Deer Not Shot

No replies
Joined: 06/03/2010

 A Deer Not Shot
         In the formative years of a state, like Michigan after the 1800’s logging era, the deer herd was almost wiped out and game laws and licensing were slow to get enacted or enforced. By the early part of the 20th century (1920’s) the deer herd was slowly rebounding and a deer hunting season was set for November each year and only one male deer with antlers could be harvested with the required deer hunting license.  Game limits and hunting rules were furnished with the license. Game wardens were few and catching violators was often hit or miss and sometimes even deadly (some wardens were killed while attempting apprehensions) and wardens could only issue citations and weren’t allowed to carry a gun until much later on in the future (sometime around 1986). While most hunters respected the rules some didn’t.
         I was a kid who was taught to respect his elders whether they were right or wrong when I was with them so I had no say on whether an elder cheated while I was taken along on a hunting outing. My absolution is that I was a young teenager who was too naïve to know the character of some of the people I hunted with and it took a few years for me to weed out the good from the questionable ones. As a side note I want to stress my accuracy for prices and dates indicated in my tale is not exact so “take with a grain of salt”.
         In August when I was 13 years old I was staying at home because I hadn’t gone to Grandma’s farm that month so I had hired myself out to help bale hay on some of the neighboring farms. By late August a farmer who I didn’t personally know called me one day and in a broken English accent said that he heard I had worked baling hay and wondered if I could help him get a third crop baled up before fall set in because his normal helpers weren’t available. Since this was a great way to get spending money for hunting licenses and shells I jumped at the chance.
         In those days a small game license was $3.25 and a deer license which included a bear tag was $3.50 and I was turning14 that fall so I was going to be able to buy a deer license for the first time. Shotgun shells for my Stevens pump 12 gauge cost around $2.00 a box and with any luck this haying job would pay enough to cover those expenses and maybe a little more.
         A few days later a grizzled old man in dirty bibs, flannel shirt and a well worn vest jacket exuding the strong farm odor of a hard working farmer picked me up in a battered and rusted pickup truck. As I got in I noticed an equally well used and worn rifle propped against the seat pointed down at the floor. I didn’t question that but I was wondering what the gun was for and, as it turned out, I would learn about the rifle later on. I was on the hay wagons all afternoon until almost dark and by the time the last wagon was hauled up to the barn we put the bales up in the loft under the lights so it turned out to be a full days worth of work plus some. When the haying job was all done and the money pocketed he asked if I hunted. I replied “Definitely!” He said he would let me know when we might go hunting together. 
         Small game season opened on October 1st and one Saturday morning we went on to enjoy a rabbit hunt, bagging quite a few cottontails by afternoon. This was to be the first of several hunts I went on with this somewhat strange old man who didn’t talk a whole lot. Another Saturday hunt and the beagle drove a cottontail right to me that I added to our bag for the day. As I was picking up the rabbit a deer ran past me and I later mentioned that to my partner who then asked why I didn’t shoot it. I explained it wasn’t deer season and it was a doe and it was against the game laws.
Deer in Snow

Doe in late October snow
         The old man frowned, sat me down and told me his story. He and his family had lived in Europe prior to coming to America at the turn of the twentieth century and only the rich could hunt where they had lived. When his family had settled in this new land there weren’t many game laws and not many wardens so subsistence hunting on a farm was a way of life. As a teenager he had hunted every chance he got and if a deer (which was a rare occurrence) was spotted it was a great addition to the family larder. In the later years as game laws were more stringently enforced he continued to hunt as he had grown up doing, which included shooting stray deer Whether he was ever ticketed or not I didn’t know.
         By the time I was hunting with him he had long since inherited the farm and his hunting was only when his farm work permitted. He bought deer licenses and hunted during the deer season but he also had kept on shooting deer any time he saw one because he figured it was the way he always had done, although I wasn’t sure why he felt that way. He said he never purposely went out of his way to hunt deer out of season but if a deer ran out as he was rabbit hunting or driving in his truck or working on the farm he didn’t hesitate to drop it for the farm table and that was why the loaded rifle was always with him in the truck and often on his tractor as well. I told him I understood but I couldn’t hunt that way and we ended our hunting for that day.
         That turned out to be my last hunt with the old guy. He never stopped by after that day and I never saw him again so I don’t know what ever happened to him in later years but what I do vividly remember is the rabbit hunts we went on and that deer I never shot.
Chris S