Deer hunting and fishing of any kind were always favorite pass-times of my father. He would travel a thousand miles or more just to catch a mountain trout in a fast moving stream in the Colorado Rockies. Or, he would go up to northern Wisconsin to hunt deer or fish for bass or Northern Pike.
Dad was starting out from Chicago and back in the mid 1950’s, driving somewhere isn’t like driving somewhere today. No interstates back then. Just two lane roads and faded paint lines. You really had to want to get somewhere back in those days. Back then, you wouldn’t even consider driving fifty miles for a steak dinner. Today, with the interstate system we have, no problem. Since this story takes place in the fall part of the year, it was deer season, and dad was heading up north.
If you have read any of my other stories, “Pappy and the Three Pronged Fork” – in particular, you probably already know about Pappy and his house on the Wisconsin River near the city of Tomahawk. If not, shame on you – read it.
Pappy’s place was always a favorite destination for me because there weren’t just adults around all the time. Pappy had two grand kids, Jim, the oldest by two years and Bob, just a few months older than me. They would usually spend the better part of each summer at Pappy’s place and that would be especially true if mom, dad and I were going to be there.
Harry Jr., Jim and Bob’s dad and Judy, their mother, would come up from Edgerton, Wisconsin, my birth place by-the-way, to join us for a long week-end. Harry ran a Shell gas station in Edgerton and, for the mid fifties, had a lot of toys. He would tow his turquoise and white Chris Craft inboard with the out drive (?) up to Pappy’s (Harry Jr.’s dad). There was a ramp next to Pappy’s pier so Harry would launch her right there. The color of Harry’s boat reminded me of my ’55 Chevy Belair hdtp I would own some eight years later.
Of course, the reason for bringing his boat to Tomahawk was for water skiing. Jim and Bob were expert at it. Me, not so much. Harry must have wasted a half tank of gas trying to get me up on those damn skis. I think a good portion of the Wisconsin River ended up in my stomach as well but, Harry was willing to give it one more try. I wasn’t so sure but if he was willing, what did I have to loose, right. The river water didn’t really taste all that bad. Ahem.
Harry brought the boat close to the little pier next to the boat ramp and told me to sit on the piers edge and let my legs dangle. I did as I was told. Jim, or Bob, I can’t remember which, put the skis on my feet as they dangled. My dad was riding in the back of the boat and he threw me the yellow braided tow rope. Harry asked me if I was ready and I shook my head yes. He slowly took up the slack in the line until the last part of the yellow line was about to part from the green river water. At that moment, Harry put the petal to the metal. I left that pier like I was shot from a cannon. The only problem being, I left face first and the skis were still drifting back under the pier. I didn’t let go of the line immediately why, I don’t know. I skimmed along the surface of the water like a stone until Harry backed off on the throttle. I settled in the water and then, I let go of the line.
Harry swung the boat around to pick me up. Everyone was laughing. I was, by now, getting used to it. Dad gathered in the line and when the boat reached me, he grabbed my arm and hauled me in. It was then that everyone noticed I was missing something. A good portion of my swimming suit was still hanging off the edge of the old wooden pier. The laughter resumed anew. Well, that made the day complete.
Harry asked if I wanted to try again. I assured him that I had enjoyed all the water skiing I cared to endure. From now on, I would watch from the back of the boat and keep an eye on those lucky individuals who could actually ski above the water. Everyone on that portion of the Wisconsin River knew for a fact, that person was definitely not me.
I got a little sidetracked but, I usually do. Back to my dad and his hunting trip. Now I didn’t accompany my dad that fall so I had to rely on my dad’s version and, later, Harry Jr. and Pappy backed it up. I feel pretty sure the truth is in here somewhere.
Dad drove up on a Friday morning and arrived in late afternoon. Harry, Pappy and Aunt May, Pappy’s wife, were awaiting his arrival. I would imagine they had a wonderful dinner. May was a exceptional cook and she would only cook on a huge old wood burning stove. Read the other story to find out why. You know, “Pappy and the Three Pronged Fork”? I’m not tellin’ you again.
Again, after dinner, I would imagine the men went next door to the little bar that Pappy owned but rented out. A few shots, a few beers, a lot of lies and then to bed so they could get an early start on the hunt.
Dad would sleep in my favorite room when I wasn’t there. It was right back of the kitchen. The door to the room was to the left of that big cast iron stove that May would fire up each morning around 5 or 5:30. It took a while to get the heat even in the oven before baking her biscuits or fresh bread and, to boil the coffee. Actually, it was a metal, stove top percolator. May had to make a few concessions.
That room, for me, was the next best thing to Heaven. Every morning you could smell the wood burning in the stove and the aroma of freshly perked coffee that would find it’s way into the room. I would always wake up with an ear to ear smile just anticipating what was to come at breakfast.
After a while, I would slip out of bed and open the door just a crack and then jump back under the covers and wait for May to start baking and put on the bacon, sausage and eggs. When Aunt May said come and get it, I was never late. No one was ever late.
The next morning, Dad was up before Harry and Pappy. He was drinking a cup of coffee and kinda knocking around the house killing time. There was a small mud room by the front door, which was hardly ever use. Dad walked out on the small landing, sipping his coffee, he looked out across the open field on the other side of the main road. He squinted his eyes because he thought he saw something move along the tree line on the far side of the field. He was curious, so, he went into the house for a pair of binoculars.
When he came back outside, he couldn’t see anything. No movement at all. He was about to put the glasses back on the table when he saw the movement again. When he looked through the glasses this time, there, right at the tree line, was the most beautiful buck he had ever seen. Dad couldn’t believe his eyes or his luck. Now, if his luck would just hold for another minute so he could get his rifle.
Dad had just purchased a brand new 300 Savage. Arguably, one of the finest deer rifles ever made and dad had bought one of the first models made. I have shot that rifle since then and still own it to this day. Very accurate, very accurate.
Dad got the Savage out of the leather case and loaded one round in the chamber. The Savage came complete with a seven power scope, which, by-the-way, had not been sighted in on a range yet. At least, not by dad. He was planning on doing that this morning before they left. The only adjustments were done at the factory before shipping. Along with the care and feeding booklet (the handbook) are the small targets used for the sighting. Dad figured that would have to do for now.
He stepped out onto the landing and took one step down with his left foot for bracing and scanned the tree line with the scope. There he was, just grazing along the edge of the field staying close to the trees and safety.
I have to explain, I am not a hunter. I saw Bambi as a kid and could never bring myself to shoot any deer after that. My dad did not shoot deer for pure sport. He never had anything stuffed or mounted. That, to him, was disrespectful to the animal. He would have the deer butchered though and we would eat the venison. Waste not want not, right?
Dad was lining up his shot and admiring his prey at the same time. Dad always wanted a clean shot and, almost, always got one. On the rare occasion he would not get that clean kill, he would stay out until he found the wounded animal so it wouldn’t suffer.
Dad took careful aim, prayed the guy that sighted the rifle in at the factory was good and squeezed the trigger. It was a clean kill. The buck dropped like a rock.
Pappy and Harry came out to the small porch and asked, “Walt,what the hell you shootin’ at.”
Dad said, “I just got a buck. One shot with the new rifle and down he went.”
“The hell you did.” said Pappy. “The hell I didn’t.” dad replied. “Let’s go get him.” said Harry.
They jumped into Pappy’s old Ford pick-up and bounced down the dirt road next to the field. They drove out along the tree line and, about half way down, there lay the buck. A clean shot right behind the left shoulder. They loaded the deer into the bed of the pick-up and bounced their way back to the house.
When they got back, they all went in for breakfast, which May was keeping warm. Dad went into the living room and picked up his coffee mug and asked May for a warm up. Harry looked in the cup and it was just about full. He asked dad if that was his first cup and dad said it was.
“Well I’ll be damned, he said, you didn’t even finish one cup of coffee before getting your buck” “You never even got dirty. Hardly seems fair.”
That season, they were only allowed one buck per hunter and dad had gotten his before breakfast on the first day. Harry Jr. and Pappy went hunting alone. Dad went fishing. Neither Pappy nor Harry got anything that season and it wasn’t that they didn’t try hard enough. Needless to say, they talked about dad’s deer for years after that.
That first afternoon, they hung the deer by the garage and did what real hunters do so the meat doesn’t spoil. I won’t go into detail. Since dad had the only good luck, he shared his kill with Pappy and Harry. That took a bit of the sting out it for them. Anyway, there’s always next year, right?