- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

Standing high atop a tree stand before 6 a.m. during Maryland’s deer hunting season is no big deal unless, of course, you suddenly decide to come back down without using the ladder. Me? I prefer to feel rungs under my feet.

On the way to the stand, walking through a dense Southern Maryland forest before the first hint of daylight creeps through the trees, can be an adventure.

Charles County’s woods are home to what the locals call bull brambles, tough, thorn-laden vines that can make mincemeat of so-called “rip-stop” clothing. Then there have been the recent monsoon rains that created ankle-deep pockets of wet surprises. If my much-abused hunting socks and boots could talk, they could tell a story about the rain-filled dips and ditches near the Port Tobacco River where I hunt deer.

Despite all that, it felt great to finally be ensconced on the tree stand’s platform, wishing to catch a glimpse of a whitetailed deer — perhaps even one particular buck that appears to rule the doe population in my section of the woods. I’ve seen him several times and just like all deer hunters I’ve had dreams of entering the record books with the antlers this big boy had. The sight of him almost forces a body to use a cornball line like, “He looked like he had a rocking chair between his ears.” My foremost assignment from the better half at home, however, was to bring home the stuff that delectable venison dishes can be made of.

It doesn’t matter whether you shoot a beautifully racked buck deer or a well-fed doe. Either way, for us it’s the venison that counts, and who’s ever heard of eating antlers?

Daylight finally appeared. Two bluebirds soon pecked around on an old tree stump. The birds apparently found something they liked to eat. A woodpecker hammered away at a rotting locust trunk. In the distance, the haunting call of a great horned owl reverberated through the woods. Down by the river, a boat’s engine was started. I could hear the craft chugging along slowly, its sound fading as it neared the Potomac River.

“Kabooom!” The first shot of the morning came from across Doc Malnati’s woods. That gun report was soon followed by another and then there was silence. It probably meant the shooter had scored. By 7 a.m., slugs being fired from shotguns became as predictable as grey squirrels chasing each other around broad oak and beech trees.

Around 8 a.m. I caught some movement a good way back in a thicket. It was a well-fed buck with misshapen antlers. The buck emerged from the brambles and honeysuckle, then walked straight toward my tree stand, turned abruptly, then made his way silently down an embankment. Since my primary interest this day was to bring home meat for the freezer, it was now or never. I raised my 12-gauge slug gun, aimed for his shoulder, and pulled the trigger.

Later, when I field-dressed the deer I noticed one of his antler tines had broken off. It might have happened during a vigorous fight with another buck.

At a tailgate lunch around noon, I learned that my host, Dr. Peter Malnati, shot a doe, which is exactly what he wanted. My long-time fishing and hunting partner, Bob Rice, shot a buck; Dr. Howard Haft, who had previously scored during the black powder muzzleloader season let a couple of deer go by because the shooting distance would have been too great. He wasn’t upset; there would be plenty of time to convert a whitetail or two into venison before the season ended.

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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