Monday, March 17, 2008


The Land Between the Lakes (LBL), is a National Recreational Area about 90 miles northwest of Nashville, and about 26 miles north of Clarksville, Tennessee, right on the Kentucky and Tennessee state line. The inland peninsula itself is half in Kentucky and half in Tennessee and was formed when the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers were impounded, around 1953, creating Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. The large area is bisected by The Trace, also known as KY 453, a 45 mile long highway. The land is prime deer hunting land and the former location of many old homesteads.

I hunted LBL twice during my hunting career, the first time successfully, but the second time, while not successful; it was the most challenging experience. This story is about the first time.

The first hunt was with Vernon, Leroy, Martin, and Squeaky. They prepped me for the hunt about two months prior to the hunt, making me shoot countless arrows down through the trees at a range in north Knoxville. There were a series of tree stands and ground stations throughout the woods near the rifle range there. Martin in particular made me practice shooting straight down from a tree stand to a target below at about an 80 degree angle. He had missed a doe directly under his tree stand the year before and he was determined that neither of us would make the same mistake at LBL.

The morning of the hunt, (I’m skipping right to the chase because the two hunts are meshed in my memory and the details leading up to the actual hunts are somewhat confusing now), the five of us skirted a large cornfield in the dark, walking to our stands, spaced some 200 yards apart, located between the field and a slow sloping hill.

I quickly inched my way up the tall hickory I had scouted and settled in for the wait, scouring the area with quick little movements of my eyes in order to pick up movement, but not really focusing on anything. This is the same technique I had learned in Vietnam while standing post, and the same reason lifeguards can watch a large crowd and still pick up something out of place – not normal.

All day I sat there, sucking on the kernels of corn from a dried ear I picked up coming along the field. Slowly, as went the time, kernel after kernel dissolved in my mouth and occupied my time. Occasionally, I would have to pee in the plastic bottle I had packed…along side my lunch!

The day drug by and the heat rose to around 65 or 70, and I could feel the sweat trail down my brow and into my eyes, but I was careful to move very slowly when I had to wipe it away.

The sun sank lower until it silhouetted the top of the hill about 200 yards away. I started to think that my hunt was over for the day and that I had wasted all the preparation and anxiety time.

Just then about 5 or 6 deer came up over the hill from the opposite side from me and stood looking toward the field that was vexing them to “come gorge on my corn.” They suddenly broke and started to run down the hill toward the field but away from my stand. Again my heart sank.

Then, as if divinely guided, one doe broke ranks and headed in my direction. While the doe was still shielded from me by low limbs loaded with fall foliage, I came to full draw and followed her; bending from the waist and maintaining the proper shooting posture.

As fate, or God, would have it she stopped dead still directly under my feet and perused the immediate area, but never looking up. My arms began to feel weak as I strained to hold the 60 pound bow at full draw, and Martin’s voice went over that particular shot one more time in my head.

I aimed lower than she appeared, like shooting at fish in water, taking aim about a foot lower than dead on and released! As happened to me many times, the doe took one more step, maybe jumping the sound of the string being that close, and the arrow twanged into the ground. The doe squatted slightly, and bolted, tail down. In a moment she was lost in the darkness that had now crept into the valley.

I cursed myself, only audible to myself, and began the climb down, making more noise than I should have. Just then Leroy appeared and asked, “Did you hit her?

Hell no…I screwed up the shot…Martin will be pissed,” I said loudly.

Where’s your arrow? Was her tail up or down?

I don’t know…down I think…let’s see, she was standing about here...” then my flashlight highlighted the arrow. I bent down and pulled it out of the ground and I felt something wet and yucky. Leroy stepped up and we both lit up an arrow with blood and deer crap all over it!

You hit her man, you hit her!”

I hit her,” I shouted!

The five of us searched for about two hours and could not find the doe in the dark. I had to ride back to the motel and try to sleep wondering about my deer…lost out there in the dark woods.

The next morning, not 50 yards from my tree we found the doe lying under some bushes, with about half of one of her hind quarters eaten away by the forest scavengers; skunks, possums, raccoons, maybe even coyotes, who knows. Needless to say, I was very disappointed, but nonetheless, it was decided that I should salvage what I could, if for nothing else to feed my dog.

So, for the first time, I pulled out my Air Force survival knife and began to cut from where the animals had left off up to her chest cavity.

I heard Leroy make a bet with Vernon about whether or not I would upchuck, but as I laid her open and rolled out the already severed entrails, it was Leroy who gave up the first “Ralph and Earl!” The smell was just too much for him!

I had passed my first rite of passage and made my first kill, as they said with “beginner’s luck!” Either by luck or skill, I made the grade with many witnesses. It don’t get any better than that!


Buck said...

Ya never forget a "first," of any sort... and they always make great tales, too. Like this one!

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Great story. You've inspired me to get my old gear out and start shooting again. Takin' my old arrows out to be refletched and renocked today. Maybe this fall I'll get lucky too. It's something I've always wanted to do but got away from. Excited. Keep it up.

Suldog said...

Not being a hunter, you're giving me great insight into the sport, and in an entertaining way. Thanks, Mushy!

Jose said...

Good to read about this because me being a city boy all my life I have no clue as to what hunting is all about. Love your scenery pictures, nothing like that here in Phoenix.

BRUNO said...

I never was any good with archery, was always too "shaky"! The first time I shot a compound, I got the same "trophy" YOU did the first time around---a damned TREE! Couldn't afford to lose too many of those things, and those shafts weren't worth a hoot, once you had "killed" a tree with 'em, were they?

Scott from Oregon said...

Oh the smell...

the smell...

the smell...

Ralph and Earl...

Jeff B said...

Here via david. Too bad you couldn't have found her that first evening. Great story.