May 28, 2016


Doug Clarke: Buck proves priceless to Deerslayer

Friend of mine brought back an 8-point buck the other day. Had it strapped down over the trunk of his car for viewing.
The neighbors watched his car pull into his drive and saluted. The driver gave a wave back that he hoped made him look like MacArthur returning after the Japanese surrender aboard the Missouri. The conquering hero.
The next thing our conquering hero did was to hang the thing from a beam in his basement with a bucket under its head so as to catch the blood that dripped from the carcass. If you don`t do that, the little lady slips on the blood on her way to fetch clothes from the dryer and then all hell breaks loose.
Hell coming apart sounds like this: “Get that damn thing out of my basement. This instant!” These are not the words conquering heroes are supposed to hear.
The words they are supposed to hear are: “My hero!” These words come out muffled, for they are murmured with the little lady`s face buried in the soft, flannel folds of his goin`-huntin` shirt.
“I like it when you smell all musty and woodsy like that,” she says.
These words, as well as the part about her face buried in soft folds of his flannel shirt, appear in a little cloud above the head of our hero (who has shed his manly flannel shirt, his boots, his rifle, his bright orange cap, his camouflage paramilitary getup and a hunting knife) as he sits in a chair beneath a lamp in the living room reading “Field and Stream.”
After a moment he will put down the “Field and Stream” and pick up the latest Orvis catalog, checking with a pen pulled from a powder blue pocket protector some piece of gear that one of the guys in the hunting party had but he didn`t. War is hell. And you cannot go into one without the proper gear.
So he checks item 2741-B, which is for a camouflage cartridge belt. In the Orvis catalog it reads: “Authentic cartridge belt – just like the ones used by the Special Forces.”
Finally, with a sigh, the Deerslayer (for that is what he is called by his professor pals at the university – all of whom wear elbow patches on their worsted wool sport coats and do not hunt or fish but are secretly envious of those who do) puts down the catalog and opens a fat book having to do with the writings of Thomas Hardy.
Tomorrow, back at the university, one of the professors, the one known as a wiseacre, will ask him if the deer was armed. Adding, “–and if it was, could you tell whether it was a bow and arrow or a rifle?”
The dark mahogany panels and the soft-as-butter leather armchairs in the professor`s lounge will absorb the soft titters going around the room. Let them chuckle all they want. He shot an 8-point buck and they didn`t. He wears cool gear from the Orvis catalog and they don`t. They wear patches on their worsted wool sport coats. No one will ever catch him wearing the uniform of the college English professor.
As the book falls (Hardy`s heavy) with a quiet thump in his lap, our hero slowly nods off. The hero`s little lady is remoting back and forth from C-Span to “Antiques Roadshow.” A very high-brow house.
The cloud above his head reads, “Here`s the Deerslayer back from the woods nodding off after bringing home an 8-point buck. The smell of gunpowder in his nose. He loves the smell of gunpowder in the morning on the first day of deer hunting season –”
The smell of gunpowder in the morning. That`s funny. I`ll have to remember that one —
“Are you asleep or dreaming or what? You`re all smiley-smiley over there,” the little lady says.
Tomorrow night he and the pathfinder, Son of Deerslayer, will cut up the deer into chunks and put the chunks in plastic bags and store them in the oversized basement freezer. Tomorrow night the basement will look like the floor of the warehouse in “Reservoir Dogs.” After things started to go very wrong.
A voice hurtling down the stairs from the kitchen will say, “You make sure to use that hose real good down there. I don`t want to see one speck of blood when I do the wash.”
Deerslayer and Pathfinder will roll their eyes and continue hacking away.
From the kitchen, it sounds like they are chopping up a body down there. She thinks of Jimmy Stewart asking Grace Kelly in “Rear Window”: “Just how would you go about chopping up the human body, anyway?”
She shudders. Daintily. Just like Grace did when Jimmy posed the question. She reminds herself it`s a deer and not a human.
But the dinner party. It usually falls a week or two after the bagging of the deer. By then, the deer is no longer deer. It`s not even deer meat. It is called venison. Everyone likes the sound of that.
“Ahh, venison,” they chime.
Everyone has seen the word on a fancy leather-bound menu with a gold cord attached. Venison. They think: An exotic dish from Venice perhaps.
We eat the venison. Mrs. Deerslayer makes a delicious stew out of it. Someone always raises his glass of wine (would be a red wine with the venison) and cries, “To The Deer Hunter.”
And someone else says, “Tell us, O great Deerslayer, about the day in the woods when you bagged an 8-point buck.”
Deerslayer`s wife lets us see her roll her eyes – in a way that says she`s a saint for putting up with such nonsense as hunting and all the stuff that goes on in the basement afterward.
We are to the nut of it now. Deerslayer leans back in his chair and a hush falls over the dinner party. He begins his story this way: “The woods were angry that day, my friends –”
We help each other laugh, our shoulders rolling. He begins again, this time in earnest: he and Pathfinder coming upon the buck with the eight points on his antlers. He tells the story in such a way that you think of Jon Voight in a tree in “Deliverance,” his bow quivering with tension as the green-toothed woodsman slowly comprehends, his eyes beginning to scale the tree Voight is in.
The eyes of the deer, all brown and soft and trusting, stare through the woods, trying to pick out the place where he thought he heard a twig snap. It sees nothing. It comprehends nothing. Not before. Not after.
“This venison stew is delicious,” I say, meaning it.
Heads bob all around the table. Deerslayer beams. So does Deerslayer`s wife. This, the dinner party, is her payoff. Makes all the nonsense and the gore down in the basement worthwhile.
Another glass gets raised.
“To the season,” Deerslayer says.
We drink to that. To the warmest and fuzziest night of the year: The start of the deer hunting season.
A successful one, no less.
Contact Doug Clarke at