JOSH GETS HIS DEER


There’s something that's much better than killing a deer: helping a novice get his first.  Especially when that novice is a mature individual who has come to hunting comparatively late, someone who might never have pursued the sport at all without your help.  I wasn’t lucky enough to have come from a hunting family or a hunting environment, so I’m always keenly aware of how hard it is to start when there’s no one to guide you through the initial stages. Nevertheless, keeping the flame burning in a new generation can be done by anyone who’s willing to take the time, and who’s lucky enough to find an apt “newbie” to teach.  I feel an obligation to do so when I can, and here’s the tale of how I got the chance.


I’m a professor in a veterinary college.  It may surprise NRVO readers to learn this, but vet school classes these days are 80-90% women, and at a rough estimate I’d say that 75% of these ladies are vegetarians.  Some are vegans. Not a few are members of PETA or similar groups.  In short, a vet school, especially one that draws most of its students from urban and suburban parts of the Eastern US, isn’t the most congenial environment in which to be known as a hunter.  Luckily I’ve never much cared what students (or other faculty, for that matter) think about it; if the issue ever arises I simply point out that humans were hunters before they were humans, and there’s no need to apologize for “doing what comes naturally.”

But even in such a place, even in this effete and urbanized era, when most Americans have completely lost touch with the nature of their food supply, when even non-vegetarians never think about what “meat” really is, now and then you come across someone who’s got the urge to hunt.  It may go unrecognized, it may be suppressed because of the social opprobrium cast on hunters in modern society, but nevertheless, the urge is there: programmed into our genes, attested to by the fact that we have canines and incisors, and digestive enzymes formulated to dissolve animal flesh.  We’re carnivorous, by God, and once in a while the thin crust of civilization and feminization cracks, allowing the Beast Within to see out.


Some years ago I had a male student who was mildly interested in guns. I’m known as the College’s semi-Official Gun Guru, and we got to talking about them as collector’s items.  I helped Josh through the initial stages of starting a gun collection, coaching as he acquired some interesting pieces.  Inevitably this led to inquiries about hunting. He said he'd like to give it a try.  That surprised me a bit. Josh is somewhat atypical for a hunter and shooter: a nice Jewish boy from Baltimore, whose parents are good Democrats,  somewhat scandalized by their son's interests.  I honestly think that they'd have preferred him to join the KKK rather than the NRA, and I suppose they don't see that much difference.  But mindful of my own experiences I encouraged him to give it a try.

Virginia requires a Hunter Ed certificate for a new licensee.  I told him to take the course as soon as he could and I'd get him into the field first time he wanted to go.  During an intership with a pharmaceutical firm in Connecticut he took that state's HE course; needless to say it was a little boring to be in a room full of 10-year-olds, but he endured it, and when he returned he was ready. For his first hunt we headed into the Thomas Jefferson National Forest to hunt squirrels, the traditional first game for young hunters.  I knew he'd learn more about spot-and-stalk and stand hunting in one morning hunting squirrels than any amount of classroom time would give him, and it would be preparation for deer season.

We went to a spot I know with a big grove of oaks and I put him on a stand in a rocky bowl-shaped depression on the edge of it.  The rocks are mostly boulders anywhere from the size of a man's head to the size of a kitchen table. This is just about the snakiest-looking spot I know, so I warned him to keep an eye out for copperheads, as it was still warm enough for them to be active. The acorns were ripening and beginning to fall off the trees, and I was certain there were squirrels there, especially with a big den tree in the middle of the stand.  We sat down just at legal shooting time;  twenty minutes later I heard a squirrel cutting nuts, and we strained our eyes to spot him.  I picked him up in the top of a tree about 40 yards off, and pointed Josh in the right direction.  Once he'd spotted the game he did a nice stalk as the squirrel, unaware of what was up, came in on a converging course.  When Josh fired, the squirrel dropped, and immediately a second one started squawking, on the other side of the fire road.  I marked the fall of the first squirrel, and told Josh to sit tight, I'd see if I could call the second one in. I do a pretty fair squirrel bark.  I started talking back to the one on the other side of the road, who was getting madder and madder, and then, about the time I gave my fourth or fifth CHUUUUURK-WHEEEK-WEEK!! a third squirrel, on our side of the road, not too far away, got into the act. 

I decided to concentrate on #3, yelling at him all the insults my command of Sciuridian allowed. I called him a filthy, flea-infested nut-stealer; a draggle-tailed, spotty-livered son of a chipmunk; a white-bellied sap-licker; all the epithets I could think of.  He flew into a towering rage, screaming obscenities and threats back at me. He swore by his Grandmother’s Whiskers that he was going to find my nut cache, steal all the white oak acorns, and hide them in his own tree; that he'd pull my tail off and stick in my nose; he suggested very strongly that my father was a groundhog.  Fine stuff, really. We went at it for about 5 minutes, until his anger got the better of him. He started moving, avowing his intention of pulling all the hairs out of my tail.  Josh spotted him, and looked at me, I nodded and waved him on.  He did another fine stalk, knocking #3 off his perch as he was stamping his forepaws and swearing that he'd feed my liver to his nestmates.

So Josh had two in the bag, within 20 minutes, and was hooked, gaffed, and landed, from that moment solidly in the pro-gun, pro-hunting camp.  I never fired a shot but already had to count the hunting season a success.


Josh has a little .45-caliber CVA rifle he built from a kit when he was about 15.  In the Summer following the hunt described above we got it sighted in and a load worked up for it. It shoots pretty well, he has confidence in it, and I was hoping I could give him a chance to blood it. We'd been out at least a half-dozen times in the early BP season and the regular rifle season, but he'd come up short every time, even though I put him on several good stands where I've killed deer over the years. Finally his turn came in the late BP season.

We met at about 6:00 and went to a friend's property in Giles County. I put him on the edge of clearing perhaps 60 yards wide, and sitting up on a little hummock where he could see everything. Then I took my own stand a few hundred yards away. About 7:30, I had a feeling something was going to happen—everyone has that feeling from time to time—and sure enough at 7:45 I heard his rifle go crack! with a much less authoritative note than my .54. I hiked up the hill but he wasn’t in view when I got there. I began to worry that he'd winged one and was off chasing it, but when I whistled he answered from the woods on the other side of the clearing. He was 20 yards into the brush and shouted "I got one!" I walked over and found him panting with excitement, really pumped up, standing over the body of a lovely 3-point buck, a really nice-looking year-and-half old deer about 130 pounds or so live weight. I congratulated him on the kill and asked him to tell me the story.

He'd jumped a deer up out of the clearing when he went in, and then sat where I told him to. An hour and a quarter later, "I looked up, and all of a sudden I saw a tail, and there he was, standing there!" the buck having jumped a wire fence. My guess is that Josh had pushed out a doe who'd been there not very long, and that the buck was following her scent trail hoping for a little post-rut poontang. When the buck jumped the fence he came towards Josh, who drew a bead on the buck’s chest.  The bullet hit Bambi smack in the head, one inch above the right eye! The deer was standing front-on to him, and probably just as Josh fired, had dropped his head to sniff the doe's trail.  "After I fired I couldn't see anything at all, so I reloaded and went over to see what I'd hit. There he was!"

The range was right on the edge of what I'd try with a round-ball gun (especially a .45 with a lightish load  of 65 grains of FFg), but it was nevertheless a perfect kill that certainly dropped him like a sack of bricks. That deer died so fast he still doesn't know it happened.

We proceeded to roll him over and I handed Josh my knife. He made the initial incision, I split the sternum with my saw, and the we jointly pulled the "pluck." Josh dragged him out, prancing like a Lab with its first dead duck, and would have dragged him back to Blacksburg had I suggested it, grinning from ear to ear all the way. We stopped and told the landowner, who was delighted, and then checked the kill in at the Feed & Seed.


Subsequently Josh has continued to hunt.  The year following his first kill he took two more deer, and since his graduation he’s moved to the Northeast, where he’s an avid waterfowler.  He came into hunting at age 28, from an urban background like mine, which had given him no exposure nor any positive impressions about it. As an advanced veterinary student he understood life and death at an intellectual level, and the necessity and complementarity of  both. When his studies and his chosen career path led him to southwestern Virginia and the rural environment of Blacksburg, it must have stirred something dormant in him. Perhaps the spark was a need to grasp the reality of life and death at the emotional and instinctive levels. How better to do that than to become a hunter?