So it’s that time again; time for a lovely walk in the autumn woods that I might spoil by shooting a deer.  So this morning I rose at 3:30 AM, showered, had a cup of coffee and hit the road. Just after 6:30 AM I pulled up at the Happy Hunting Grounds, enjoyed another cup of coffee with my lovely hostess and then it was light enough to take a stroll in the woods.

The ranges at which I actually see deer at the HHGs is usually relatively short, so I had armed myself with my trusty N.R.Davis & Sons 12-gauge double. Despite being around a century old the gun will reliably place a Brenneke Slug pretty much where I aim it.  I had a slug in the left barrel (front trigger) and Buckshot in the right barrel (rear trigger.)  Just in case of the unforeseen I had a 1911A1 .45 in a flap-holster that I made yesterday for the occasion.

Since I had given my hunting knife to a friend as a present I had my newly-made hunting knife, a 5-1/2 inch Puuko with an antler handle in a traditional sheath riding just behind the .45.  On the theory that my feet will not under any circumstances stay dry anyway I was wearing desert combat boots with wool socks, jeans, a long-sleeved green flannel shirt and my stylish ‘Please-Don’t-Shoot-Me-Orange vest’ with a couple of extra shells in the pockets. I was ready to go.

I quickly rediscovered that walking on uneven ground toting a shotgun is a far cry from strolling through the local mall.  The uneven ground was unexpectedly tricky, but proved the value of a good pair of tightly-laced boots that probably saved me from a turned ankle or two. I also quickly developed a gut-level appreciation for just how out of shape I am these days.

It was a beautiful morning with the sun rising in a nearly cloudless sky and the temperature hovering in the mid-fifties, just cool enough for the air to have a crisp autumn feel.  The trees had largely shed their leaves to show off their winter attire of something very like Spanish Moss. The vegetation was thick and lush, and fat robins flitted through the trees, eyeing me suspiciously for a moment then, with the avian equivalent of a shrug, going about their birdly business.  Along the southern fence-line of the property I could see numerous places that deer had come and gone over the wire.  It’s marshy down there, and a bullfrog was announcing his presence to the world despite the late season.  Totally worth the trip.

After about twenty minutes I heard a startled deer take off through the (to me) impenetrable brush a bit up the hill.  I was never going to see that one, but I was undismayed.  There are parts of the Happy Hunting Grounds where it just doesn’t pay to bother and he or she was right in the middle of one of them. I took it as evidence that the deer were out there and with a good-natured mental tip of my hat to the unseen critter moved along.

Shortly thereafter I found myself looking at a deer’s butt through the brush at a distance of about twenty yards. He was fairly large for a black-tail and from my perspective conspicuously male. Un fortunately all I could see was his hindquarters and shooting a deer in the behind is a bad business. It crossed my mind that if I fired a load of buckshot over his ass I would probably hit something important enough to bring him down, but I don’t just shoot at things I can’t see and hope for the best.  That’s how bad things happen while hunting. He was moving slowly away from me so I followed, hoping for a shot.

I kept him in sight as he was moving quite slowly, picking his way along with care.  My feet were squishing in the marshy grass, but he apparently couldn’t hear me over the noise he was making himself.  I found out why he was moving so carefully when my foot suddenly plunged knee-deep into mud and I pitched forward.  I managed to swing my other knee up and catch myself so I didn’t go face-first, but only at the cost of wrenching my back. I swallowed a gasp of pain and a litany of words unsuitable for broadcast television. The deer left. Probably giggling at me.

So there I was, sitting on my ass, my left leg curled under me in the mud, my right extended and throughly mired, holding the shotgun up while my back spasmed.  That got old rather quickly, but there was a bit of a problem; I couldn’t get up.  The mud in that corner of the Happy Hunting Grounds is thick and viscous, and once it has latched on it is reluctant to let go.  More than one boot has been entombed there for eternity.  I couldn’t get my other leg into position to lever myself up and there were no branches within reach to pull myself up. I didn’t want to set the gun in the muck and get gooey black mud all over my hands and arms so I considered my dilemma for a moment. Probing carefully with the butt of the shotgun I discovered a seemingly solid hummock a couple feet to the right, so I unloaded the shotgun, dropped the shells in my shirt-pocket and was able to lever myself up enough to get my left leg into position to slowly withdraw my right foot from it’s muddy prison.

It’s amazing how that mud hangs on.  Even though the boot was laced tightly I still had to work carefully not to lose it.  A minute or two and a whole lot of back spasms later I was free.  Hunched over like Quasimodo and feeling like a ninety-year old cripple, but at least I wasn’t a ninety-year old cripple sitting on my butt and stuck in knee-deep mud.  I forced myself upright and reloaded the shotgun, mainly as an antidote to all the deer coming out to laugh at me as I slowly hobbled back to the house.

My hostess was kind enough to bring me a handful of aspirin and some coffee to help down them, and I managed to get my boots, socks and muddy pants off before going inside to change. I’ve hunted around here enough that despite this being intended to be a day-trip I had not one, but two changes of clothing along. The five-minute process of donning clean socks was sufficient to make it obvious that there would be no more hunting today.  I gathered my gear and with the help of my hostess got it all back into the truck, resigned that despite the fact that it wasn’t even 10 AM I was heading for home.

On the good side as I twisted to get down out of the truck at a rest-stop something clicked in my lower back and I felt immediate relief.  My truck is a Chiropractor- who knew? By noon I was home letting the dogs out and icing my abused back.  Not a roaring success.

So the score stands at Deer 1, Hunter 0.  In a week or so I’ll try it again… but next time I am going to sit in a nice, comfortable blind with a cup of coffee and let the deer come to me if they will.  Let younger, hardier souls brave the bushes and mud.