My next year at deer camp was the charm.
Back in the late 1950s, the last day of deer season in the Southern Tier was “Doe Day.” Anyone who had not filled their deer tag could take a doe if one came along. As you might well expect, Doe Day was a big draw and everybody and their uncle was in the woods for a last chance at putting some venison in the freezer.
Our group was no exception.
On Doe Day I was out in the woods before dawn. It had snowed a couple of inches the night before, and it meant that deer would be easier to see. I had a spot where I knew deer had been coming through from time to time. I was counting on hunters outside the valley we were in to move some deer our way, hopefully coming by my watch. Amazingly, I remained on my watch until 8:20 that morning, and it paid off.
I saw a couple of deer moving down through the hardwoods above me, and my mouth got dry and my heart started beating faster. I tried wishing the deer to come close enough for me to get a shot. I was hunting with a 30/40 Kraig rifle that I had purchased during the summer, and I was pretty sure I could hit any deer that got within 100 yards.
Those deer vanished as they moved away from me into a bunch of hemlock trees. I was bummed out, but then I saw a single deer that was actually coming in my direction. I hunkered down, my mouth still dry, my rifle resting over the log I was sitting by.
Closer and closer the deer came, but I resisted the urge to shoot when it got into shooting range. I figured as long as it continued on its course, I would be wise to let it get even closer. It was a good plan, and the deer passed where I was sitting at a range of about 30 yards. It stopped behind some small spruces, but I could see its head.
At the crack of the rifle, the deer disappeared. At first I was afraid I had missed it, but as I stood up I could see legs kicking where the deer had been. I ran to where I had seen the legs, and there was my deer. I thought it was a doe, but instead it was a button horn buck. I didn’t care what it was as long as it was a deer and it was mine.
By the time I got to the deer, it had stopped kicking. It had actually been dead a split second after I shot; a 30/40 to the head will accomplish that quite easily. I got to field dress my first deer all by myself, and I like to think even today that I did a great job of it. I was so proud that I almost popped my buttons, my chest stuck out so far. I fastened the front legs up around the neck of the little buck with my dragging rope and hauled him back to our camp.
That night when I got back to Sandy Creek and presented my deer to my father, was one of the high points in my young life. I felt somehow like I had arrived. Later in the week, dad showed me how to go about butchering my venison. Nothing has ever tasted as good before or since as my venison that my mother cooked and put on the family table.
The following year at deer camp, I took another deer on Doe Day, but it was new landmark for me. That deer was a large doe that I shot with my trusty 30/40.
There were five does running about 100 yards away in an open field. It was a quartering shot going away, and I wasn’t very confident that I could hit one of them.
They showed no sign of stopping, so I drew down on the last deer in the group and fired. To my surprise, the deer faltered, indicating that I had hit it. The five deer went into a thicket at the other side of the field.
I watched and saw four deer come out the far side before going out of sight in the field, but the fifth deer remained in the thicket.
Fellow hunter, Leon Canale, remained behind watching from where I had shot, while I took off across the field for the thicket. I struck the deer tracks and soon came upon hair and blood. There was a considerable amount of blood from that point into the thicket, and I expected to find the deer dead up ahead.
As it turned out, the deer was still alive and attempted to leave the cover as I entered it. One more shot from my rifle and it was all over.
It was a mature doe, much larger than the little button horn I had gotten the year before. I say it was a new landmark, because I had shot it on the run, and it was out at a pretty good distance. I have always had great confidence in my own shooting ability since that day.
That night I was not feeling very well as we headed back north, but I was still elated by my trophy. I was feeling sicker when I got home, and early the next morning my father took me to Doctor Reed.
He in turn sent us to the hospital in Watertown, because he said I had appendicitis. The doctors at the hospital checked me over and told my father I had some sort of stomach bug. They gave me ginger ale and put me in bed.
The following morning they brought me in coffee and orange juice which I promptly barfed onto the floor. The doctors came in, checked my temperature and pushed on my abdomen which was painful.
They called my parents and told them they were going to do an emergency appendectomy. As it turned out I had a ruptured appendix, and it took a long time to get me cleaned out.
I was a sick puppy for a couple days, with two tubes draining my abdomen and one down my throat. I got so many shots of penicillin that I lost track. The doctors told my parents that I had nearly died, and it was seven days before I finally went home.
And thus ended my deer camp adventures. Most of us went off to college, and I never hunted there again, but the camp still has a place in my heart and mind.