My Neck of the Woods

11/08/99 - Deer Me!

My female readers sometimes get annoyed with me because I write everything from a decidedly male perspective. Being a sensitive new-age sort of guy, I intend to deal with you broads soon, but not this week. It's deer season, and time again for my annual deer hunting column!

Before I got married and moved to the Gunflint Trail, all I knew about hunting involved digging through my dirty clothes while hunting for the least smelly tee-shirt or occasionally stalking the neighborhood women. But now that I'm living in this land of rugged outdoorsmen, and have been introduced to this most masculine of manly sports, I find that there's a darn good reason to develop deer hunting skills. It's the one socially approved time of the year that we married men are allowed to truly express our legitimate manliness and let ourselves be the obnoxious louts we really are.

Luckily for me, I was soon taken in hand by some local buddies who decided this nerdy computer programmer needed some guidance in the ways of the northwoods and the ritual of the hunt. I will admit to being somewhat ignorant at first and was certainly willing to learn from these experts. "Don't shoot at anything wearing blaze orange," they told me. "Next time, try to aim at your target before pulling the trigger." And "Shooting at red squirrels to stave off boredom is considered bad manners."

Obviously, my concerned pals didn't know what they were talking about so I proceeded to read all the magazine articles I could find at the grocery store about how to get a really big buck. The first thing I learned was that, to avoid danger, deer have evolved incredibly keen senses. Like us, deer have five senses, but I'm only going to cover sight, hearing and smell in this column. Anyone concerned about spooking a deer by alerting its sense of touch or taste obviously needs no advice from me.

First, let's look at the subject of sight. Deer have eyes, two of them, and they are so highly developed that they can see the slightest movement, even in almost total darkness. The successful hunter must become invisible to the deer and this is best accomplished by sitting motionless in a tall tree. My first hunt gave me a lot of tree climbing experience: Climb tree. Climb down again and get gun. Climb tree. Climb down again and get bullets I dropped. Climb tree. Climb down again to answer nature's call. Climb tree. Fall asleep from exhaustion. No deer seen that morning.

Next, we'll cover the deer's ears. Once again, they have two of them - are you beginning to see a pattern? Each ear can swivel around independently, similar to a radar dish and much like Linda Blair's head in the Exorcist. Deer can hear everything that goes on in the woods so it's a good idea to leave your bongo drums at home. Instead, you should buy a deer call and learn to grunt and bleat. Or if you're talented like me, forget the call - after a big breakfast of Spam and Beanee Weenees, I soon found myself grunting and bleating naturally. No deer seen that morning either, though.

Finally, let's sniff around the topic of smell. Like the other sense organs mentioned above, deer have two noses (haha, just kidding). Actually one nose is quite sufficient for locating and avoiding hunters. After three days around deer camp, eating chili, drinking beer and sleeping in the same clothes, the average hunter begins to generate a potent aroma that repels even his best chums. I discovered that the only way to deal with this problem is with a "masking scent lure."

There are several commercially available fragrance preparations on the market designed specifically for the deer hunter. While you have many choices, such as "Buck Stop", "Doe In Heat" and Calvin Klein's "Obsession", I suggest you buy the cheapest one because they all have basically the same ingredient: deer pee! Please read the usage instructions on the bottle very carefully, though. My first season I did the obvious thing and drank it. Not only did it taste bad, but I ended up pawing the ground and rubbing my forehead against a tree for the rest of the day. And this didn't attract any deer either.

To conclude, I want to leave you with a few more tidbits of my hard-earned hunting wisdom, gleaned while freezing my rear-end off in rickety deer stands:

*The deer are usually someplace you are not.

*White-tailed deer got their name because, if you ever see one, that's ALL you'll see.

*You can build your hunting confidence by reading about such famous hunter/explorers as Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone and Rogers and Clark.

*If you forget your compass, don't panic or cry. You will be lost in the woods, of course, but at least you aren't home washing dishes.

*DO NOT forget the toilet paper. What they say about leaves and twigs is a big lie.

*If you don't get shot, or shot at, you should consider it a successful hunting day.

*Never invite a vegetarian to deer camp. They don't like hunters and a lot of them don't even eat meat.

*Refrain from shooting deer that pass your stand on the rack of an ATV. A couple of warning shots at the driver are OK, though.

*Environmental biologists have it all wrong. Northern Minnesota is not within the natural habitat area of white-tailed deer - it's too damn cold! You might as well enjoy your nap.

Oh, and to all you animal rights activists and sensitive female readers (are you still with me, ladies?), in all probability, no cute defenseless animals will be harmed in the making of this performance.

A column written by Daryl Popkes (BirchLake.com)

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