- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2004

Now that the modern gun season for deer has ended in Maryland and some of the men in our group are trying for more venison using muzzleloaders (a second black powder season began yesterday), I think I’ll go fishing.

But not one lure will see water until I reminisce about a deer hunt that is ever so gentle on my mind — something animal rightists will never comprehend.

Early in the season, I never had anything close enough to aim at. To be sure, I saw some does; in one case four adult females traveled along with five fawns that appeared to be less than a year old.

I let them walk past my hiding spot in a big oak tree because the little ones looked as if they still needed help. Their mothers and aunts were well equipped to teach them where and how to feed properly. So I watched the animals and thoroughly enjoyed their graceful motions and their ability to move about in total silence.

Every day a number of hours were spent in one of three deer stands available to me, and I can honestly say boredom never became a part of the waiting game.

One late afternoon, a beautiful silver-and-black-barred hawk came through the tree canopy in an apparent attempt to snatch up a chipmunk he’d seen. He missed and looked comically perplexed, sitting still, wings spread, a look of disbelief in his sharp, large eyes. The hawk eventually rose up and disappeared. Wow! That was memorable.

And what about not paying attention to the little canvas rain cover that was attached to a tree trunk above one of the deer stands. It was intended to shield a hunter during the frequent downpours we had all week.

When I climbed up into the stand one dark morning, little did I know that rainwater had collected inside the canvas during the night. I accidentally pushed up into the bulging material, and a burst of water came off the side with half of it drenching me. I instantly became a chilly, wet hunter who sat and waited for a deer. Good thing I had a small thermos of hot coffee with me. I needed it.

Then came the day when, around 8:30 a.m., loud scratching noises could be heard a good distance away. My adrenaline started pumping because I thought perhaps a couple of bucks were pushing and shoving each other to see who was the strongest.

But the noise didn’t come from two sparring deer. No, it was made by well over 20 wild turkeys that were strutting toward me, their long legs and hardened feet sweeping aside large amounts of leaves, looking for fallen beechnuts and acorns, maybe an errant worm or beetle here and there.

Turkeys normally are extremely observant and wary, but this flock never paid a bit of attention to the human who stood on a deer stand as they approached. But right behind the turkeys, partially hidden in a patch of young hollies, I saw the flick of an ear — a whitetailed deer, no doubt.

It was a 6-point buck who displayed a flawless, well-fed body. The buck appeared to be following the turkeys’ leaf clearings, picking up a morsel now and then. Suddenly, something bothered him, and he disappeared into a deep draw. I’d lost sight of him.

However, on this day, only a half hour after neighbor Joe Novak shot a fine 8-pointer, “my” buck showed up again on the far side of the ravine, still within range of a 12-gauge shotgun slug.

I waited until he cleared two large gum trees and a bit of concealing brush, then squeezed off a shot. Novak, who’d just finished hanging his deer up to dry out the body cavity after he field-dressed it, came along and helped drag my buck from the woods.

Now there’s a fresh supply of venison in our freezer. Nothing was wasted, including the liver and heart of the animal. In the Mueller household, venison is considered a taste treat and anybody who asks, “Does it taste gamey?” receives a quizzical look.

If you properly field-dress, then clean, cut and handle wild game as promptly as slaughterhouse butchers take care of steers, calves and lambs, there is no “gamey” taste. Venison tastes like venison ought to; wild turkeys taste like turkeys; Canada geese taste like Canada geese should. A grocery-store chicken can’t hold a candle to any of them.

Now, there’ll be some waterfowl and rabbit hunting in the days to come, but otherwise let the fishing resume.

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

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