"...I trusted in the Almighty… I knew I could only be killed once,
and I had to die sometime."
-Anne Bailey, 1823

Sunday, December 12

Hunting II of III

22 November

Again, these words must be writ, much to my chagrin: We return, once more empty handed, but for my fine riflegun.

A few nights past, Mr. Mains and I met at a predestined crossing in the trails on the way to Mr. and Mistress Selter’s cabin. As always, my heart was much gladdened to join company with Mr. Mains, even if his misplacement of razor has left him a bit shaggier than I prefer.

Through the knobs and bottoms of Caintuckee we traveled round bend and curve until we caught our first glimpse of the Selter’s barn, buildings, and finally their cozy small cabin. Each seemed perfectly tucked into the wooded landscape. Moonlight reflected the tallest knob in a lovely pond and candlelight twinkled in the windows of their charming cabin.

Before we even were able to wrap upon the cabin door we were greeted by Mr. Selter, his fine dog, and then dear Mistress Selter. All were well and happy and we were quite delighted to join the cozy scene. Angela (for she and Mark insist upon use of their given names) had anticipated our late arrival with a large kettle of the most delicious potato soup, a bit of bread and even cookies. Tea was served and the three of us talked long into the night.

The gentlemen retired outside to smoke their pipes beside a crackling fire. Angela and I couldn’t help but join them with hot steaming mugs of tea, admiring a million brilliant stars shining through the nearly barren trees. Soon plans and strategies for the morrow’s hunt were all we spoke of. Returning to the cabin, slightly chilled by the coolness of the evening, yet much warmed in conversation, we bid the Selters sleep well as they settled into their loft whilst we remained before the fire below. Anticipation of the hunt and pleasure in each other’s company kept Mr. Mains and myself awake a bit longer, until finally, with moonlight streaming through the windows, sleep overtook us.

The aroma of hot coffee delighted my senses as we awoke and soon Mr. Mains was found preparing backstrap deer steaks whilst Mr. Sel – Mark, whisked eggs together. Ah, yes, deer steak from my dearest… for my dear Jesse had not been entirely unlucky in my absence. A good-sized buck had fallen to the crack of Splitnose, providing much meat for the Mains family and a good bit for us to enjoy as well.

Having in my pocketbook a recent letter sent from Mr. Mains describing his hunt, I smoothed its tattered pages, hoping to glean a bit of knowledge, or perhaps just for luck, I read the letters contents once more;

I'm happy I finally got a good-sized buck (out of near 60 deer I've taken this is only the 10th. with any measurable antler whatsoever, the rest of those have been a skinny racked 9 ptr, a little basket racked, 2 5ptrs., a teeny 7 ptr. & the other 5 were spikes and fork-horns.)

I'd be REAL happy if I'd found the doe I was blood trailing when he came along, made a bad shot on her and never found her, looked until 2 am Saturday night and from 8 am till about 3:30 pm on Sunday, last I found was a bed where she dripped two tiny blood droplets and shed a couple more belly hairs about 400 yds. from where I shot her. Third or fourth time that's happened to me in 24 years of killing these things and it gets worse every time....., and I really hate knowing the coyotes might get a free lunch, but there is the comfort of knowing nothing that dies ever truly goes to waste I reckon. I think Josey Wales had something to say about that.

That buck probably spent the last three hours or so of his life thinking he finally figured out how to "grin" another buck to death. Andy Wright (another guy who hunts there along with his son Tim) watched this buck and a basket racked 8 (clearly with more guts than sense!!!) fight for about 10 minutes that morning, at one point they were staring each other down and he had a clear shot to one of 'ems shoulder (he couldn't tell which was which at 80 yards through the trees) and he busted the 8 right through both shoulders, whereupon this buck proceeded to "put the boots to him" while he was down going through his death throes. Nature red in tooth and claw, eh? That 8 did get one good lick in though, this deer had a fresh in & out puncture wound on his left hindquarter.

This buck came along around 10:30-:45 or so while I was on my hands and knees looking for blood from that doe, he was clearly heading somewhere at a trot, mouth open and a-panting, tried getting him to stop, even yelled at him, but ended up swinging my sights with him and touching it off as he crossed an open spot. After the shot the first word that popped in my head was "gouts", in description of the literal sheets of blood coming out both sides of him. I never saw such a blood trail, hit him top-dead-center through both lungs and that bubbly vermillion-red stuff sprayed 8-10 feet to either side of him, 6 -7 feet high on trees in some spots, you coulda literally found him "blindfolded and barefooted". And he still went 450 yards!!!!! The last thirty yards or so the blood just stopped cold, and there wasn't a heckuva lot left in him when we field dressed him. Don't know what he weighs, but his backstraps measured 35" long, each hindquarter weighs about 28 pounds, and I took 11-12 pounds of 2 inch thick tallow off his rump, back, brisket, and from inside along his tenderloins, he had a belly full of acorns and a little bit of corn from the farm to the north of the Young farm, you could surely tell he was in prime condition for the rut which'll be starting soon, from what we saw there is some serious pre-rut activity going on right now!

With my letter safely tucked back within my pocketbook and with full bellies, we set forth with

loaded rifles to gather more of winter’s necessary provisions. As he is wont to do, Mark acted both as pathfinder and artist upon our hunt. No longer choosing to carry arms, Mr. Selter instead carried the necessary items to capture moments in time.

Our dear friend Mistress Larner had most recently sent us a lengthy letter strongly suggesting she, Mistress duPont and Miss Katherine are quite taken with Mark’s talents as artist. Ach, our heart aches at the memory of his painting entitled “Farewell,” a vividly rendered memory of his and Angela’s departure from one another. T’is quite stunning.

Once more, the dry Autumn leaves betrayed nearly each step. Further, just as we approached a lovely hillside, a shifting wind blew our scent toward a small group of deer, causing them to snort, stomp their feet and finally to throw up their white tails, and run giving no chance of a good shot. Not having seen deer in our previous hunt, even this fruitless encounter caused me to take heart. Wiser to the shifting winds and somewhat emboldened, we continued on, our weapons readied. Hours passed quickly as we measured each step against the promise of a kill.

Noontime found the three of us settled in for a bit of conversation, coffee and jerky. Mr. Mains quickly had the fire burning whilst I took the opportunity to sew a small bag to contain Mr. Selter’s tobacco tin. Refreshed from our break we set off.

Mr. Mains split off from us for a short time to explore the higher side of the knob and was rewarded by the sight of ten or fifteen does. A shot was taken and we searched the area until dark yet were unable to locate a bit of hair or blood to indicated the shot was true, though Mr. M did feel quite certain in it’s placement.

Much disheartened, we returned to the Selter’s small cabin, where we dined once more upon soup. Our days walk, the tension of hunting and the steep knobs had all taken their toll and this evening found all tucked snug and warm inside our blankets earlier than usual.

Moonlight shone through the windows, perfectly balanced with the lightening sky to the east, as we enjoyed our morning meal. It was determined Mark and Jesse would return to the knob to search for any possible sign of the previous day’s doe, whilst I would take my own path through the bottoms around the ponds.

Alone, I traveled quietly the wanderings of deer tracks freshly made. Only the tiny sounds of chipmunks, mice, and squirrels combined with the breeze as we stepped carefully, always searching for the smallest glimpse of grey/brown.

Upon hearing Splitnose’s distinctive crack, but a few hundred yards away, and knowing the likelihood of their activity spurring our prey toward us, we took a knee and waited.

No sign or sound greeted me for nearly three quarters an hour and thus we carried on toward Mr. Mains and Mr. Selter.

Words cannot easily describe the mixture of emotions so deeply felt upon arriving at the scene of Mr. Mains kill. Relief, joy, thrill and pleasure battled, much to my regret, with sorrow, jealousy and a deep seated lack of self confidence beset my mind. As these many feelings raced through my heart and mind they were also, unbeknownst to me, quite clearly displayed upon my face and captured perfectly by Mr. Selter’s artful hand.

This being no time for self contemplation we disengaged from Mr. Mains’ arms and began to assist in the field dressing and necessary preparations. With only a few short hours of time remaining to hunting we set off alone for the farthest height of the knobs.

Walking quickly up the steep hillside, legs burning and heart pumping with the exertion, tears coursed freely and unchecked down my face. Questions raged through my mind, what was I doing wrong, what was wrong with me, why was I unable to accomplish this most important task? Was I too loud, did I not observe my surroundings, was I completely incapable? Was the smell of smoke which pervaded my clothing giving me away? Was my Leo’s ego being taught a lesson from the universe? My lack of confidence gave way to heaving sobs as I sat upon the highest point of the knob, overlooking the most beautiful landscape. Afore long, this cathartic moment passed and once more we were ourselves.

Slipping silently down the knob, a gladness and contentment filled my heart and pushed any remaining doubts from my mind. Breathing the cool air, feeling the sun shining upon my face we returned to the Selter’s cabin and joined Angela for a delicious cup of coffee and lovely conversation. The men returned, carrying their burden between them, and we ran outside to happily greet them. After a few more cups of coffee and some lovely cherry cobbler it was time to take my leave.

As has been eloquently said; “parting is such sweet sorrow.” Mr. Mains and I took a short walk from the Selter cabin for a brief moment alone, after which we parted company with the promise of joining one another soon. The journey homeward was long, yet pleasant and filled with memories of time well spent.

*Please note, the images contained here within represent only the briefest moments in time. While hunting in our modern times, Blaze Orange is always properly worn.

All images taken by Mark Selter

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