The spokesperson for a delegation of what humorist Dave Berry calls “alert readers” contacted me to complain that I hadn’t done a sufficiently “human interest” column in awhile.
I do try to respond to reader requests whenever I can, but before I tackle this one, I’d like it noted for the record that I do know the common definition of the term “human interest;” I’m simply going to ignore it.
Despite the way they act at this time of the year, humans who happen to be deer hunters have varied interests, a few of which are only indirectly related to deer hunting. But somewhere beneath the blaze orange and camouflage, you’ll discover that every deer hunter, regardless of age or gender, shares one overriding desire: keeping the memory of his or her first deer forever fresh. Sharing our stories is one way to do that.
I was an 18-year-old college student in 1965 when Kansas held its first modern-day deer season. I drew a permit, shoved some slug loads into the magazine of the same pump shotgun I used to hunt pheasants and sallied forth in below zero temperatures freshened by gale force winds to pit my total ignorance against the local whitetails. I lost.
I defied long odds and drew a permit the following year. I still didn’t know very much about deer hunting, but this time I was armed with a 1903 A3 Springfield 30/06 that looked exactly like the ones my grandfather’s older brothers had carried in WWI.
The last day of the season I decided to take advantage of the size of the Flint Hills ranch I had permission to hunt and did what I thought then was “still-hunting” for two miles across several hills and dales.
That was when a small herd of deer jumped out of a side draw and ran across the hillside in front of me. It was an ideal scenario for someone who’d grown up wing shooting, and I was soon standing over my first deer, a button buck the size of an average Missouri adult doe.
I was in superb physical condition and almost as tough as I thought I was, so I tied the deer’s legs together, slung it across my shoulders Natty Bumpo style and carried it back to my car without ever setting it down. If I get one this year, I won’t do it that way.
Fate gave my son an earlier start. By the time he was ready to start shooting a BB gun, his mother and I had grown tired of me playing cops and robbers with real bullets in Kansas City and had bought some land in Benton County.
The November Aaron had reached the ripe old age of 11, we both agreed he’d learned enough about shooting and handling firearms safely to be allowed to hunt solo on opening day from a stand he’d helped build. I chose a stand about 100 yards away.
About an hour after first light I heard a single shot from Aaron’s direction, almost instantly followed by shouts: “I got him! I got him! Dad…I got him!”
Technically, him was a her, but that didn’t matter a whit to either one of us. When he handed me his rifle so he could touch his trophy, it had been completely unloaded. For me, that made a perfect deer hunt even better.
When I met Mike Jenkins, deer hunting was probably the farthest thing from his mind, but it didn’t take me long to change that.
Our first firearms season together doesn’t really count, because it was too late for Mike to apply for an antlerless permit or for us to spend much instructional time in the woods.
The following year Mike was ready to jump into deer hunting with both feet. Not only had he purchased a rifle, but he’d also outfitted himself with archery tackle.
Equally important, we’d been able to spend enough time studying our hunting grounds and the deer that lived on it to make Mike confident he could hunt by himself.
Just as I was settling in to watch football one drizzly Sunday afternoon in late October, he called to ask if I’d come help him find a “nice buck” he’d put an arrow “clear through.” Of course I would.
When I arrived at the scene of Mike’s potential triumph, I found he’d marked the spot where the deer had been standing when he shot and when he lost sight of it. Trackers love it when hunters give them a leg up like that.
Despite the drizzle having washed away most of the blood trail, it didn’t take too long to find his deer, which was actually a very nice buck.
I’ve been lucky enough to have witnessed several other adults tag their first big game animal, and I thoroughly enjoy the photos this newspaper publishes after the youth deer and turkey seasons.
Based on that evidence, I’ve come to the conclusion that every human who has that experience is intensely interested in it.
Reach Gerald Scott at [email protected]