Deer hunting season opened this week. To some, those six words trigger the same autonomic response as waving a liver and onions blue plate special under Hannibal Lecter’s nose.
After spending months waiting, an army of glassy-eyed hunters is charging into local fields and forests with enough firepower to topple Honduras. They are toting tree stands, hunting gear and more orange stocking caps than in the preemie unit at the Orange County baby hospital.
There is something primal about deer hunting. It harkens to the time when pioneers, in order to keep their families fed through the long winter, grabbed their trusty muskets, a bag of hardtack, and maybe their Indian friend, Mingo, and traipsed into the woods seeking white-tail.
It was mano-a-deer-o in those days. Muskets had a limited range, and weren’t highly accurate. Man had his wits and little else to outsmart the deer, who held home field advantage.
Today, that’s all changed.
Hunters have new technology that makes deer hunting easier –– for them, not the deer. I have a hunter friend who uses Google Maps to plot deer runs through the woods. There are laser-sighted rifles, trail cameras for reconnaissance, night vision binoculars, apps for your phone, and even personal drones to surveil the ravines and waterways.
Evidently, you have to spend a buck to shoot a buck.
All the poor deer have going for them is a cute, twitchy white tail, and the knowledge that men aren’t nearly the marksmen they think they are.
To me, this is hunting like tossing a stick of dynamite into the pond is fishing.
I can’t deny that deer hunting isn’t a great bonding experience. Fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters, even mothers and daughters come together each fall to create memories. Nothing brings a family closer than bodies spritzed in deer urine.
Even though deer hunting is good for families, it probably isn’t as good for marriages. I suspect that deer hunting outpaces football, golf and horse betting for triggering divorce. I’m reminded of our neighbors Bill and Wanda Lake.
The Lakes lived right up the lane from us. That put them outside the town limits, just far enough that Bill could practice shooting his 30-06 Springfield rifle without breaking the law. Truthfully, being inside the town limits never stopped anyone, anyway.
A gruff, retired Marine, Bill loved to deer hunt. He wore a flat-top haircut. His 5’5” height was offset by a broad-chested frame that meant business. Think Sergeant Carter on Gomer Pyle.
Wanda was sweet, but not gentle. At one-and-a-half times Bill’s size, she was more than capable of standing up against his tough-guy persona. The pastime they shared was bickering. It was common to hear the two going at it, hundreds of yards away.
Wanda hated hunting. Bill hated when Wanda spent money. It was detente.
One year, Bill and my Dad spent a week preparing for opening day of deer hunting season. The plan was to get up before dawn, and go hunting at Camp Atterbury for the entire day. Wanda was furious! Her niece was getting married the next day, and she didn’t want her husband showing up at the rehearsal smelling like deer essence.
Bill went anyway.
It was rainy, and a bitter wind made the hunting trip miserable. They never saw a single deer.
Additionally, Bill lost a treasured ring from his Marine days, and the two got the station wagon stuck on a muddy fire trail. Worst of all, Bill, needing to relieve himself much as the proverbial Bear in the Woods does, discovered he forgot to pack the toilet paper. He chose instead to clean up using some broadleaf vegetation located at the base of the tree he was behind.
It was poison oak.
(Sidebar: Bill discovered there wasn’t enough calamine lotion in the world, and ultimately had to go see a doctor.)
In the meantime, Wanda was peering out her kitchen window, when as if on cue, a young deer ambled into the Lake’s backyard from the adjacent cornfield.
It took only a single shot from Wanda’s 9mm Glock handgun to drop the 8-point buck in his tracks.
When Bill got home, Wanda was gone, but the deer was lying in the yard about five feet from the back door. Bill walked over to it, and read the cardboard sign that Wanda stuck on an antler.
“I hope you had a good time,” it read. “Gone shopping.”
John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media