Tracking the trackers

Sunday afternoon was sunny and warm. I was tired of working away in the basement, so I popped upstairs to the kitchen for a cup of tea and ran into Barry’s father, Dave.

“I just shot a deer,” he said, calmly rolling himself a cigarette.

“You WHAT?” I squealed, my jaw dropping. For as long as I’ve known Dave, he has hunted deer with a bow. In Ohio, he used to drive out to the country on the weekends, but for as long as I’ve known him, he’s always returned empty-handed. Here in Washington, he just walks out into his own wooded backyard, where he’s built a lovely tree house that he calls a “tree stand.” He’s an excellent shot, and I’ve seen enough deer in the neighborhood to know they’re out there. But for some reason, they avoid Dave when he has his bow.

There’s a carving in the family room that illustrates the scene of Dave’s last successful bow hunt, several decades ago. Although it has the feeling of a family legend, it’s decorated with real antlers from the buck he got. It’s proof that he can kill a deer with a bow, he just hasn’t done it in the years I’ve known him.

Now he was telling me he’d just shot a deer, no drama, no excitement. Where was it? I looked out in the backyard, expecting to see a dead deer. Dave explained that the deer was still out in the woods someplace. If it doesn’t just drop dead when you shoot it, it’s no good to chase it immediately. It will run that much farther and faster. It’s better to wait a half hour, then track it. I was practically jumping up and down with excitement, while he calmly waited out the half hour.

He and Sharon put on their boots and headed out to the woods to find it. “I’ll help you drag it back, if you need help,” I offered. Barry and I went back to our own projects and waited for the deer trackers to return.

A couple of hours later, there was no sign of them. We couldn’t stand it, so we followed them into the woods. Near the rear of the property, we saw a square of white toilet paper on the ground. Next to it was a patch of deer blood. We followed the toilet paper squares for a while, eventually coming to a forbidding bramble. “Who knows how far they had to go,” I said. “Maybe a couple of miles,” said Barry.

We turned back, not wanting to obliterate the trail or crawl through the thorns, and then heard their voices. They appeared from the thicket, disheveled and dejected. They’d followed the deer a long way, but eventually the blood stopped, and they could track it no further. “We spent an hour searching around the last spot, but there was nothing to follow,” Dave said.

I was in the lead as the four of us headed back down the trail to the house. As I approached the spot where Dave had shot the deer, I saw movement. Standing on the path, right at that very spot, was a doe. She looked at me reproachfully, then turned and ran through the woods.

A shiver went down my spine. Why was she standing right where the first piece of paper marked the trail of her fleeing friend? Did she know? Was it a coincidence? Are deer telepathic?

I know the deer population has to be controlled, and if we humans don’t act as predators, they’ll starve. But it’s hard for this soft-hearted former vegetarian to reconcile that with the look on the doe’s face. Still, I hope one of these days Dave manages to get a deer. The one that got away just doesn’t make much of a family legend, and it doesn’t make much venison steak, either.