Wednesday, March 12, 2008


There was a time in America when a man, a real man, could keep his family fed with what he hunted near his homestead. I suppose, like all hunters, that primitive thought was in the back of my mind when I started deer hunting. It is quite the fantasy as I found out.

I found out that the average “great white hunter” would quickly starve to death if he depended solely on venison to survive. While there are those “good ol’ boys” out there that can kill at least one, some as many as four or five, a season, hunters like me do good to see one a season let alone kill one. Out of the ten years I hunted routinely, I have proof of only four kills. I can remember firing at another three that I tracked until there was no further sign; all I thought had been “one shot – one kill” shots.

A deer or turkey hunter may appear brave if you see them leaving the comfort and security of a warm 4-wheel-drive truck and entering the dark forest an hour or two before first light. However, truth be known, he does not walk far, unless he is with another hunter, before he stops and lets his eyes adjust to the darkness, with his ears on high-point like a birddog trying to hear something in the dark before it sees him!

On that very first hunt at Chuck Swan, I knew that the walk to the tree stand would be my least favorite thing about deer hunting!

Of course I soon learned to walk in the dark woods without any light, at least most mornings, by looking up rather than down. The bare trees are silhouetted against the sky, and most mornings there is enough light from the moon, stars, distant city lights, or the rising sun to pick your way to a particular tree. The size and shape of a tree is easily discernible in low light conditions if you have studied and remembered their shapes and sizes during daylight hours.

Sometimes, in unfamiliar places, I have resorted to “bright eyes” or little reflective buttons or thumb tacks that reflect the light back from your flashlight, but most often I walked along looking up into the trees. So, moving from my truck to the exact tree was no problem.

The problem, as I’ve stated, is moving along without holding your breath! Breathing masks the sounds around you and you often get that feeling like you sometimes do, walking through a dark house to your bedroom, that there is something just behind you about to tap you on the shoulder!

As I walked to that first tree in the dark, I just knew there was something behind me, so I kept flicking the Mini Maglite® on and off, or whirling around holding it in my mouth as I assembled the tree stand. Nothing…there’s nothing there you stupid sissy!

Once I was up the tree, some twenty to twenty-five feet up, I still could see nothing on the ground below me, but I distinctly heard something walk up to my tree and stop. It’s a deer. Naw, maybe a squirrel…OR, it’s somebody,” I kept thinking! However, with first light, there was nothing there at all. Probably a chipmunk,” I assured myself.

As time passed, I became less and less anxious about walking the woods in the dark, and each successive hunt reinforced my confidence that the woods are the same in the dark as they are in the day time. Then there was the incident at Cumberland Springs!

Larry Rigsby, a since deceased brother-in-law, and I made two long trips to Cumberland Springs Wildlife Management area prior to the actual hunting day. We walked the flat country until we could barely move before deciding to hunt on the crest of one of the few hills in this area. We found two trees along a well-used game path about a hundred yards apart, and marked a trail back to where we intended to park the morning of the hunt.

The morning of the hunt was one of the darkest I remember, with low hanging clouds and no moon. We talked all the way down from Harriman about how nice it would be to hang along that hill, with all the deer to ourselves!

We seemed to make more noise than usual that morning getting things unloaded and on our backs, but we soon began the long walk down into a narrow valley, and then back up a steep hillside. About half way up the hill, we came to a fork in the trail where we intended to split up.

I continued on and frequently looked to my left and caught the light from Larry’s flashlight as he got further and further away, and I breathed less and less, listening to my surroundings. Twice I looked around getting that ol’ sensation that there was someone near me.

After another ten minutes, I finally reached the base of the oak tree I intended to climb – my home for the rest of the day. I placed my Ruger .270 against the tree and swung the heavy tree stand from my back. Sticking the Maglite into my mouth, I began to disassemble the climbing arm so I could fasten it around the tree’s trunk.

That is when a big voice said, “I’m huntin’ in that tree right there!” I snapped around, shrieking at a pitch only audible to the nearby animals, with my eyes showing more white than blue, and staggering backwards up against the tree! The bright stream of light from the flashlight, still held between my teeth, blinded an angry bearded man dressed in camo!

What the…” I nearly screamed again!

I said I’m huntin’ right there man,” he repeated, pointing to a tree just feet away, “you can’t hunt in that tree!”

I should have dropped him right there, and might have had I not be shaking so badly to aim or think!

Crap,” I yelled at him and stomped off blindly in the dark in Larry’s direction!

From that point on I did not care how much noise I made. I stomped heavily about another hundred yards, mumbling to myself, and climbed the first tree that looked like it would hold me! I think I even yelled out a ghastly primal scream a time or two once I reached the top and sat down. To hell with them…if I couldn’t have my tree and my hunting territory all to myself, then, by God, the hunting success in the area was going to be low!

When the sun finally came up, and it seemed like it would not that morning, I could see more orange than at a University of Tennessee ballgame! There must have been eight to ten guys hunting that little hill! I was also within a rock throw of Larry, who sheepishly waved at me when our eyes first met!

Well, as it turned out, Larry popped the first doe that trotted by, on a “buck only” hunt, so I said “Screw it…I’m going to the truck!”

The only thing I got out of that hunt was the reassurance that there may actually be someone behind me when I get those uneasy feelings!


david mcmahon said...

Mushy, your blog is a treasure trove and we are privileged to feast our eyes on the glistening gems.

My Dad wasn't a hunter, but a lot of his friends were. Remind me to blog the story about how the first white tiger was sighted in the Indian jungles ....

David Sullivan said...

The only time I went hunting I sat in a tree stand freezing my ass off for eight hours watching as light snow blew in my face.


The only thing I caught was a buzz!

CrazyCath said...

Hi - over from David's (McMahon) blog.

That's spooky! *shiver*
Well told though. Not sure I'd want to go again after that...
Love the photo at the top of the deer creeping up on the sleeping hunter!

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Yea, somethin' tells me when those older dudes were actually feeding their families with deer meat, they didn't have those sorts of issues. Back then they could hunt all year round. Lots of crowds out there now, and too much crap to deal with. It';s still possible, but you have to work at it harder than most hunters are willing to work.

I'll never forget my second trip out to Ft. Hood to hunt. They set me up in a tree that creaked and moaned every friggin' time I breathed or turned my head to look around. Never saw anything, accept cows.

Suldog said...

Funny picture, thinking about the sun coming up and then you seeing all those guys in orange hanging out in the trees!

aims said...

What a great hunting story!

I use to duck hunt and that feeling of something behind you - ya! I know it and have heard it too! Gives one the creeps..

btw - David sent me!

Editor said...

all this sounds vaguely famiiar
ps. the fat man sent me

catscratch said...

Now you got me all spooky about going out into the woods behind my house. I swear I hear footsteps out there all the time, but I try to convince myself it's just my overactive imagination!!

Sarge Charlie said...

Man, the last time the old sarge was on a hunt was in the 1960's at Ft Huachuca, AZ, had my nice new 30/30 and sat on a mountain side until my but was sore, since then I have found that game is easier to find in the grocery store. sounds like you are learning the same lessons.

Old Soldier said...

Well at least you have got this funny story to tell. And I am sure as time goes by and the number of times you tell it, you will have shot the guy behind you, gutted his dear, beat his wife and trashed his car. Now that would be a tall tail. Ha. It's all in the game.

Mushy said...

I've got about three more in this series...glad everyone is enjoying them!

david mcmahon said...

I just KNEW you'd spot the UFO in the sub picture at Holbrook!

Editor said...

hey! thanks for linking me!
will return the favor.

Scott from Oregon said...

You know, out here in the West, it kind of confounds me this whole deer hunting thing. We have deer coming in our yards to get at our roses, and there is no hunting involved...

Just open your sliding glass door, sit in your bean bag chair in your underwear while watching I love Lucy reruns, and pop off a round from your .22...

Venison for life...

Mushy said...

It's about that way here Scott...only problem is getting caught, and it seems the deer know when the season starts and ends.

Hunting on private property is about over one wants people on their land, and the deer on the reservations are so used to the seasons they know when to lay low. Hunting is hard work anymore, unless, like you say, you pop one in your house!

If you use a .22, I suggest it be a head shot!

Chris said...

Darn public hunts:)

I enjoyed this post because I had a loooonnnngg walk to the stand on our December hunt. I felt everything you wrote about. I was nervous I had either taken the wrong turn or gone too far by the time I finally found my box :)

Mushy said...

Chris - sometimes that can be an advantage, as I will write about in a couple more posts.

Hammer said...

From stories I hear about the depression my family hunted possums, raccons squirrel etc.. Deer was a special treat.

I wouldn't feel safe unless I was the only hunter for at least a few square miles.

Shrinky said...

That's a wonderful photo of the deer and oblivious hunter.

My goodness Mushy, I'll never understand this hunter gatherer instict of you guys. It's so much easier just to go to the supermarket (shrug, WHAT?).

You always tell a wonderful tale, and this is another.

pat houseworth said...

As you have read on my blog...I loved to hunt when young, but over the years I decided that I'd rather have someone else kill the meat, and I'd just enjoy.

My dad's family and some of the remaining cousins have a million "hunting" stories, which I still love to partake in.

Lin said...

What a great tale, Mushy. I nearly crapped when that old fart yelled at you in the dark.
I'm also wondering how these guys fed their families by hunting. You're going to wonder again when you get out here; men chipping away at flints to shoot birds and game. It absolutely boggles my mind.