Deer Grandma, Story One
Early November of 1964. My husband, Dan, and I were on our way to his parents’ farm in East-Central Minnesota. We visited there frequently on weekends, trading the Twin cities population and traffic for a lifestyle much more suited to our tastes. There were many things to do there that interested us – – fishing in the nearby Knife River, long walks exploring the countryside, picking berries, helping with farm work, and hunting.
On our way north, we stopped to visit Joyce and Phil. Joyce is Dan’s big sister. Their farm was nestled up against a state forest and they, too, enjoyed many of the same recreations that we did. I always enjoyed visiting them and did not think it unusual that we would be stopping there Friday night. It should be a good start to a fun weekend for me, with both my birthday and deer hunting on the schedule for Saturday. I’d use the old 20-gauge single-shot shotgun that had been in Dan’s family for years. The previous year, I had shot at a deer and missed, misjudging how quickly the slug would drop. By the time my cold hands had gotten out another slug from my pocket and placed in the gun, the deer had moved out of range. Phil had jokingly reminded me of my error by giving me an old, used, shotgun shell belt in a pretty wrapping that Christmas. That belt was now tucked away in my supplies for the weekend.
The traffic moved slowly, and by the time we got to their farm, it was nearly dark. As usual, Joyce had prepared an excellent supper. Before the meal, Dan and Phil were a bit secretive, talking about something in low voices. They went down to the basement a couple times. After supper and the dishes were done, they went to the basement again. When they came back to the kitchen, they were carrying something large. It was Dan’s birthday present to me . . .
The stock was curved, sanded, and well oiled. It was made of a dark, close-grained and attractive wood. There was a leather sling on it and a 2.5 power scope. The barrel was flat black. The caliber was .308. Phil showed me how the bolt action worked and reminded me, with a grain, that there was room for a few extra shells in the magazine just in case I had to make a second shot.
Dan said, “You really need only one shell to do the job.”
We took the rifle Phil had built for me along with two boxes of shells he had loaded and happily continued our journey north.
The next morning was cold, but sunny. I looked down the trail to the east, then to the north, then slowly scanned the woods.
I’d look at the gun and smile. Then worry. I hadn’t shot the gun yet. I could have practiced shooting or go hunting.
I’d tell myself how foolish it was to worry since Phil assured me that he had shot it a lot and it was sighted in well. Then I’d start the looking-worrying cycle all over again.
The stand was in an oak tree on the southwest corner of the property. Dan and I had cleaned out the property line for his father, Peter. Peter preferred to have a 14-foot wide clearing rather than a fence in wooded areas to designate where his land ended, and he had been too busy to keep up with that job the past few years. The previous two seasons, I had sat on the ground beneath this tree and watched for deer.
This year, I was elevated about six feet up on the straight white oak. A few months earlier, Dan and I had built a small wooden platform and positioned two-foot sections of tree limbs leading to it. Not elaborate, but it got me up where I could see more.
The deer population was low that year as it had been for several years. The season was short, but a hunter could take either a buck or doe. There were some tracks and droppings in the woods, and occasionally we would see a few deer taking their evening meal in the adjoining clover fields.
As morning progressed, it got warmer. The sounds of small wildlife scurrying about increased. The sun felt good. I would sit, then stand. I tried to blend in and make as little motion as possible. There was a light wind, but it was fairly quiet.
Mid-day, Dan and I exchanged notes. He had climbed a tree near the large swamp and saw some movement, but had no opportunity to shoot. Taking account of the wind, he talked about walking through an area of brush along a swamp. If a deer got up so far ahead of him that he couldn’t see it, or get a clear shot at it, there was a good chance it would come my direction. That sounded fine to me, so I climbed up to my tree stand again and waited.
Dan was good at stalking deer. When growing up on the farm, he had spent many days hunting and trapping. He had developed a good sense for how to find deer and get within shooting range without alarming them. He would take a few quick steps, stop, take time to look around and listen for the sound of an animal getting up or moving, and continue that pattern. The 16-gauge shotgun he carried was perfect for that style of hunting.
Mid-afternoon on a warm day in November can be very noisy. It was. Because of the many red and white oaks, squirrels were everywhere. Birds, chipmunks and rodents joined the chorus, all looking for seeds and nuts to carry them through until spring. There was plenty to watch and listen to.
After a while, my mind started to wander, and I almost missed the sound of a deer crossing the swamp. By the time I caught glimpse of her, she had crossed the old beaver dam and was entering a brushy area close to another swamp.
She walked deliberately but was not running. She was quite large and appeared to be alone. There was one spot ahead of her that was clear enough to get a good chest shot. I lifted the gun to my shoulder and put the scope onto that spot.
The gun seemed to weight a ton and the barrel moved around more than I expected. Even with the sling around my arm as Phil had shown me, I wasn’t very steady. I leaned a bit to the side to catch the edge of the tree. The gun, and I, settled down a bit.
The doe came into view on the scope. I squeezed the trigger as the crosshairs passed her front shoulder. There was a loud crack. She ran.
By the time I got another bullet into the chamber, she was gone. I was certain I had missed. Disappointed, I put the safety back on and started breathing regularly again.
Soon, I saw Dan walking towards me. He said he heard me shoot and, with a smile, asked me where the dead deer was.
I said, “I think I missed”.
He argued with me, saying he didn’t know how that could be possible with that fancy new gun. He asked me to direct him to where the deer was standing when I shot.
As he got to that spot, he said, “You didn’t miss.”
I walked over to the spot where he stood. It was full of bright red blood.
The trail was easy to follow. She had died on a full run – – just crumpled. She was large and, I thought, very beautiful.
I felt sad. I felt happy. Sad that a life had ended. Happy that a life-time of successful hunts was begun.