The past three years in a row, I have taken a buck in the first week of rifle season, less than a mile from home, in thick woods with few deer. Each of those years, I was too busy to spend many hours hunting and didn’t expect to bring home venison. Against the odds, though, bucks appeared.
This year, I was equally busy, with grad school and book revisions each demanding maximum attention just as deer season arrived. I was not, however, equally lucky.
During Vermont’s sixteen-day rifle season, I got to the woods on weekends, for a couple of hours each morning. I saw no deer.
During the nine-day muzzleloader season, I did the same. Still no deer.
Finally, on the last day of muzzleloader season, I went to a friend’s woodlot, a place he calls the Hundred Acre Woods. I knew the hunting was better there—the hoofed traffic more consistent and the woods more open. It was there, in fact, that I killed my first deer. Recently, I just haven’t felt I could spare the extra time. Going there adds an hour or more to every outing. At home, I can go for shorter spells, hunting within minutes of stepping out the door.
As soon as I hiked into the Hundred Acre Woods, though, I knew I should have gotten there earlier in the season. In the light of dawn, the snow told of the deer who had come this way over the past three days, beating a path along the ridge.
I sat for an hour or two, then thought I would move to a different spot. The maple leaves and thin snow crust were loud underfoot, so I took only a few steps at a time, then stopped to listen.
Somehow I saw and heard the deer, rather than vice versa. The animal was sixty or seventy yards off, broadside to me, walking.
A doe, I thought.
I had an antlerless tag, but shooting never occurred to me: Even if I had been certain she wasn’t an illegal spikehorn, she was moving, the glimpse was brief, and—with nothing to brace against—the shot would have been offhand. My desire for venison and success in the hunt is no match for my fear of wounding an animal. I would much rather regret a shot I didn’t take than one I did. I tried to draw her attention with a few fawn bleats, but she kept walking and disappeared.
With dusk came the end of my chances at venison. I was disappointed, to be sure. I wanted fresh meat in the freezer.
But hunting does not fit into the tidy logic of agriculture and industry, wherein efforts lead to results. Hunting, like angling, is filled with uncertainty: sometimes luck, sometimes lack of luck.
And isn’t that part of the allure? If I had no appetite for the unpredictable and mysterious, wouldn’t I be better off sticking to the grocery store?
Next year, maybe I’ll hunt half as often but head to the Hundred Acre Woods every time. Luck, after all, helps those who help themselves.
This winter, Cath and I will content ourselves with the precious few pounds of venison that remain in our freezer. And, having consulted with friends, we will be re-titling my forthcoming book The Hungry Carnivore.
© 2011 Tovar Cerulli