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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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).
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
never saw him again, and Beau lost all interest in the Sumac patch.
my walk on the Wild Side.
Photo by the author
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