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Hunting the Snowys

The first time I’d gone big game hunting was in Vermont. My roommate had heard about a hunter who’d gone into a cave with a .44 magnum pistol after a black bear. My roommate had a new .44 magnum pistol and wanted to duplicate the same feat. That night we sampled our homemade beer and decided we could certainly do what the hunter had done. I borrowed a thirty ought six and two days later we set out early towards West Dummerston and stopped for breakfast at a diner with a parking lot full of pickups and cars with deer strapped to them. Several of the hunters had also heard the story of the bear. We were told to go west for about five miles and look for an old logging road. There were plenty of what looked like bear tracks on the rutted road and we kept hearing sounds of brush being broken. The hair on the back of my neck felt like wire. We approached a lake where a large bear-like shape appeared to be drinking. We thought it moved and we turned and ran. I was sure I'd pee myself. We looked back, hearts pounding. The shape hadn’t budged. It turned out to be a stump. Angry at being scared and not having seen a bear we took out our frustrations by taking several shots at the stump. That night after several more beers and some whiskey our "bear hunt" took on mythical proportions.

When I told my cousin in Montana about the Vermont hunt he frowned and I knew I'd blown my chance to be with a real big game hunter. We were going after mule deer not a stump and I was to sit in bed of the truck with my friend Bob from the co-op. Clarence’s son was also with us. We left in the pitch dark pumped up on black coffee for the trip into the Snowys. The Big and Little Snowys are two mountain ranges south of Lewiston and north of my cousin's ranch. It was too cold to say much. So far the hunt wasn't working out the way I imagined. What else could go wrong? We passed several farms. There were lights on in some of them and we could see the families getting ready for the day. After the last farm we plunged back into dark.

Just as the sun rose we stopped in a clearing nestled between boulders and pine. Below was the long narrow ravine where we would be hunting. Clarence and his son climbed out as Bob and I hopped stiffly out of the back. I was so wired I could hardly contain myself. I was going on a real hunt. We checked our rifles, ammo and backpacks; Safety off, keep the rifle’s barrel pointed to the ground. Make sure there is a clear shot with no other hunters in view. There was a lot of pine growing in and around the ravine. Mule deer liked to eat pine. Once the mule deer had been killed it had to be gutted immediately or the meat would like taste like pine it had eaten.

The four of us walked single file on a rocky path for about three miles without seeing any deer. Not much was said. Once or twice we heard one of them slide down the ravine on the loose stones or sometimes a rifle shot. As we approached the mouth of the ravine Clarence brought us to a quick stop. He took off his red hat and began waving it. We followed his example. About a half mile away we made out the shape of a hunter standing next to his pickup. His rifle aimed at us. Clarence’s swearing filled the air. He'd find that sonofabitch and... The hunter pointed his rifle at the sky, turned quickly, got into his truck and sped off.

After a couple more hours with still no deer we headed back to the truck. As we came out of the brush below where we had parked was a deer. Before we could raise our rifles Clarence shot it cleanly. He called me over to watch him gut the deer. He slit open the stomach, a faint smell of pine, entrails and stomach gas enveloped me. I didn't cover my mouth or get sick. Clarence stood, gave me a nod and a hard pat on the shoulder, then helped his son place the deer in the bed of the truck. I started to climb in next to it, but Clarence shook his head. I was to ride back with him in the cab, which smelled like the dead deer. He said that tomorrow we were going to try a different spot where he was sure I'd shoot my first deer.

The next day Clarence was still angry at the other hunter. The drive didn't seem as long this time and I enjoyed riding in the back. My first deer-- what would it feel like? The long deep ravine we were to hunt had many steep rocky points of land jutting out. Full of waist high brush the walking was sometimes rough and noisy. Just as we came into a clearing we looked up. A hunter stood on the next point of land with his rifle pointed at us. In a fury Clarence pointed his rifle at the hunter. For a moment the two men didn't move. The hunter above us slowly lowered his rifle and without saying a word, turned and strode off. "I should have shot the bastard," Clarence had said. "Time to head back. The day has been ruined." I started to say something, but Clarence's look froze me.

As much as I loved those two days in the Snowys I never went hunting again, it would never be the same because of a hunter who shattered my dream of my first deer.

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