- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

Because of a full moon that hung over the fields and woods like a bright lantern, it was easy to find one of my deer stands even though dawn was nearly an hour away. Once I was firmly ensconced in a comfortable seat, a small day pack hanging from a short branch and a slug-loaded 12-gauge shotgun dangling from a metal hook buried in the gum tree, the waiting game began.

The deer stand, a welded contraption with a padded seat and a sturdy, metal ladder, provided easy viewing of now bare beech and oak trees and thickets that consisted mainly of skin-tearing brambles, honeysuckle vines and new-growth hollies. It was a “deery” place, to be sure, filled with hoof prints, droppings, antler rubs and scrapes. A number of times in the past year, I’d seen does, fawns and bucks come noiselessly through the underbrush to start feeding on ground mast.

So I sat, convinced that something would happen.

Around 7 a.m., two sharp reports from an autoloader shotgun echoed across the woods that touched the Port Tobacco River. Was it Wes Harris, one of the hunters in our group?

By 7:30, another shot was heard not far from me. It was quickly followed by another.

“That had to be Doc,” I thought to myself, imagining the agile septuagenarian rushing down from his pitched roof deer house by the edge of a clover-dotted field, soon kneeling down beside what had been a deer when it stood upright but when laying on its side instantly became venison.

I later found out that it wasn’t my host, Dr. Peter Malnati, one of the best deer hunters I’ve ever met.

I continued to sit still as a mouse, sipping coffee from a thermos, my eyes wandering slowly across the deep draw before me. There was movement down by a rain-filled, little rill. Two does, one much larger than the other (probably a mother and her yearling fawn), slowly fed on acorns and whatever else they could find.

Although I’d rather have a doe when it comes to dining on venison steaks and roasts, these two were out of range well over 100 yards away. With my scope-less shotgun I couldn’t chance wounding the deer and seeing them flee to a neighbor’s farm.

By 8:30 a.m., two hard shots were heard not far across from me. It was one in our group, Howie, who took a whack at a well-fed buck.

So it went almost all day. I enjoyed watching squirrels, hawks, a bald eagle, but no more deer, which was OK with me because there were plenty of days left to put venison in the freezer. I wanted to go home (less than two miles away) and devour a bowl of turkey and rice soup to warm my body.

In the middle of savoring the hearty soup, someone banged on our door. It was Malnati.

“Well, you missed it,” he said. “Come on out and look what happened after you left.”

In the back of his pickup truck, a 9-point buck’s thick antlers poked skyward.

“I sat in my deer house watching the field, when I saw this deer through the scope, coming in from the woods on the far left side of my stand,” he said. “He was a good 95 yards away and looked as if he was going to disappear again, not coming any closer. So I took a shot, and I knew I hit him.”

Doc found his buck less than 100 yards away, down in a deep drop. He had a tough time dragging the heavy male up the hillside, but he’s stubborn about asking for help.

So far this year, Doc has shot two does during blackpowder season, plus the beautiful buck, and he’s finally satisfied.

For a man well into his 70s, he’s simply amazing. His eyes are those of a 30-year-old, and he has the constitution of a bear. He can outwalk, outclimb and outhunt most of the younger guys he spends time with — most assuredly all of those of us who are over 60.

Doc has hunted all his life, from his teenage years in Massachusetts through dozens of other seasons here in Maryland. He’s lost count of all the deer he’s bagged, but venison never goes to waste in his household. Thanks to his wife, Gail, there’ll be roasts, steaks, chops, and delicious jerky — all courtesy of the deer that thrive on their property.

“As you know, venison is far better for you than the beef you buy in a grocery store,” he said. “I’ll keep enjoying venison and occasionally get plenty of exercise while hunting. I keep thinking of how I dragged that buck up that hillside.”

Doc will be hunting when he’s 90. I’m certain of it.

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

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