By Steven Hutchins
Every year thousands of hunters take to the woods to satisfy that ancient yearning to conquer and capture their family’s food supply. For some it’s a religious experience to which nothing can compare. But when the call of the wild beckons me into the woods, I pretty much ignore it. I’m not a hunter. Hunting and I were not meant to be together. I made every attempt to take up the sport but it just wasn’t in the cards.
I’m not opposed to hunting; never have been never will be. It’s simply a matter of not having enough time. In addition, my past experience attempting the sport didn’t excite me the way that it does others. It doesn’t bother me much because I’m a die-hard fisherman. Salmon and Steelhead keep me on the water year round. If I were to go out hunting, that would take away from my precious fishing time.
At one time, I was intrigued with the thought of hunting…
Not so long ago, when the leaves began to turn, a strange urge came over me to go deer hunting. The season was a month away so I knew I had to act fast if I was going to submit to nature’s call. My next door neighbor, The Buckmaster, had been needling me to go hunting with him. He was a fairly large man with a long black beard who was well known for his hunting knowledge. Because of that knowledge and the way he described his hunting experiences, I fully expected to have a buck come right up, sit down beside me, and give me pointers on the proper way to cook him. With the Buckmaster as my guide, I knew that I would have my deer opening morning and still have time for coffee at the local diner.
The Buckmaster lived for deer hunting; never mind that his only exposure to the outdoors came during the 15-day gun season. He talked hunting 365 days a year and showed off his hunting prowess by displaying numerous, handmade, mounted racks on his living room wall. Yep, right down to his patented “Tan Your Own Hide Kit” and his T-shirt that read “The Buck Stops Here”, the man lived for deer hunting.
I agreed to apprentice under his expert tutelage and began the process of turning into a deer hunter.
“We need to get you a hunting license,” The Buckmaster stated. “Got your hunter’s safety card?”
Uh oh, I did not have my hunter safety card. I never even took hunter safety. I grew up in Hillsdale County where hunter safety was a requirement for High School graduation. Somehow, I’d managed to slip through the cracks and was allowed to graduate without it (an obvious oversight). This was a heinous crime; life in Hillsdale County revolved around three things: The County Fair, The Purple Loosestrife Festival and deer hunting. If I told The Buckmaster that I didn’t have a hunter safety card I was surely going to be ridiculed and labeled the new town fool. Being labeled as the town fool in Hillsdale is the mother of all disgraces so I had to think fast or the Buckmaster was going to get suspicious.
“I lost it,” I replied.
“Well, I guess you’ll have to take it again,” The Buckmaster pointed out. “They’re having a course this weekend down at the Gun and Muffin Club”
As that statement was made, The Buckmaster called one of his buddies at the club and secured me a spot in the weekend class.
Saturday morning The Buckmaster drove me out to the Hillsdale County Gun and Muffin Club for “school”. The members of this establishment were outdoorsmen, who sponsored a number of outdoor-related activities like hunter safety, bake sales and strippers. The latter being reserved for special events like “keg night”, or Friday, as the rest of us call it. The G & M compound was located in a nice country setting complete with a gun range, nature trail, and panfish pond. I entered the classroom and immediately felt out of place. All of my classmates were under the age of 13 and were decked from head to toe in orange “bomber” hats, flannel shirts, and Carhart pants. Parents and students alike gawked in disbelief as I entered the room. You’d have thought they’d never seen a 23-year-old with ripped jeans and an Iron Maiden T-shirt in hunter safety before. They take their deer hunting very seriously in Hillsdale County and to them I looked like a slacker. All eyes followed me to my seat in the back of the room and I heard the strange, yet distinct, music that is the theme to “The Twilight Zone”
Both days in the class were pretty uneventful, although there was that little “incident” on the shooting range.
Part of the hunter safety course involves shooting practice out on the gun range; the point being to enforce responsible firearm handling. I figured I was going to clean up in this little test since my young classmates were having a hard time hitting the clay pigeons zipping through the air. My turn finally came up. I stepped into the shooting area with a visible confidence. I raised my shotgun to my shoulder and eased the safety off.
“Pull!” I shouted. I scanned the sky for a clay target, seeing nothing.
“Pull!” I shouted again. Still nothing.
“The launchers jammed,” The Buckmaster said. “We’ll have to launch em’ by hand.”
One of the “teachers”, a character by the name of Grubby Gary, grabbed some odd looking paddle, placed a target in it and positioned himself about ten feet behind me.
“This will get em’ out there!” Grubby Gary said. “Just say the word.”
I focused my attention on the sky, raised the gun and shouted the word. Grubby Gary reared back and let the pigeon fly. Apparently he misjudged the trajectory; the impact with my head and the blast of the shotgun were instantaneous. As pieces of the clay missile settled around my feet and smoke drifted from the gun barrel, I began to wander around cross-eyed and dazed. This caused quite a bit of concern as I was still holding the shotgun. Everyone ran for cover and the subsequent panic led one individual to scream, “Take him out, pa! Take him out!”
That little “incident” received quite a bit of attention at the local diner, The Queasy Kitchen, and was talked about for several days afterwards. In spite of all that, I earned my little orange hunter safety card and was able to purchase my hunting license.
Next up on the Buckmaster’s agenda was the selection of hunting spots and the building of blinds. Hunting in Hillsdale County takes place in two locations; a cornfield, or somewhere near a cornfield. I was assigned the latter. For the occasion of the blind building, The Buckmaster’s nephew, Beef, joined us. Beef was, and still is, my best friend and fishing companion. When he wasn’t busy chasing girls, Beef tried to be a Junior Buckmaster. At that time Beef was a little rotund and lacked success in both girl chasing and deer hunting. As you get to know Beef, you’ll begin to understand why. I’m not saying that to insult Beef’s intelligence, oh no! He does a good enough job of that on his own! While most other people put sports or band symbols on their High School class rings, Beef chose a big buck to signify his futility at deer hunting. He may not be the brightest bulb in the box sometimes, but his futility is a great source of amusement for Wally and I! None the less, I love him like a brother…
We were hunting on property that belonged to Beef’s other uncle so even though I wasn’t really enthused about my location, I was in no position to argue. The Buckmaster and Beef had choice spots that overlooked well-traveled trails. I, on the other hand, was relegated to a briar patch. Oh well, I was the rookie and beggars can’t be choosers.
The other two started throwing together clumps of logs and canvas to make their blinds…very unimpressive. Unlike Beef’s ugly pile of leaves, my blind was going to be a thing of beauty. My father, who claims to be the reincarnation of a great Indian chief, had taught me how to manufacture a number of outdoor shelters. Throwing sticks and leaves together just wasn’t good enough. After countless hours of hard work, I finished construction on a blind that sort of resembled an Iroquois longhouse. My Dad, Chief Squatting Bear as I’ve nicknamed him, would have been proud. I’d have shown it to him, but The Chief and my mother were flitting about the Bahamas at the time.
Once the blinds were built, The Buckmaster broke out his jug of “Secret Deer Attractor”. The attractor was nothing more than ammonia mixed with apple cider. I didn’t want to question the Master’s hunting methods, so as instructed, I sprinkled a little bit of the formula around the area I was going to hunt. Needless to say, I didn’t want to meet the buck that was attracted to that noxious concoction in a dark alley!
The anticipation of opening day was becoming too much for me to take. As I drifted off in peaceful slumber each night, visions of a monster buck standing before me took shape. It would gracefully appear in the distance and drift toward my blind like a magnificent poltergeist. I was giddy at the thought of aiming the gun and dropping the antlered giant with a precise, single shot. I’d fantasize about my picture on the front page of the local newspaper with a headline that read: LOCAL MAN BAGS RECORD BUCK! Events like that are front-page material in Hillsdale County and I was going to be a celebrity.
After all the prerequisite stuff like sighting in the gun, checking the blinds, and listening to the Buckmaster’s lectures, opening day finally arrived. We left his house at 4:00am and then spent the next hour trying to get Beef out of bed. Once Beef, who was showing the effects of a night of girl chasing, was dumped into the back of the truck we were on our way.
It was still dark when I settled into my blind and tried to follow the expert advice that The Buckmaster had given me: shut up, sit down, and don’t move. As the sun rose, I could hear the distant, thunderous, sound of gunshots. Every once and awhile I’d see a doe sprint across the cornfield and into a swamp that bordered the backside of the property. I could see The Buckmaster as he patiently scanned the cornfield and fencerow, never moving, yet scanning everything. Beef, on the otherhand, was leaning against a tree in a deep sleep. A couple of times I thought I heard a buck grunt but then realized that it was only his snoring.
The serenity of the wild started to get to me and I was beginning to drift off myself when…
THUNK! I felt something hit the top of my head. When I looked up, there was a red squirrel directly above me chewing acorns and dropping the shells…right on my head. The only sound in the woods was his constant gnawing, cracking, and finally, the dropping of the acorn. Chisel Chisel Crack! …Thunk! Chisel, Chisel, Crack... Thunk!
The morning grew longer and the sun was right overhead. I’d yet to have a buck venture my way and the distant gunshots were becoming less and less. I would’ve been concerned that I wasn’t going to get my buck but I was too preoccupied with the torture that I was enduring at the time. Chisel, Chisel, Crack! Thunk! Just when I thought the squirrel was done eating, he’d start up again. Thunk!
Snap! Wait a minute…something was walking toward my area. I could make out the shape. It was a deer! I couldn’t see if there were horns yet but I hoped that it would keep coming closer. The squirrel, meanwhile, had become more intense in his dropping of acorns. Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!
Despite the actions of the demon squirrel, time was moving in slow motion and I could see the deer much clearer now. It had horns! I counted six points and my heart began to race. Thunk! I slowly raised my head and glared at the squirrel who, in turn, glared back and flashed me a squirrel’s version of an obscene gesture. Thunk! The deer was now in range. Thunk! I slowly stood up and raised the gun to my shoulder. Thunk! I took aim and… BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
The rapid succession of gunshots startled everyone! The Buckmaster came running down the trail. Beef leaped into the air, yelled something about an angry father and took off running in the opposite direction. That in its self wasn’t unusual. Angry fathers protecting their daughters’ virtue is so common in Beef’s world that he’s become a light sleeper…and a bit paranoid. The woods fell hauntingly silent and I stood motionless; lost in the sanctity and silence of the moment.
“Did you get him?” The Buckmaster asked when he finally got to my blind. He was looking out over the cornfield.
I looked up at the still smoldering branches above my head and replied, “I don’t think so…maybe if I was using buckshot I’d have had a chance. It’s impossible to hit something that small with a slug.”
Not only had I let the master down and allowed the buck of my dreams to get away, somewhere in the woods that damn squirrel was laughing his tail off at the way he’d narrowly escaped the wrath of this hunter. Beef finally stopped running.
“Hey! How come I’m running?” He shouted from the top of the trail. “Must’ve had a nightmare.”
I really haven’t been hunting much since then. Although I may not be much of a hunter, I’ve got to confess that I LOVE hunting season. When everyone else is out in the woods and I have the Steelhead and the rivers all to myself, I really love hunting season.