Illustration by Sara Wilde
The stories that are told at deer camp are works-in-progress that we edit and expand as time and memories see fit. Our character’s involvement may be downplayed or embellished, but as a whole these stories are about the kind of hunter we try to be. One of our camp’s perennial favourites is the opposite. It originates from our first season in the woods near Prawda, Manitoba, about ten years ago now. Truth is, it’s a shameful, heartbreaking story that invites ridicule, but we offer it up. Lessons in life will be repeated until learned, and the killing of Robo-Doe should mark a low point in our journey.
My sit in the creaking aspen lasted three cold hours, pondering a miserable life. Hunting cures those feelings. Seeing and hearing nothing, the plan was to meet up and regroup. Three old friends being fools, assuming that our loud conversation of grunts and guttural noises would go unnoticed in the woods. When we least expect it, two does burst out hightailing it. And then all hell fire breaks loose. Mistake #1: We couldn’t contain ourselves. Buddy cycles through his pump-action rifle with a pose of an action-figure and the rapid fire of a video game. (In newer versions of this story, he dive-rolls and shoots straight from the hip). We all join the offensive, with a .250 Savage in lever-action and a .3006 in semi-auto, several rounds from each. First shots have little hope, second and third are of pure desperation and frustration. We had visions of a Chuck Norris-like mission, but we appeared to be channeling Elmer Fudd on a deer hunt.
Not every shot was a clean miss. A doe limps off and the new snow shows stains, a few drops of blood. That sick feeling comes like a wet blanket, heavy and with shivers and you’ll do stupid things to shed its burden. We shot without thinking and so we search for answers. Time for Mistake #2: We give chase.
Judging by our actions, we believed that we could run down this deer. After a couple of bumps, we suck air with portly wheezes followed by hacks of lung butter. Void of strategy like a push with a point man, boughs of white spruce slap me upside the head and tangle at my ankles catapulting snow from top to bottom. It’s a flailing panic of a half-run, times three. Suddenly, the doe is broadside at close range offering a safe shot. I mount the rifle and stare into a scope covered in snow. And we are slow learners, so Mistake #3: We give chase.
I am consumed by an image of steaks and roasts and burger and garlic sausage being enjoyed with cigars by a party of wolves playing poker. We regroup when the doe crosses a road and prepares to lose us. More shots and more shots again. We fear the doe is invincible, shedding bullets and repairing its own wounds. Then reality sets in. The second doe, her sister perhaps, stands by the wounded other defiant of our guns, knowing of our proficiency, and we are grounded and gasping. Have you ever had an animal look you in the eye and make you feel embarrassed?
Slowed in deep snow, neck exposed, knife working and blood up to our elbows. We didn’t give up on stupid. We saw it through to the end. Mistake #4: Going all in. That small doe was our only deer that season. This disgrace happened before the rut and so from then on, every deer in the area was well acquainted with the smell and sound of our footsteps and gunshots, and that sister did live on . . . Our antics ranked somewhere between road hunter and domestic terrorist. Ten years into the future and I may think I’m smart but in those same moments I can be more S-M-R-T. Do not take marginal shots. If you do, you should never hear the end of it. With a new season upon us, so to the anticipation that this year, maybe this hunt, a fresh story of your creation will find its’ way into the collection. How you choose to own that story and return next season to prove it right or wrong is what decides the type of hunter you are becoming. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
John Toone hunts whitetail deer with bow, muzzleloader, and rifle. His son Jackson turned twelve this year and John hopes to guide him to his first buck.