Saturday, March 08, 2008


In the film “The Deer Hunter” the central character, Michael, tries to drive home the point of always being prepared to his other hunting buddies by insisting his friend Nick not loan Stanley a pair of boots. The movie goes on to show another character flaw in Stanley when he randomly fires at deer, forgetting the group’s creed of “one shot – one kill.”

These are two of the movie’s good points and things I held true when I participated in the sport. Always being prepared was not just something I learned in “Scouts,” it was also something the military police training drummed into me. It was also among the first things I learned from friends when I began hunting.

You can always take it off, but you can’t put it on if you didn’t bring it,” Vernon used to say as we worked.

Staying warm or cool is part of being prepared,” Leroy would add.

Vernon and Leroy were brothers-in-law that I worked with when I first went to work in Oak Ridge. We were second-class mechanics in the “converter” shop, and the hard, side-by-side work soon made us close friends.

The two used to talk deer hunting year ‘round, but especially during the summer just prior to the opening of the fall bow season. I guess I got caught up in the intrigue of deer hunting, and because I still remembered a neighborhood friend who used to hunt with his dad and would come back telling stories of the things he had witnessed. I always wanted to be part of that experience, but my dad had no interest.

However, the driving force was probably the loneliness I was experiencing after my divorce. I was desperate for new relationships and for things to occupy my off time. So, it is easy to see how I would get caught up in the excitement and camaraderie of any sport.

Soon, I was interested enough that I bought a bow, camouflage clothing, insulated boots, a tree stand, and everything else that went with the sport. It was probably a small fortune! I began practicing at the range with them after shift, driving many a sleepy mile out of the way just to shoot arrows, talk hunting techniques, and just be with new friends.

Anyone that has ever been around guys who are deep into any sport knows how much they love to talk and pass on what they know. Maybe it is just a way to show off, but it makes no difference, if you ask a question, someone is going to load you up with more than you can remember. Vernon and Leroy were no exceptions and they rattled on endlessly, stopping only briefly to spit out a dark stream of Red Man before continuing!

The first hunt went flawlessly, except that I did not make a kill as I had fantasized. I brought everything I needed and more, and I loved every minute of the ride to Chuck Swan Wildlife Management Area, in Union County, Tennessee, much of the time I was in the tree, the time we spent having lunch, and the ride home sharing experiences of the day.

However, the trip into the dark woods to the tree I had previously found on a scouting trip, and getting the stand to the predetermined height, was not nearly as enjoyable!

The first rule in deer hunting is get to your stand before the sun comes up. Somehow, they think that deer are hard sleepers and will not hear a hunter crunching his way through the dark, flipping on and off some strange light source, and breathing as if he is nearing a heart attack!

Anyway, it’s the code, and if you really want to piss off a redneck hunter, just walk by his tree stand after day break and you are liable to get shot, or at least an imaginative cussing! Might as well go home now, you’ve spook’em all!

My particular problem with walking in the pitch blackness, besides taking sharp little switch hits across the lips and wiping spider webs off my face, was that I held my breath so I could hear any movement around me, but in particular – behind me! I would not realize I was holding my breath until my lungs screamed out and I fell against some small tree panting like a beagle on a rabbit hunt! In later years, I learned to slow my pace and breathing, and strip down to one thin layer, but for these first few years the result was I was soaked in sweat and ended up nearly freezing to death before the sun could come up and dry me off!

My second deer hunt was on the AEDC (Arnold Engineering Development Center) near Manchester, TN. Vernon, Leroy, Squeaky (who you’ve already met) and another new friend Martin loaded up and headed to a motel we used often as our center of operations. Across from the motel was a Waffle House that served us well over the years, warming up our bodies for the morning’s trip into darkness and holding us until the noonday lunch.

This first morning, however, was to be etched into my memory; it was the morning I rewarded with my second moniker, “Boots! With all the great planning and hunting packing traditions, I went off without my hunting boots! Luckily for me, there was no “Michael” character around to talk Leroy out of loaning me his backup pair!

Martin was the first to call me Boots, and from that point forward, with that group anyway, I was “Boots!” Often, as I moved through the giant refurbishing complex at the K-25 Plant known as K-1401, I would often hear someone from high above me yell, “Boots!

Looking up, I would find Martin, standing in the steel near a 40-ton crane he was working on, at full-draw; left arm outstretched pointing straight at me, right hand fingers anchored deep into his lips and right jaw and releasing an imaginary arrow at me. I would fane being hit mid-chest and stagger around the concrete floor! It would all end with us both laughing and giving each other a “thumbs up” before returning to work.

What’s up Boots,” he would say?!

That first morning at AEDC was another lesson learned in my hunting career.

We hunted all day in a steady warm rain, the kind of day that heats you up under your rain gear, so much that you end up wetter than you would have been had you just stood in the rain without it.

It was hard to hear with the rain beating on the vinyl camouflaged rain hood, so I was totally surprised when I turned my head and saw my first deer. At least I thought they were deer, but they looked too small, more like large dogs, so I watched puzzled for several minutes before realizing – THESE ARE DEER! The AEDC deer are, or at least they were then, smaller than their free roaming cousins in the nearby forest.

I quickly came to full-draw and nervously released my first arrow at one of the does. It sailed harmlessly over the nearest deer’s back, and frightening all but one away.

I struggled to load another arrow onto the bow’s rest and snap the string into the arrow’s plastic knock, which held it fast until I could raise the bow and pull to full-draw. There was no need to move slowly and stealthily, because the rain drowned all sound. I took aim, calculating the yardage in my mind, and released. The arrow buried in the ground about a foot from the doe. Damn,” I said barely audible!

The doe heard the arrow but did not see it hit. She turned and sniffed the fletching on the arrow, but only turned and walked away about 10 feet.

Again, I fixed an arrow and shot sending it wide of the doe’s tail as she moved forward just as I released. It crashed into some bushes, making the doe twirl to see what was behind her, but surprisingly she did not flee the area.

I began the process of loading my final arrow, this time making sure I calmed myself and did everything as the voices in my head of Vernon, Leroy, Squeaky, and Martin told me. I held my anchor point tight against my first upper molar, took a deep breath, figured the yardage in my head and found the 25 yard florescent pin through the peep-sight that was woven into the bow string, relaxed my grip on the bow and let it hang loosely in the fork between my thumb and index finger, released half the air in my lungs, and gently clicked the trigger on the string release. The bow string slid by my left arm guard, forcing the arrow away, bowing the aluminum slightly as it flexed from the 60 pound release of kinetic energy, and sending it straight at the upper shoulder of the doe. With a crack and twang sound, the arrow centered a 2 inch sapling! Had it not been for the little tree, I would have made a perfect lung and heart shot!

The doe pranced around the little tree twice, sniffing at the shaft. I could not contain my pent-up emotions any longer. I screamed, “Get the hell out of here you little bitch!

The doe was gone in a flash and I sat exhausted on the edge of my tree stand, swinging my legs, mulling over and over the last 15 minutes of my life!

When Martin and Leroy arrived they asked what was going on, “Did you shoot a deer?”

Hell no, but I shot all my arrows!”

Once on the ground, we located all my arrows, and only one was bent and unusable. The others survived to hunt another day.

Hunt another day I did, but some valuable lessons were learned that day, and not the least of which was that deer are not as big as cows!

Soon I would complete the rite of passage, and take back a little of what “Boots” had lost!


Lin said...

Okay, Mushy, you got even. I've never gotten so frustrated and worn out as hunting that doe with you just now!

Isn't that just the worst feeling; to get slowly soaked from the inside out while the rain is still being kept completely at bay?

Shrinky said...

Mushy, my friend - it's a sign of what a great story teller you are that you had me reading this through from start to finish with such a great interest. I never would have believed I would have enjoyed learning about hunting (tee-hee).

I love all your posts, even this one!

Buck said...

I'm not a hunter and don't quite understand the attraction, but, like Carol, you had me all the way through this post.

Good stuff, Mushy.

Mushy said...

Thanks ladies!

Buck - to me it was a follow up to Vietnam...a chance to dress up in camo again and sneak through the woods, but mostly it was what my friends did so in order to be with them I did as they did. I enjoyed the scouting, the friendship, and the long naps in 20 and 30 degree temps under a big tree on a bed of either pine or hemlock needles. The actual killing was never a thrill for me just proof I was able to get that close to an elusive animal that didn't know I was there.

Scott from Oregon said...

ALl the deer meat I ued to eat growing up came from deer that were shot from the living room of some friend's house. Te deer would come onto the back deck to eat the flowers. Wifey would nag hubby. Deer would eventually lose the war and end up sharing space in many a freezer.

The whole idea of getting geared up in cammy seems odd. We just put roses in our backyards and waited...

(You could even watch cartoons while in your "blind"!)

Mushy said...

The way I describe it is a way of life in many areas of the's all still ambush!

BRUNO said...

Shee-it, our November deer season was ALMOST considered an official holiday, where I was working at---generally three-days off, WITH PAY! The rule was, if you didn't hunt, you were still expected to work!

So, for about 15 of the 20-some years I worked for them, I got myself a deer TAG, whether I planned to actually HUNT, or not!

Hell---3 paid days off more than compensated for the price of the tag! And, once or twice, I actually DID hunt...!

Becky said...

Hahaha -- I got quite the chuckle off this image if you being so quiet and then screaming out at the doe like that. And yes, you're so right at how much men will talk about whatever sport or hobby they're into:)

Hammer said...

They say always carry a backup ;)

Cool story!

Catscratch said...

Ok, so when you wrote the book and said it was over at Moochings, I started stalking the Silverbacks.

Great! Now I have a huge backlog of stuffs to read! You TomCat!

Suldog said...

As with Buck and Shrinky, I am not a hunter, but I enjoyed the tale. I can translate my own passion for other sports to yours for hunting. Good job.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Well hell, I just tried to leave a comment but blogger wouldn't take it.

Anyway, as the others have said, that was well done brother. I was right there with ya in the rain. You did a great job there man. Are those the dudes you told me about who got you into the Alman Brothers and stuff?

I envy you thise experiences in the woods, but mostly those relationships. I've tried many times to build friendships with guys llike that, at work and elsewhere, but they never materialized. I'd always end up feelin' like I was a groupie, chasin' afte folks who really didn't need me around.

Well, I guess I'm gonna have to do a post about all that, and show a picture of my first deer.

Loved readin' that man. Great job.

~Fathairybastard~ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mushy said...

FHB - Lord no...this happened twenty-five years or more before the Allman Brothers! I used to see Martin at a little church I attended once, and Squeaky I see now and then, but the others I'll probably never see again.

Everyone else - thanks for the comments.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

No, no, no. I mean the guys that got you into the music, not the concert. You said somethin' once about this group of guys you hung with when you were single that got you into them and Skynnrd.

Mushy said...

The music happened in the Land of Oz in '78 and '79. This was the Edwards boys!

Judy and I married in '80 and the deer hunting started about then.