Some people buy land for hunting. We bought land and then starting thinking about what to do with it. What to do with it includes building a house there some day. We are working at improving the orchard. It also includes some gardening and a good bit of eradication of invasive weeds to make way for restoration of plant communities which existed before white settlers showed up. Our goals for the land also include taking advantage of the abundant wild food sources. So far, this has included garlic mustard, black walnuts, wild raspberries and ground cherries. We’re still hoping for morels or hen of the woods mushrooms. And at some point, I’m quite sure we should take advantage of the roots from the wild parsnip even though parsnips are by no means my favorite. Last year, we decided we weren’t ready to take up deer hunting. I have zero experience with hunting of any sort. D. hasn’t hunted in years, never shot a deer, though did help his father with field dressing one year when he was at his parents’ during hunting season. I also have a pretty queasy feeling about fire arms. Sure with a .22 rifle, I can hit a paper target, a plastic milk jug or a raccoon, but taking down a beautiful animal like a deer with a .30-06 is a bit beyond what I can mentally or physically do at this time. On the other hand, twelve years ago, I tasted venison for the first time. It was simply pan-fried in olive oil along with some Jimmy Nardello peppers and served along-side some heirloom tomatoes both grown by the same man who shot the deer the previous fall. I was smitten both with the man and the venison. That man is gone, but my appreciation of venison lives on. Since I’ve known D., now and then we’ve received some venison when a friend’s hunting party has had a bit more success than they expected.
Anyhow, last year, we weren’t ready to hunt, but this year, we decided that we would. When I say “we”, I really mean, not me. I wanted hunting to happen, but I didn’t personally want to shoot. I also wanted to make sure that I wasn’t pushing D. to hunt if he wasn’t comfortable with it. He assured me that he wanted to do it. We see (and admire) deer on our land all the time. A couple of months ago while I was cooking dinner, D. took the picture at the top of this post. Just a few weeks ago we went for a walk with a glass of wine in hand after finishing up our work for the day, but before cooking dinner. We saw a minimum of six deer that evening including two bucks. Last weekend as we were leaving at dusk, we saw four does in a nearby field, one of them being chased by a buck. Deer are very plentiful in our area. So plentiful, in fact, that our area is targeted for herd reduction because of chronic wasting disease or CWD.
Friday night, we set out for the farm, our plan was to be there at the opening of hunting season on Saturday morning. Friday night, I set the coffee up so we could just flip the switch in the morning. In the morning on Saturday, D. went out early to watch for deer and I set about cleaning, hearing gunshots now and then, none of them very near. We’d agreed to go out to breakfast in town so that we could also make a necessary trip to the hardware store a little later in the morning. At the hardware store, we witnessed a relatively uncomfortable conversation between a man who had three small kids in tow and one of the guys working at the hardware store. He was saying that he didn’t want to buy a hunting license if he wasn’t legal to carry a firearm…words like injunction came up. We transacted our business and left. I put our squash soup in the small slow cooker to heat, read Food and Wine for a while and napped. Before lunch, D. had seen exactly one deer, running, really far away, across Otter Creek on a neighboring farm. She was running toward our land, but must have stopped or turned elsewhere. After having some soup, I walked out with D. the next time he was going to sit and wait for deer. I walked all the way to the back of the property hoping to scare up a deer or two. I found nothing. Well, I found nothing on the back of our loop trail. Then I walked down the hill to our little stream where I heard movement. I saw four deer hiding down in the thick brush near the stream. Three of them took off in an easterly direction, away from D. The fourth deer took off across the stream to the south also away from D. She would have been a perfect shot for someone in the deer stand up the hill had anyone been up there. A little while later I heard a shot not too far to the east. Maybe at one of the deer I drove out of the safety of the thicket in the bottom of our property. Maybe not. I’ll never know. D. continued watching our valley south of where he was sitting. I walked back cutting behind him. He waved me over and asked that I wave my hat if I saw anything when I got to the top of the next rise. I climbed the hill and just shook my gloves at my side and I went to sit and watch from behind the barn. I saw no deer and dark drew closer. We got cleaned up and went into town for dinner. The tourist season has really slowed down and the waitress asked me what brought us in tonight. I said we’d been hunting at our land south of town all day without any success. We had a nice dinner and drove back. Even though it was early, we were tired and read only for a little while. It had been dark all day, misting intermittently. D. had only seen four deer that day, but he’d seen a pair of hawks, a pileated woodpecker (which I had heard) and I’d seen and heard nuthatches flitting around a bur oak tree. Again, we set the coffee up so that we could just flip a switch in the morning. D. filled up our thermos with coffee and took a chair and his insulated seat pad. We agreed that I’d make breakfast to be ready around 9:30 since all plans regarding deer hunting are predicated on failure. I expected him to cross the valley and sit over near the pines, but then I watched him head down to the barn. I poured myself a cup of coffee and crawled back into bed since the warmest place to be was between the flannel sheets. I lay there for a while thinking that it would be easier to read if I made the futon back into a couch instead of leaving it flat. I considered this for about five minutes, hearing far off gunshots now and then from about the first moment that it was light enough to shoot. It was then that I heard THE shot. I knew it was really close and I figured it was D. I put on shoes and wandered out to see what had happened. I saw him walk out from behind the barn, giving me a thumbs up sign. I then realized I was still wearing a grey fleece pullover and the black cotton knit pants I’d been sleeping in. I said I would put on something orange and come over and help him with the deer. I put on jeans, socks, hiking boots, my orange pullover and orange insulated vest, orange hat and orange gloves, stuffing a couple of pairs of latex gloves in my pockets. I hopped across the stream and made my way up the hill to where D. was kneeling next to the deer pulling out a couple of knives and positioning the deer for field dressing. She was a big beautiful doe and we can only assume that she had a good life until she didn’t live anymore. As I helped him with field dressing the deer, I saw a hawk fly over and then scream when it had floated past us nearing the tree line. I noticed various other birds and eventually a small flock of geese flying over. D. told me that there had been two deer this morning. The one he shot and another, either a smaller doe or possibly this doe’s fawn from the past spring. When we were finished, D. pulled the deer out to where we could take her for registration and I took the rifle, the knives and a plastic bag in which we’d put the heart and the liver. We don’t have running water, let alone hot water, so I boiled water so that I could clean the knives and wash our soup dishes from Saturday and then I went down to retrieve D.’s chair, seat cushion and untouched thermos of coffee. I found a rifle casing on his chair, so he must have stopped to pick it up. I stuffed the empty rifle casing in my pocket. D. finished assembling the cargo tray for the trailer hitch and we picked up the deer to take her down for registration. Given the concern over CWD, the rules say that if one shoots an antlerless deer, one can shoot a buck. Actually the rules say that one can shoot a buck no matter what, so now, if so inclined, D. could shoot two bucks. One deer is enough this year. We’ll probably go out to the farm next weekend, but I don’t think hunting is on the agenda. I think we’ll make sure that we can start the tractor and swap out the heavy front gate for a cable instead. We’ll wear orange to ensure that we are visible to those who are still hunting. We’ll stay out of their way and silently I’ll wish them well.