Deer Friend

Old friend Tom White of Northfield says the time is now for deer hunters to get in the woods, and the man has meat in the freezer to prove it.

He took care of the familiar butchering chores Tuesday, intending when I spoke to him on the phone that morning to skin out the 8-point, 187-pound buck hanging in his friend’s barn since he killed it on Halloween morning near his home.

“It was nice that the weather cooperated and I could leave it hanging for a while,” said White, likely supporting the tradition that it’s best to season venison before packaging it. The problem is that, if it turns warm, the meat can quickly spoil, and that would be an unpardonable sin.

White, a sociable potter/artist with unbridled energy and spirit, is a devoted hunter who raises, breeds and trains German Shorthair Pointers owned and loved throughout the Pioneer Valley and beyond. I am often reminded of my friend by drinking from his signature earth-tone coffee mugs, lighting his lamps and placing drinks on the glazed, table-top coasters I’ve bought from him over the years. The last time I actually saw him to talk to was in late August when he stopped by with a gift, a game and a devilish grin. You see, he had called on the phone earlier and, knowing I collect Whately stoneware, reported digging up something of interest he wanted to share with me on his way through Greenfield. When he arrived at my home around 5 p.m., he came in and we chatted awhile before walking out to his truck to inspect his treasure: a small, handled ovoid jug covered with in a gray, pasty opaque film. He wanted me to wash it off at the nearby garden hose and see what appeared.

I must say I had immediate suspicions and, lo, the pretty little jug was no ancient artifact but a brand-new piece he had made me as a special gift, with Old Tavern Farm impressed on its shoulder under a streak of cobalt blue, the same color as the bird he had an artist friend paint on its face. I was moved by the thoughtful gesture, a personal gift from a friend and reader that I will treasure for the rest of my days; it currently standing atop a one-drawer Sheraton stand in the study between a sofa and my bookcases. It’s heartfelt offerings like that which a man like me finds most special; yes, a genuine token of friendship that will always have a story attached and a storyteller to spin it.

But enough of that, back to the man’s big buck, which, in his own words, had “just an ordinary rack” but, in my words, was no ordinary deer. No, 187-pound bucks in these parts qualify as large no matter how you frame it. Perhaps its ordinary head gear left it a step below a trophy buck, but, hey, like the fellas sitting at the Conway Taproom bar say: you can’t eat the horns. And get this. White says there’s a larger buck sporting a trophy rack that’s been showing up on his trail camera since August or early September. So now that critter is patrolling the same area minus his No. 1 competitor vying for the affection of four of five does White has seen up close and personal, not to mention on his camera.

“One time those does were right under my stand and I tried my best to put horns on them,” he laughed. “You know how that goes: low light and you start trying to grow horns on them before coming back to reality and admitting they’re baldies.”

Yeah, any deer hunter knows that creative little mind game of internal deception; and to be honest, I’d venture a guess that a game warden or two has heard excuses from violators who shoot does without a permit and try to defend themselves by saying it was an honest mistake. You know, something like, “Honestly, Officer, I thought it had horns or I wouldn’t have shot;” followed by the ruse that there must have been deceptive branches behind it, because the hunter was certain it had spikes when he squeezed the trigger; then the tear-jerker of all tear-jerkers that his eyes just ain’t what they used to be. Well, it’s doubtful such excuses get a man far with the stern, expressionless officers of the law patrolling the region nowadays, especially the new, rigid breed wearing their military high and tights, rarely fitting the profile of the kid next door’s dad that applied when I was young.

White predicts that bucks are now most vulnerable to hunters, because in the pre-rut stage they’re anxious to breed does playing hard to get. “The does aren’t in heat or receptive yet,” reported White, “but the bucks are all revved up, their hormones cooking, and they’re scraping and grunting and growing their fat rut necks.”

White grunted his handsome buck in after daybreak and says the beast came at him quickly from out of sight. He knew the deer he’d been monitoring were bedding in slash above his stand and was careful to walk in quietly to conceal his presence in a tree stand overlooking his man-made scrape doused with doe-in-heat and rutting-buck urines in a jar. As soon as he settled into his stand, he started working his grunt call softly, just in case a buck was close, then when nothing happened, started grunting louder and more aggressively while alternating between aggressive- and more subtle tending-grunt sequences.

“Finally, I heard something and saw the buck running right at me,” he said. “Like turkeys, they have an uncanny ability to pinpoint a faraway sound they’re interested in, and he came right to it, stopping right below my tree, freezing briefly and turning to walk away.”

It was during that alert departure that the deer, still looking for the rival beast making all the noise, made its fatal mistake by stopping briefly at a spot where White had a clear shot, no pesky hemlock branches obstructing his arrow’s path. He let fly from 26 yards at just before 7 a.m. and was able to follow the bright streak of his lighted-nock fly at the deer, clear through it and into the ground on the other side. The shot passed right through the animal’s vitals for what proved to be a quick, humane kill. The 3½-year-old deer never knew what hit him; he flinched, ran off some 50 yards into the hardwoods, staggered, fell and quickly expired from profuse internal bleeding.

So now White can focus on the big boy. Maybe it too will make a fatal mistake. Maybe not. White is hoping for the former.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’d be good with filling both my tags before shotgun season.”

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