Whitetail Hunting photo

I was beginning to think it couldn’t be done, but—cue “Rocky” theme music—I finally killed a deer. A doe. Right in my own backyard. I’d been reluctant to bowhunt these deer, which I viewed almost like house guests. But these particular guests had made themselves freezer-eligible by staying way too long, eating our landscaping, and then crapping on the front walk.

My shot looked good but must have been a little far back, because the deer took off, and I didn’t hear her pile up. I decided to give her half an hour, and it was dark by the time I got on the faint blood trail with my headlamp. Our house sits on a ridge above a steep wooded slope that drops 100 feet or more to the Gunpowder River. It took me 30 minutes to cover the first 40 yards of the bloodtrail, by which time my headlamp was running low. I left it on and laid it down near the last drop, hiked back up to get two more lights, and then resumed blood trailing. The doe had buttonhooked around to the right and then down. The blood was steady but there wasn’t a lot of it. It led to a trail along the water. A hundred yards on, the deer had entered the water. The last drop was a large fleck on a rock’s peak 5 feet out into the current. My heart sank. The deer had covered nearly 250 yards and was now gone.

I swept the water with my light. It was a Surefire 6PX Defender—one of those tiny, nuclear-powered deals bright enough for night tennis—but I didn’t see anything. No deer in the water, no place where it would have climbed the steep bank on the far side. I cursed myself for not having made a better shot. It was past 8 o’clock now. I walked farther down along the river, shining the water and both shores. Then, 30 yards downstream, the doe lay dead in a foot of water.

My elation was short-lived. Even field-dressed, the wet deer went 100 pounds—more than I could possibly drag up a 100-foot hill, which wasn’t lacking for downed timber. I needed reinforcements. I left the Surefire on and pointed up the side of a sycamore so I could find the deer again. As I hiked up, again, I looked back, noting my tasteful illumination work. It was almost like landscape lighting. Meanwhile, my legs were telling me that there was no way Michelle and I could ever haul that deer up the hill.

All the while, I was scheming. On the far side of the Gunpowder, a road parallels the river, with just a small field between the two. If I could wade the river—something I’d never tried and would be doing at night by headlamp—I might be able to float the deer across, haul it up the bank, through the field, and get it to the road. It was still a lot of work, but it beat the hell out of dragging it up the hill.

The road had no shoulder, so Michelle dropped me off opposite the light, which was still shining brightly. The river was deeper than it had looked. It came up to the last two inches of my waders. But I made it across, dragged the deer back down to the water, and floated it behind me as I waded back. Michelle and I managed to haul it up the nearly vertical bank and across the field, and we finally heaved the doe into the back.

By the time I tagged and hung the deer on a gambrel out back, it was 9:30. But it was done. Two ibuprofen and a beer later, I fell into the deep sleep known only by crafty old suburban deer hunters who shoot a little too far back but manage to succeed anyway.

Photo by GreatFeathers.com