Wednesday, August 15, 2018

EDITOR'S NOTES: Deer season brings memories of hunts gone by

Deer season is underway here in the Lowcountry.

It’s the time of year that signals the beginning of the end of summer. And, although I’m a relative newcomer to the state, I always get a little nostalgic when I start to see ads on blaze orange, ammo and other hunting gear.

Locally, hunting began with a youth hunt on Aug. 11 and runs through Jan. 1. Anyone venturing in the forests should keep these dates in mind and understand that encounters with hunters is a very real possibility.

Hikers and backcountry enthusiasts — some of the friendliest folks you’ll ever run into — sometimes are disturbed when they see rifle toting hunters on their beloved trails in wandering through their unspoiled forests.

Most of my hunting these days is done with a telephoto camera lens, and most of the wild food I bring home has been handed to me through the window of Wendy’s drive-thru.

But I’ve found over the years that there’s plenty of room for everyone in the woods, whether you’re hunting with a long lens or a long gun.

When I was still in my teens living out West, my Boy Scout troop decided we would all go get hunting licenses and see if we could bring home a deer or two.

Five of us boys, including one of my best friends, Evan Jackson, his dad and our Scout leader Dennis Scott ended up in Mr. Jackson’s 1975 Chevy station headed for Craig, Colorado.

Now, I’ve been in the middle of nowhere before. If you every find yourself in Craig, Colorado, you know you are getting close. But that’s where the big bucks were — at least that’s what we were told.

What I discovered however is that deer hunting mostly involved walking around real quiet like, for miles and miles and then coming back to camp and talking about all the deer we saw, but were too far away to actually shoot. I did enjoy the camping part though.

Miraculously, it was on that first trip that I accidentally bagged my first mule deer.

After a couple of days of walking, scoping and walking, we called it a day and packed up for home.

Mr. Jackson had fitted his station wagon with a trailer hitch so he could pull his custom made utility trailer, which really was the back half of a 1950’s era Chevy pickup — you know the kind with the big round fenders that stick out.

It was late in the day when we set out on the rural state highway headed for home. It wasn’t long before I heard Mr. Jackson say, “Now what’s all this?”

I looked up to see what I thought was a small fog bank ahead and a car with its flashers pulled over on the side of the road. It was cool out, so it made sense that there might be some patchy fog, but then I saw the huge deer on the side of the road and realized what had happened.

All that fog was a bunch of deer hair. That stupid deer had decided to cross the road at the exact same time as the car ahead of us was traveling along that backroad highway in the middle of nowhere.

We pulled over as well, just to make sure everything was OK.

I looked back at that poor deer and saw it struggling to stand up. When it finally got to its feet, it took off down the highway, sort of. It had at least one broken leg.

Three of us quickly found the guns from the back of the station wagon, dug out the ammo from the trailer and began jogging down the side of the road after what we later learned was a six-point buck. That’s six on each side if you’re from Colorado.

Mr. Scott was the first to shoot. He stopped, dropped to one knee and said, “shooting.” We waited for the fire of his rifle and then looked ahead at the deer still struggling to get over the barbed wire game fence that lined each side of the road.

Miss. We trotted off again, gaining a little on the preoccupied beast, which I could tell just wanted to get out of there and the hell that it had stumbled into.

Between the three of us we got about four shots off before the animal finally dropped.

Mr. Jackson had already pulled the car and trailer around to catch up to our little party of roadkill hunters. We spent the next hour cleaning out the deer on the side of the road under the din of station wagon headlights.

When we opened it up we saw that only one of us actually hit the deer — and now, years later I hate to say it, but I suspect it was that first shot. The high powered round had pierced the animal’s heart, yet it still ran for another 10 minutes or so as the rest of us caught up to it.

It was a memorable trip for us young hunters, but I have to say one of the best parts of the trip was driving through the Wendy’s restaurant on the way back through Craig. And so a tradition was as born.

Every year I enjoy the start of the deer season. I was especially happy to see that our state legislators set aside a day for young people to hunt before the regular season opened.

I have no doubt that the memories and traditions they start will be every bit as rich as mine.