THE 2018-2019 SEASON LOG

January 27, 2018

Starting off early this year, again. Each year brings some new promises of adventure, and as I just turned 70 last adventure time (and physical ability) is probably running out. Time to get cracking.

After being skunked last deer season, I finally got a deer, sort of.  Last Thursday evening I had a phone call  at 5:00 PM from a friend who lives in Riner. "There's a deer in the road by my house; it was hit by a car but it's still alive.  Can you come and deal with it?"

I get calls like this from time to time from friends who know I hunt and presume (more or less correctly) that I will know what to do. I think over the years I've had four or five "mercy killing" requests, and whenever possible I answer the call, out of a sense of what is right and best for the injured animal.

I told my friend I'd come out but before I could do anything he'd have to let the authorities know what was going on, and get a tag of some kind for the processor, since I wasn't going to be able to process the deer myself and I didn't fancy getting stopped and charged with poaching. He said he'd call the Sheriff's Office and get back to me.  Twenty or so minutes later, not having heard anything, I called him. The Sheriff hadn't called back, so he would call 911 and try again.  After doing so he was told by the 911 operator that they would have to "send a deputy." Of course, in the meantime the deer was still there on the side of his road, dying by inches.

Another 20 minutes passed and he called. By then he'd spoken with a game warden who had, finally, given him a check number. At that point I could come out and deal with the animal, but he said, "It's dead now!" Well, no matter: it hadn't been dead very long by then, so it would still be edible, and I didn't want it to end up as coyote and buzzard food, so out I went.

I drove to his place in my truck, arriving about 7:00.  We then went to the site where the deer lay in the ditch.  It was a very young buck fawn with horrific injuries.  His hindquarters and halfway up back he had literally been flayed alive by the impact, the skin torn right off.  Then we went up to it, was ALIVE, still! 

I can hardly believe that the poor thing had lived at least two hours after being half skinned alive, but I put an end to its suffering with my .44 Bulldog right then and there. Strictly speaking this was not kosher, as one is not supposed to discharge a firearm within the right of way of the road, but to hell with that restriction. I wasn't going to let him spend another minute suffering if I could help it, and I could. I might have used a knife, I suppose, but a gun was quicker and more certain. It just goes to show that having a compact, powerful handgun around when you need one is a sensible practice.

I shot it in the head just in front of the left ear, with the muzzle touching its fur. Amazingly the bullet didn't exit, as I found out later.  I was using some moderate "Cowboy Action" level reloads someone had given me. Had I used the very hot Blazer ammo I keep around for Close Encounters of the Anti-Social Kind, likely there would have been pass-through. But what I had was enough to do the job. We loaded the body into my truck, I took it to a local processor, and while it will cost me extra, I let them eviscerate and skin it (well, finishing the job the car started, anyway) preparatory to making the entire thing into hamburger.  I might get 15 pounds out of it, and it's going to be pretty pricey stuff.

I'm glad I put the deer down but I'm mildly pissed off about what happened before I was able to do so. Of a certainty the Sheriff's Office dispatcher should have told him to go ahead and kill it after the first call, which would have saved the deer from a good hour of additional suffering. The poor beast underwent needless agony for bureaucratic reasons. It was very small, not more than 50-60 pounds on the hoof; and some of the hindquarter meat was pretty roughed up by the impact: the car must hit it in the hind end and dragged it, accounting for the skin being half torn off and the left ham being badly bruised up.

Furthermore, I can't imagine that whoever hit it wasn't aware of the impact. There's no way that kind of damage could have been done without the driver knowing about it, especially since it happened in daylight. Driving off to leave it in the road was an act of callous cruelty. I've seen some pretty horrific road-hit injuries but this was one of the worst cases I've ever encountered. If I knew who'd done it I'd tie him to a tree and flog his back down to the bone to teach him a lesson he'd never forget.

February 4, 2018: The Aftermath

I picked up the meat at the processor yesterday. That deer was larger than I thought: I was thinking I might get 15 pounds of deerburger out of it, but it came to a total of 26 pounds! All in nice one-pound packs, plus the liver. I don't eat liver but the friend who showed me the deer does, and I'll give it to him.

February 8, 2017: Getting Ready

My friend Phil and I are planning to take a 3rd-year veterinary student for a bird shoot in Glade Hill. Vince had never shot birds and had no real acquaintance with wingshooting, so we took him to the club's range and brought along an assortment of shotguns for him to try.

I am embarrassed to say that he, a complete novice, a total tyro, out-shot both of us on clay pigeons thrown from a foot-operated trap.

In the end he selected a 20-gauge autoloader of Phil's, and I imagine he'll do even better on live birds than on skeet.

I elected to try for Chukars this time. I usually shoot pheasant, which are big enough that I have some hope of hitting one now and then. Quail are nice but they're such teeny things they're too easy to miss. Chukars are in between, maybe I'll actually manage to kill one or two. The ones I miss...Vince will get 'em, I bet.

February 25, 2017: The Bird Shoot

Phil, Vince and I went to Glade Hill for the annual bird shoot. We paid John Holland for 24 quail, and 8 chukar. The short story is that we brought home all the chukar and 22 quail; two quail had—literally—exploded in mid-air by taking the entire charge of shot at a range of perhaps 5-10 FEET. In once case we found a few bird fragments and that was it.

We also brought home a pheasant, which hadn't been on our order, but who foolishly exposed himself. He'd been left over from someone else's shoot the day before, and managed to survive overnight, fat lot of good that did him.

John had three dogs he'd borrowed from his brother-in-law, because all five of his own dogs, including ones we'd shot over before, had been killed in a kennel fire last January. This was a terrible shame and a tragic loss, and he's obviously still grieving for his lost friends and "employees." I can understand his feelings since I've lost some dogs suddenly myself. Furthermore, Phil had buried one of his pets yesterday at age 14, who died of a stomach torsion. Dogs remind us what we could be if we were only good enough, and I think they were put here as role models for mere humans. Their only flaw is a short life span: to lose them at all is hard enough, but to lose them unexpectedly and in such tragic ways is totally unfair.

It was a good half-day: weather was overcast and cool, though there was no rain. We tramped around for four hours and were very satisfied with the outcome. One annoyance was that somewhere I dropped a very nice braided leather gun sling, and I'm hoping John finds it and returns it to me.

Our newbie Vince is a natural. He shot better than either Phil or I did, and although we didn't keep track of who shot what, he unquestionably accounted for more birds than I did. He is a "natural," perhaps because he has no preconceptions about wingshooting and just "does what comes naturally." I wish I shot that well and had his reflexes.

Despite all the walking my hip bursitis isn't too bad, another encouraging thing. I had seen this trip as a major test, and I passed it. I can feel the effects but it's nothing I can't deal with. Getting old really sucks, but I ain't dead yet.

April 28, 2018: Creeper Fest

I do a good deal of volunteer work for Virginia's Department of Game & Inland Fisheries as part of their "Complementary Work Force" (CWF). The CWF people do things that game wardens (excuse me, "Conservation Police Officers") might do, but CPO's have better uses for their time and the Commonwealth's money.

Mostly what I do is write "kill permits" for people who have wildlife damaging their property (e.g., deer eating crops or ornamental plants, etc.) but I do other things. I've stocked fish, helped out at a large fish hatchery, thrown old Christmas trees in Claytor lake to make fish habitat, and most recently, helped staff a display booth at "Creeper Fest" in Abingdon.

The name isn't anywhere nearly as kinky as sounds.  The "Virginia Creeper" was a nickname for an old train. First the Abingdon Coal & Iron Railway, and later the Virginia-Carolina RR. Eventually the VCRR was absorbed into the Norfolk Southern system. The train ran 35 miles between Abingdon and Damascus. Since the area is hilly and the heavily-laden trains had to labor up the hills, they "crept" along and the name—which is also that of a common plant here—stuck to the railroad.

Norfolk & Southern abandoned the line in 1977 and turned over the right of way to the Commonwealth, which incorporated it into the "Rails to Trails" program.  It is now a popular bike path. Two years ago whoever administers the Virginia Creeper Trail decided they needed some PR, so they established the (as yet very modest) "Creeper Fest" to advertise the "brand". This was the second year of the Fest. The event included perhaps 20 exhibits and/or vendors, and two food trucks. One of these, selling South Asian food, cleverly labeled itself the "Pakalachian Food Truck". 

The DGIF likes to set up displays at this sort of venue to gain publicity for the agency and its activities.  CWF people are called upon to staff the booths alongside some employees, so when the call came out I volunteered for this one.

Abingdon is 100 miles from Blacksburg.  I drove to the Division III office in Marion (84 miles from here) where I met "Jake," a recent Virginia Tech graduate who is now employed by DGIF as a Fish Biologist. We also met "Shannon," another DGIF employee.  I had to be there at 8:00, which meant getting up at a ridiculously early hour, but I made it in plenty of time.  In Marion we loaded up the exhibit gear and convoyed on to Abingdon. 

Once at the Fest site we set up a couple of open-air tents, a few tables, a bunch of animal skins, a fish-shocking machine used for sampling rivers, some display posters, and we were in business.  We also had a large banner with the agency name.  The day was a bit windy, and several times we thought we'd lose the tents, but adding weights helped to hold them down.

It was a nice day, if a bit cool, and when the fest opened officially at 10:00 AM we started getting a pretty steady stream of booth visitors.  Shannon had laid out several tanned skins: a skunk, a possum, a river otter, a red fox, a coyote, and a nice black bear; there were skulls to go along with each skin.  There was also a HUGE set of whitetail antlers, at least a 180 B&C set that had been illegally taken in 2016 and forfeited to the DGIF.  Crime doesn't pay! The skins were either from similar forfeitures or road kills.

Jake was doing the fishing stuff: he knows more about fish than the fish do themselves, and he was usually deeply engaged in fish talk with visitors, making recommendations as to local waters, etc.  Surprisingly the fish-shocking machine drew little attention.

As people would approach we'd ask them if they could identify each skin. Interestingly, the kids were the best at this.  Often the adults would miss the otter, but the kids got it every time.  We'd tell them about each animal and why it was significant, and answer whatever questions they had.  Nobody got snotty about hunting, but this is after all southwestern Virginia where hunting is accepted as part of the local culture even by non-hunters.

Some people came from very far distances: we had visitors from Illinois, Missouri, the Carolinas, and one guy from California.  They didn't come specifically for the Fest: mostly they were visiting relatives, or on vacation and traveling through. The Californian was doing a "Roads Scholar" program on fly fishing (also a big deal in this area) and wanted to know about local streams. There were quite a few families, mostly young ones with small children in the 3-12 age range.  It was a very family-friendly event, located in a strip park alongside a railroad track.  Periodically a freight train would come by with its horn blasting and cars clanking.

The hit of the event wasn't our booth. It was a demonstration of dog sports run by a woman from Blacksburg who'd brought four or five Australian Shepherds to show off Agility and Frisbee.  Every time she started up a session our "business" would fall off, people crowding around to watch the dogs.

There were only a few booths selling stuff, mainly items related to their subjects. For example, a booth that was touting water quality issues would offer T-shirts, as did a company hustling mountain bikes.  In Blacksburg every year there's a much larger event ("Steppin' Out") that draws crafters from many miles around selling all kinds of tschochkes, execrable paintings, blown glass junk, jewelry, etc., but there wasn't anything like that at the Creeper Fest. There was one man doing wood carving and he was selling it; it was very nice work, too, but I wasn't ready to pay $250 for a carving of a pileated woodpecker.  Perhaps as the Fest gains in size and gets better known this situation may change: one vendor said to me, with a light shining in her eyes, "Maybe one year we'll have booths on both sides of the street!"

All in all it went very well.  The Fest ended at 5:00, by which time I'd been up and on my feet all day and was pretty wiped out, but I think we got some good publicity for the DGIF.  I'd be interested in doing something similar in the northern Virginia area, where I suspect we'd encounter some hostility from those who oppose hunting; it would be a good opportunity to try to educate people about wildlife, human interactions with it, and the role of hunting in conservation.


This Summer has been one of travel; mainly to Maine, but also to a few closer places. In between I've been busy writing kill permits for local landowners. So far between March 16 and two days ago, I've written 13 permits. Everyone is complaining about deer damage: the DGIF claims the herd numbers are down, but if so, the average deer is eating a lot more than before. Permit season ends on September 30, just before the bow season starts, and I expect there will be a few more requests. I'm not the only permit writer, either; I have no idea how many actually get written by our local DGIF office (we're in Region III out of Marion) but it must be a good many. The northern counties surely account for many more, as the deer are thick up there and there are few people who hunt them. Deer-vehicle collisions are a daily occurrence in Fairfax County. I've been seeing more roadkills around here recently, too. They're starting to move.