Dennis Anderson: The shot at times begins the hunt

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2011 - 1:23 AM

The woods issue a reminder that tracking a wounded buck, blood drop by blood drop, is a task wrapped in mystery.

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A whitetail buck.

Photo: BRIAN PETERSON, STAR TRIBUNE

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IN NORTHWEST WISCONSIN - I had no shot at first as the buck inched into the narrow shooting lane with his nose, then his eyes -- both fixed on me -- above which extended a pair of tall, forked antlers, which my imagination insisted could have been a basket 6, obstructed as they were.

This was a few days back, and for a long while neither he nor I moved, my .270 lying across my lap. These standoffs can last a long time and you dare not avert your eyes should the chance for a shot be missed. Finally the deer stomped his right front hoof as if trying to taunt me as I stared at him from a tree 60 yards away.

In response, in a play for one-upmanship, I considered convulsing in a sort of double cha-cha move, perhaps a variation of the La Danza del Venado, the Mexican deer dance. Instead I remained unmoved until the buck at last shifted his body entirely into the shooting lane and without hesitation I found the animal's shoulder in my scope, moved the crosshairs back about the width of my fist, got ahead of his gait slightly, or thought I did, and squeezed one off, ka-boom.

Dead deer, I thought.

And he looked the part. Kicking his rear legs, contracting his shoulders, bowing his back, he doubtless had caught the copper bullet, 130 grain, before straightening and bolting south, through bare-limbed aspens, bounding, if slightly off kilter, and offering no second shot.

This wouldn't be a bad deer cut and wrapped in the freezer. Winter was nigh, after all. I climbed down from my stand. The shack wasn't far away, and I figured I would wait there an hour before following. I recalled once shooting a deer and remaining in my stand for too long thereafter only to be tormented by a Bee Gees song I couldn't get out of my head. It wasn't until much later when my bare hands were deep inside the animal's steaming cavity, extracting its lacerated lungs and heart in a timeless procedure, my senses suffused with its pungent offal, that was I able to exorcise the falsetto tremelos of Barry, Robin and Maurice.

The shack's primary features are a gas stove and gas lights and corrugated strand board for walls. Only a few hours had passed since my son Cole and I had departed it earlier that morning, and the wood stove still held its heat. I put a flame beneath a pot of stout leftover cowboy coffee and turned on a radio that years ago in Cumberland, Wis., en route to the shack the night before the opener I purchased for $1. It was made in China, still works, and we've taped a spoon to its antennae so that during deer season it unfailingly receives like a NORAD radar dish the Wisconsin state anthem, "Da Turdy Point Buck,'' by Bananas at Large, a group that won't anytime soon be recording "Jive Talkin'. ''

I finished my coffee and walked to Cole's stand. He had heard me shoot. "Let's get my deer,'' I said.

He asked, "What is it?''

"Fork. Maybe a 6.''

Furrowing his young brow as if weighing whether he would have been better off as a newborn being put up for adoption, Cole I thought overreacted to what he thought was my judgment lapse.

"Hey, it's meat on the table,'' I said.

"OK.''

We found a lot of blood early. Then it petered out. There's great mystery here and anyone who claims he can tell whether a wounded deer is just around the corner or a mile away hasn't been there. For an hour, without snow, we were reduced to examining dried leaves for blood spots. Sleuth-like, Cole was good at this and refused to budge even a foot until the next stain could be substantiated, drop by drop.

A couple of hours into the hike, and tired, he said, "Let's take a nap.''

"I don't want to go back to the shack,'' I said.

"I mean right here. On the blood trail.''

The idea had merit. We had covered a lot of ground. But I feared being awakened from a woodsy snooze by a wannabe deer-hunter lifesaver pounding on my chest and pleading, "Hang in there, big guy.''

So we pushed ahead, caught in our own private episode of CSI Northwoods.

Then, finally, three hours from the search's outset, there he was. A good-bodied buck, still well warm, having piled up in his tracks, my bullet a few hairs too far back to nick his lungs.

Cole and I didn't say much as I pinched a fold of belly skin and with my sharp knife incised the netherworld of hunting, blood red and timeless, unchanged this year from last, and forever.

Dennis Anderson  danderson@startribune.com

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