A flock of turkeys sailed down in the field in front of me, gobbling and strutting their stuff. They eventually wandered away, putting and yelping, and the woods grew quiet again. I stood beneath a giant gum tree, around which I had thrown up a makeshift bind, and tried to stand still on numb toes.
Almost two hours passed, the fog lifted, and it was now 7:40, prime time for deer to be about. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I detected movement to my left. I slowly turned and saw an 8-point buck striding along the wood-line 40 yards away.
When I raised my muzzleloader the deer detected the movement and froze. I shot fast, before it had a chance to whirl and disappear. The muzzleloader boomed, and beneath a cloud of gray smoke I saw the buck crash to the ground.
I killed my first deer as a teenager in 1963 – a sleek little fork-horn – and over a half-century later the excitement hasn’t waned.
If anything, I enjoy deer hunting more every autumn because I realize that the next season could be the last season. I hike into the rugged areas where I hunt, I hunt on the ground, I drag out my deer, and I self-process them. It seems harder now than it did when I was 18. The ridges are steeper, the mornings are colder, and the deer have put on weight.
Good hunting buddies make for an enjoyable hunt, and I’ve been fortunate to have some of the best over the years. (When they can’t go, I hunt alone.)
On my recent hunt I was accompanied by Clarence Dies. I had gone earlier with Roy Denney, on another Wilson County farm. Both are skilled, ethical hunters who know their woodcraft.
Like most of today’s muzzleloader hunters, I succumb to a certain amount of technology. I use a scope, fire Pyrodex pellets instead of black powder, and use plastic-jacketed Sabots instead of round lead pumpkin balls.
Clarence, on the other hand, lives and breathes the spirit of the primitive hunt. He uses a replica of a 17th-century flintlock, shoots pumpkin balls seated in a greased patch, and loads the same black powder that our pioneer ancestors used.
Clarence even dresses the part -- fringed deer-skin jacket, leather moccasins and leggins. He made his cap from the pelt of a beaver he trapped. (A beaver hat sheds water better than the iconic raccoon hat.) His cap, belt and knife sheath are decorated with colorful beadwork that was common on the frontier.
When I hunt with Clarence, I feel like I’ve wandered back into another century. (He wears the mandatory orange-covering over his pioneer garb once we enter the woods.)
On the morning of our recent hunt, we dragged out my buck and took it to Clarence’s place to skin and butcher. We divided the venison, just as hunters did in the old days, and my half is packaged and stored in the freezer.
It will make lots of delicious, nutritious dinners in coming weeks.
There’s nothing better than a steaming-hot bowl of venison chili on a cold winter’s night -- with a side-dish of memories of the hunt that brought home the bounty.
Unlike we hunters, hunting never grows old.