Oh, Deer!

Christin Kaiser

© Copyright 2023 by Christin Kaiser


Oh, Deer!

Photo by Anthony Roberts on Unsplash


Oh, Deer!

I grew up in a small New England Village, one steeped in farming, fishing, and hunting traditions. It was accepted and even expected in certain circles that “you filled your tag limit.” That venison made a big difference for many families.

I don’t recall any trophy hunters before nineteen-sixty, but by the mid-sixties, our pastoral setting echoed with the reverberations of various gauge long guns.

The story of my petite mother dashing out the front door wielding her corn broom like an avenging Valkyrie to confront a ‘city fellow’ bent on shooting Charlie (her cock pheasant) on the front lawn was rehashed for at least a decade.

Then there was the time a girlfriend, and I were riding our horses through the September woods to attend a riding lesson at a farm a few miles from home. Trotting down the trail around a large glacial erratic, known locally as ‘The Elephant,’ we almost ran over a man in a semi camouflage vest bristling with an array of metal jacketed big bullets! I was incensed, this wasn’t deer season, and he wore no license. He was also within range of several children riding ponies in the field beyond!

He was a bit scraggly looking and truculent when I asked who he was and what he was doing on private property. “I’ve got permission to hunt woodcock.” ‘Oh, who gave you permission?’ I queried. He said, ‘the owner, Mister Stephans.’ Knowing that the land was owned by our riding instructor’s family and was being deeded to the county Green Belt conservation group, I told him he needed to go back to Andover and ask again at the Stephan’s Estate, as MY family owned this and the surrounding 150 acres!

Meanwhile, my friend tried to calm her young horse, who was unhappy standing for long. The man reached for her bridle, and I rode my horse between them, telling him to get out while the getting was good, as my uncle, the chief of police, would be interested in interviewing such a fine marksman who could kill a tiny bird with a deer slug.

He thought better of pushing his luck and hurried to the end of the old logging road where his car was parked. Once he was gone, Sue and I both started to shake. We got the license plate number and gave it to our instructor, who called it in to the police (of which my uncle was most definitely not the chief).

My friend was upset with me for taking the risk but angrier with the trespasser whose stray bullet could have killed a child or any number of horses and ponies that sheltered in the woodland edge of their pasture.

White-tailed deer were not as common in the sixties as now, so they were highly sought in season and became very wary. They slipped deep into the swamps and laid up in hemlock thickets to avoid hunters.

We had about a three-quarter acre old field fenced with three strands of smooth wire to contain my best friend, who happened to be a horse. Horses are herd animals and often don’t do well living alone. However, Beau was content to live singly and hang out with my family and me.

There was a sumac thicket in the far corner of his field, which had entertained me for several pre-teen years. However, he wasn’t interested in that corner as there was a patch of bitter Japanese Spurge that had been dumped with garden weeds years ago; we called it ‘Creeping Crud.’

So, it was interesting that as fall arrived, Beau grazed along the edge of that patch of Spurge and, when confined to his plank-railed paddock, would gaze in that direction.

School was in session, and my mind was occupied with getting chores done before the bus arrived and getting in a quick bareback ride before dark fell, so I wasn’t paying much attention during the week. But getting up early on a Saturday, I took a thermos of coffee milk out to sit with Beau to watch the sunrise.

As I walked out through the pine grove toward the stable, I rubbed my eyes; there were two horses eating hay out in the paddock. I stopped and looked again. That wasn’t a pony with Beau but a young buck deer! He had eight points, or four spikes per antler, making him anywhere between two to four years old. He certainly had evaded hunters for at least two years, maybe more.

Not wanting to scare him away, I sat in the pine grove and had my coffee milk. The wind shifted, and he looked up, then sailed over the five-foot top rail like water arching from a hose. Since I was sitting down, I couldn’t see where he went, but Beau was watching that sumac thicket intently. From memory, I realized the buck had found the deep hollow between the old WWII midden piles. I had certainly enjoyed the cozy declivity for hours on end in the past.

Over the decades, garden debris and sods had been dumped on top of the garbage heaps. The grass grew thick and rich under the sumac’s filtering feather foliage. What was left to delight young children and now a wary deer was a gentle oval-shaped hollow about six feet long by four feet wide and almost three feet deep. Add the three-foot-tall native Little Bluestem grass, and you could hide a Volkswagen Beetle in there. Even when the foliage fell, the space was completely hidden until winter snow packed the grasses down.

Feeling like I had a secret was too much, so I told my mother, and she advised me to not tell anyone else, as she wasn’t going to take a broom to a deer hunter! Together we decided that the buck wasn’t moving around enough to get the right browse, so we put a shallow rubber feed pan on the far side of the fence and put out a portion of Beau’s crimped oats with molasses. The next morning the oats were gone, and Beau gave me a dirty look and tried to get his nose under the fence rail to snag the empty pan but couldn’t reach it. We knew the buck had enjoyed a good feed.

I put food out each evening, and it was gone each morning until two days after the hunting season ended, then there were oats left in the pan. It was a bittersweet moment to know Beau’s wild companion was gone, but I felt happy to have helped this clever wild animal survive another season. I investigated the hollow and found the interior grasses all firmly matted down.

Winter arrived, and snow blanketed the pasture. The memory of the buck faded as the family gathered for Thanksgiving. But one morning, as I put Beau’s hay into his favorite corner, a pristine four-point shed antler was lying on the lightly iced snow! Perhaps a thank you for the oats?

We never saw him again, and Beau lost all interest in the Sumac patch.

That’s my walk on the Wild Side.

Photo by the author.

Photo by the author


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