I had gone up to
Walt lives an hour away from the farm and uses it as his primary hunting ground. Well, I can't blame him, it's a wonderful place and well worth the drive. But Walt isn't my favorite person in the world and he isn't my idea of what a hunter should be, as will be made plain below.
Friday morning I was at a place I call The Rock, where, if the weather is good and Artemis smiles, I usually pop a deer on Opening Day. Artemis didn't smile this time. I spent the whole day there; the only deer I saw were 300 yards away on someone else’s property, a buck madly chasing two does. Saturday went much the same, though I sat somewhere else. Moving wasn't enough: I did see another chase, but again it was 300 yards off and I never got close to having a shot.
Saturday morning, quite early, Rich had bagged a nice 5-pointer, which I admired when I went up to the farmhouse about 9:00 AM to warm up. I was still deer-free.
Walt wasn't hunting the farm that day, but another property about 10 miles away. When I came in Walt’s truck was there, but Walt wasn't; nor were Rich or his truck. I asked Rich’s parents where they were and was told, “Walt shot a big buck this morning, and it ran off; he came and got Rich and they went to track it.” I went back into the woods for another fruitless vigil, and came in about 5:00 PM. That evening I got the full story, more or less.
Walt had indeed fired his muzzleloader at a huge buck about 8:00 AM, and the buck ran off. Well, these things happen to all of us: but he was certain he'd hit the deer, so he and Rich went back to track it. To no avail: according to Rich they found no sign of a hit at all, no hair, no blood, nothing. At first I'd thought Walt had taken one of his Hail-Mary shots, but I was told, no, the deer was no more than 40 yards off! Quite probable, given the terrain and the dense woods on that farm: 40 yards is a long distance.
Now, just the previous Friday evening, Walt had been boasting of the accuracy of his Remington 700ML rifle and his skill in shooting it. We were told he could reliably hit targets with it at 200 yards. Moreover, not only was the rifle devastatingly accurate, and he a terrific shot; it possessed great “shocking power” because of the bullets he used. Only the best will do for Walt, which in this case meant saboted 240-grain hollow pointed .44 caliber pistol bullets.
I was informed that the shocking power of these bullets was “…awesome, just awesome. They just tear 'em up, the put all that energy into them, and the deer just drop in their tracks.” He had gone on to explain that the bullets never exited and always broke up, which he considered the reason for their great “shocking ability” and “devastating” performance.
Walt is one of those people who can fairly be described as a legend in his own mind. Whatever charm he lacks, and whatever personality quirks he has, he has an abundance of self-confidence. Walt will unhesitatingly fire this muzzleloader at a deer 200 yards away. Like anyone else, sometimes he gets lucky and makes a kill under such extreme circumstances, but of course we never hear about the misses or the cripples, since only Walt knows about them and it would puncture his vanity to have to admit that he and everything about him isn’t perfect. No witnesses means it never happened.
His God-given skill and his rifle’s near-magical accuracy and power make him not just confident, but certain, of a hit and a kill every time. The nail-driving accuracy of his weapon, its deadliness, and his own incomparable marksmanship meant that “If I can see it, I can hit it!” Thus spake Walt, on the evening before he fired his Wunderwaffen at the “huge” buck 40 yards away.
But when he and Rich came back empty handed from their tracking exercise, Walt was singing a different tune. Since they couldn't find any blood or hair, he was absolutely, 100% certain that he must have missed cleanly, and the deer was wholly unscathed.
I gently asked Walt how, with his sublime killing machine, that paragon of accuracy and lethality, wielded by a Nimrod of his unparalleled ability, he could possibly have missed a “huge” deer standing broadside to him at 40 yards or less. I sweetly reminded him of his statement that, “If I can see it I can hit it,” and suggested that if a 200-yard shot was no big deal for a man of his skill, why should 40 yards present a problem?
To give him credit, Walt never missed a beat. He held firmly to his assertion that since there was no evidence of a hit that he could find, ergo, there was no hit, case closed. Inasmuch as Walt believes in his own infallability as strongly as he does his shooting prowess, as inconceivable as it might be, he was asserting that missing an easy shot was the only possible explanation for the situation, and there seemed to be no contradiction involved. Thus spake Walt after he had fired his Wunderwaffen without effect. Since neither he nor his rifle could possibly be at fault, clearly the fault lay with the deer, who was inconsiderate enough not to have been hit.
Rich and I both shoot round lead balls, and we've killed at least 20 deer between us with them: neither of us have any illusion that deer are armor-plated and require crew-served weapons to kill. We suggested that it was far more likely that Walt had in fact hit the deer, but that inadequate bullet mass and bullet breakup caused the loss. We pointed out that a deer shot with a lead ball at those ranges never runs when the bullet is placed in the chest; that a .54 round ball in the shoulder will break through both scapulae every time, and a .50 ball will give complete pass-through or lodge under the skin on the off side, as a rule. We posited that his choice of a light, fast, saboted hollow point pistol bullet was faulty, and that he had wounded the deer in such a way as not to be trackable. This can happen if there is some penetration, but the bullet is stopped by a bone.
Walt was deaf to these notions. The deer ran off. Since it didn’t drop dead on the spot from the “devastation” the bullet certainly would have caused, it must therefore have been a clean miss. To our suggestion that he at least consider using a solid bullet in the future, he replied that his gun now shoots 1 inch groups at 100 yards (from a muzzle loader!) and he'd have to do his load work-up all over again if he opted for a solid (or worse, a non-sabot) bullet. Walt believes in the myth that "shock" from light, fast bullets is whats important. Nothing will ever dissuade him, and I told Rich that trying to change Walt's mind was a waste of breath.
Now, I wasn't there: I never saw the deer nor even heard the shot he fired at it. The only person who really knows the truth is Walt, and he’s sticking to his story. But based partly on his admissions and partly on my experience, I still think he hit the buck; and that the bullet probably lodged in or just under that buck’s shoulder blade. Had it penetrated the chest it would have killed him and left a blood trail, but a light, fragile hollow-point pistol bullet can easily have enough kinetic energy to penetrate the scapula, but NOT have enough remaining to get into the chest cavity and kill. Such a bullet may also break up on impact and create a wound that didn't even get through the shoulder blade he did hit.
Even a halfway decent shot can hardly miss a broadside standing deer at that range, so the miss theory is untenable to my mind. Had he used a different bullet the deer would have at least been trackable.
Walt’s casual dismissal of the wounded buck as a clean miss was bad enough to spoil that evening for me, but he came within an inch of getting himself reported to a game warden the following Sunday morning.
Saturday afternoon after “missing” the buck he'd gone to another stand—and brought a six-pack of beer along with him. I let that slide. Then, on Saturday evening, after we'd hashed out the matter of the buck, he'd gone on to salvage his self-esteem by recounting tales of his hunting prowess, stories from years past in Delaware and in Maryland.
One tale involved a day when he and someone else had shot 17
Another story was about a pickup truck bed full of snow geese, almost all of which had fallen to his proficiency as a wing-shot. Other such incidents were counted, all of them presenting us with Walt’s view of himself as the Mighty Hunter.
It would be easy to dismiss this man as a blowhard, were it not that in prior years (when Virginia had a physical check-in, not the phone-in system we have now) I have personally known him to hunt the farm without any license and to take the carcasses of his deer back home without bothering to check them in at all. I've seen him drive off with as many as four carcasses hidden under the tonneau cover of his truck. I therefore have direct knowledge that he isn't overly fastidious about game regulations that he considers petty annoyances. Some of self-aggrandizing stories he told that evening went beyond mere self-promotion: they had a hard ring of truth in them.
Back to Sunday morning. As we were having coffee prior to departure, a doe walked out onto the lawn some 60 yards away from the house. Walt spotted it first, and immediately said, “I'm going to go shoot it!” followed by, “I have to unload my rifle anyway!” Walt always says such things in a jovial, laughing way, but I believe that he was serious this time; at least to the extent that if Rich’s parents hadn't been there, he WOULD have gone out and shot the doe. He is more than a bit of a game hog. After knowing him for years, I have to say that I think that for him, the fun comes from the killing, not the hunting.
I didn't much like
Walt is very nearly the epitome of the Slob Hunter. He isn't in any sense a hunting partner of mine, even though he’s there a sight too often for my taste and I have to put up with him. Thank God we always hunt different areas of the farm, but just being around him makes my teeth ache. He’s an emotionally insecure windbag who can't stand not being the center of attention or the dominant participant in a conversation because he feels that what he’s saying is the only thing that’s worth listening to.
More to the point, he’s someone I hate to have labeled as a “hunter.” Borderline illegalities and braggadocio not only defame hunters in general, they shock my sensibilities and insult the animals he kills. I don't want to lose the farm as a hunting ground: and while I know that my hosts would never say I couldn't hunt there, they won't tell him he can't either. So I can't ever be sure that Walt won't show up on any given weekend, and I can hardly ask “Will Walt be there?” when invited.
People like this present a real ethical dilemma. I'm not sure exactly how to deal with it, because I have good relations with Rich and his family, and don't want to jeopardize them. It may come to the point of a self-imposed exile from hunting that farm.
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