. My feet had long ago lost their feeling. “I’ll hike down the three quarter mile to where brother Marv is—warm up a little that way and see what he thinks.” I sat down on a fallen log, dumped my boots, wrung out my socks and put them back on and trotted off, trying to get warm.
Marvin was there. “Haven’t seen anything to shoot at yet,” he commented as I came up the hill. “I shot a buck and he is dead, floating out in Roger Lake!” I panted, pretty warm, but worn out. We hiked on out of the woods to where his 55 Chev was parked.
“Well,” Marv commented, “Mac Fors’ old rowboat is probably up there with the oars where it was when we used it for fishing this summer. Let’s see if we can row out and get it.” We were able to drive to the lake across Uncle Maurice’s pasture to the hilltop where the old Rogers Hotel had stood. Taking a rope with us, we flipped over the heavy old rowboat, and slid it out from the frozen shore onto the ice and climbed in. It broke through the thin ice and we managed to break a path ahead out to the open water and then row across the lake. The boat boards had shrunk after being out of water in the cold, so water oozed in. “We better hurry or we’ll go down,” worried Marv as he rowed as fast as he could and the old heavy wood boat surged ahead.
We came up to the floating deer. I always carried three or four bale twines in my hunting coat in case I needed to drag a deer. I tied them together and made a slipknot and looped it over the horns. The boat already had three inches of water in the bottom and seemed to be filling faster. Marv rowed hard. “I suppose all the hollow hair on the deer make him float,” he commented as the now half full boat wallowed into the shore. We drug the boat out and dumped it and tipped it back over and then drug the deer up on hard ground on the shore. “Not too bad, a six pointer; decent size too,” commented Marvin as he began to field dress it. Both of our hands were wet and frozen, but once inside the deer, warmed up a little.
“Funny thing, no bullet holes in the deer I can see,” I commented. He had bled out internally we noted as we dumped the innards out with a gush of blood. We started dragging him up the bank to the car. “Look at this,” said Marv, “it fell out of his mouth. Wonder what happened?” It was the lead from a bullet, looking almost new like it had come from the shell.
When we skinned the deer a few days later, we kept a careful eye for a bullet hole. Not a single hole anywhere, yet a dead deer with a spent lead in his mouth. A real mystery.
When I returned Uncle Chan’s gun, I told him about the deer; the shot from the rear, the strange dance he did, the bullet in the mouth and no holes in him we could find. He thought about it awhile.
“When you hit the deer, you must have hit him exactly in the bung hole. He probably had hemorrhoids, and that caused his jumping around as the bullet slid up into his rear end. The tearing around he did must have been, by chance, just the right twists, turns and jumps to let the bullet slide all the way right through the rectum, intestines and stomach up the throat and into his mouth before it was spent. Then, thinking it was part of his cud, he chewed into it and died from lead poisoning. Normally, lead poisoning would take longer, but with the added shock of the cold water, it probably did him in.” I guess that is what must have happened!
|Uncle Maurice raised an orphan deer back in the 50s|