The piney woods were ringing with the sound of hounds on the chase. A big pack was headed away to the north just beyond my sight. Some other dogs had turned back toward the road. We had standers in that direction, but none had shot yet. I stood there charged with excitement and scanned the woods. A shotgun blast nearby startled me. It was from the direction of my Dad. He had gone silent when the dogs first struck the trail.
A buck materialized in a small opening to my front. I raised my shotgun, took aim and fired. The buck went down. I stepped toward the deer with my gun at the ready. Just as I reached the buck, three dogs ran up and grabbed him by the haunch. The deer sprang up and tried to escape. I had no clear shot with the dogs hanging onto the deer. I can still see that scene in my mind many years later.
We slowly drove the dirt roads after daylight that morning looking for tracks. A light rain the night before had washed out all the old signs. We found fresh deer tracks crossing a road and stopped to organize a drive. Daddy sent some standers north to a laid-out field and posted the others up and down the dirt road. He and Mister Robert would drive the dogs. I was big enough to tag along with my Dad.
He and Mister Robert would whoop and holler to the dogs, and I would do the same. If the woods were thick, we could keep track of each other without keeping in sight. If the dogs got on a hot trail, we would usually stop and be quiet. Sometimes the pack would take off after a doe, and a driver could get a shot if a buck got up and tried to sneak out in a different direction.
We didn't have very many deer back then, and it took drivers and dogs to get one flushed or "jumped." Standers were posted in likely escape routes. I didn't like sitting on a stand watching the clouds drift by, so Daddy had let me start tagging along with him on the drives. We scouted the bean fields and dirt roads during the week looking for tracks and fresh signs. We checked the roads again on Saturday mornings before a hunt.
Back then nobody in his right mind "still" hunted for deer. Nobody leased hunting land. All you had to do was to ask permission to hunt. Nobody passed up a buck with antlers. If you missed a buck, you got your shirttail cut. Nobody hunted during the week. Dog drives didn't seem to bother anybody. If we killed a deer, it was cleaned and cut up to be divided among the hunters. It was illegal to shoot does. If the dogs got after a deer and got out of the hunt, they were usually gone for the day. There were no tracking collars. We spent many Sundays looking for lost hounds.
On this particular hunt, some of Mister Roberts' hounds had come to the shots and found the buck that was still kicking. With the dogs hanging on, I had no shot, and I didn't want the buck to get away. I was only 13 and didn't know what to do, so I called out for my Dad. One of the standers from the nearby dirt road came in and dispatched the wounded buck just before my Daddy got there. The dogs wanted that deer, and we had to beat them away.
The buck was a five point, and it was a trophy to me. My first buck. I was congratulated by all the hunters back at the house when we skinned and cleaned the buck. Mister Robert swiped two fingers in the deer blood and marked my checks with the blood. There would be many more bucks.
Things have changed since those days. The hunts and the rituals have changed. Now there are "man drives." There are more girls hunting now, and rifles and still hunting are the norm. But the first deer experience never changes. It should be celebrated and happily remembered. It should be a good experience that makes a young person an outdoorsman and a hunter for life.
Reach Dan Geddings at email@example.com.
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