- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2006

Now that my deer hunting season has come to a close, I fondly recall the rather odd happenings that occurred at the end of the old and beginning of the new year.

Just a little more than a week ago, on the last of the two special deer hunting days offered by Maryland, I sat up in Doc Malnati’s deer Haus, a German-style deer stand that is a lot more than just a stand. It’s a little cabin with a pitched roof and even a tiny porch next to the cedar staircase that leads up to it.

I hoped to add more venison to my freezer and sat in the morning cold, quite comfortably wrapped in a goosedown jacket, long underwear, insulated pants, headwarmer and gloves. Suddenly, I heard a noise in the leaves below me that I knew — from years of doing this sort of thing — wasn’t a deer or a squirrel. I peered over the breastwork of the airy hiding spot and saw a weasel — or was it a mink?

The little furry critter scurried about as if it was looking for something it had lost. Suddenly, it ran down a ravine and disappeared toward the Port Tobacco River. What was that all about?

The deer didn’t show up that morning. They usually do it for Doc when he hunts from his playhouse up in the tree but not for me.

After I left, I ran into a neighbor, Joe Novak, who asked, “Did you get a shot?” I told him that I hadn’t seen even a glimpse of a whitetail. He looked perplexed. Novak told me when he drove earlier by the field road where I had parked my truck, he saw two bucks standing near my vehicle.

“I figured they might wander towards you,” he said.

They didn’t. Could it be I was too busy looking at the mink or weasel or whatever it was. Doggone it.

Then there’s my physician, Howard Haft, who doesn’t mind chewing on a venison loin steak. Dr. Howie, as I call him, enjoys deer hunting with modern or muzzleloading firearms.

During the latter part of the Maryland blackpowder rifle season, he hunted in Doc Malnati’s woods, using a .50-caliber Thompson Center Black Diamond rifle loaded with 100 grains of Pyrodex powder that would propel the 295 grain PowerBelt bullet.

Don’t ever think that those muzzleloading hunting rifles are inferior to the modern firearms preferred by the majority of American hunters. When Haft saw a fat spike buck mosey past him deep down in a draw on the last day that he would be able to hunt, he figured it might be the only chance to get some tasty red meat. He fired the .50-caliber rifle, a cloud of smoke spreading through the moist air, and when he was able to look through the smoke, there was his deer. In one second, he had turned that buck into edible venison.

What he didn’t know until later was that his bullet tore straight through a sapling tree and continued on its way to strike the animal. It didn’t veer off as some firearms projectiles will when they hit brush and branches. No, it drilled a hole through the wood and did the job it was supposed to do without apparently losing power.

So much for scoffing at muzzleloading rifles.

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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