Gerald Almy: Deer hunt ends with chilling conclusion
After I had fired my .50 caliber muzzleloader at a doe on Veteran’s Day, I waited an hour, and then began my search for the deer. I had found a tiny amount of blood at the site, so I moved very slowly and carefully, looking for more sign or the deer itself.
With daylight dwindling fast, I began questioning my decision to wait before looking for the doe. Searching intently, I was coming to the depressing, gut-wrenching conclusion that I might lose this deer, or at least not find it today.
Just as I was about to go retrieve a flashlight for further searching after dark, I glanced up a steep, rocky creek bed and there was the doe lying dead at water’s edge. She had not gone far after the shot, but the thick cover made finding her difficult.
It was almost dark. Getting this deer out would be a challenge. It was a steep 60 degree angle on each side of the rocky slopes bordering the creek. They were wet, steep, and slippery. Pulling the deer up out of the ravine onto flat ground would be tough. And it would be a long, potentially dangerous drag out in the dark down the slippery creek bed if I took that route.
I opted to field dress the deer and retrieve it at first light. Rolling up my sleeves I completed the chore and saw that the shot had been well placed.
Laying several branches under the doe for air circulation, I also spread the ribs wide open to facilitate cooling. I placed a sweaty hat on the carcass to ward off coyotes and walked back to my home, half a mile away, as the sun set. Propped open, the deer would cool overnight. I would then hang her behind the shed at first light the next morning.
It was a routine I’d done before when harvesting a buck or doe late in the day. I had no qualms about leaving her. I had never had a coyote or anything disturb the animal overnight with all of the human scent from field dressing and a hat or jacket left at the site.
Finally, after all the frustrating early hunts, after the long search for the deer, I had a doe headed for the freezer. She likely weighed 85-95 pounds dressed out and would make some tasty venison.
Unfortunately, that was the same thought someone else had. When I returned shortly after sunrise the next morning, the deer was gone. No drag marks, no chewed remains from coyotes. It was simply gone.
Chillingly, it dawned on me what had happened. There was no other explanation. A bear had taken the doe. A shudder went up my spine when I conjured the image of a 300-400 pound bear calmly snatching up the doe in his jaws like we might casually grab an apple as we pass a bowl of fruit sitting on a table, and then lumbering up the mountain as the deer’s limbs dragged limply on the ground.
Examining the area where the deer had been more carefully, I finally made out a single footprint of a bruin. The pad measured nearly 6 inches across, meaning a very large, 7-foot bear.
I searched far and wide looking for the deer or what might remain of it, with no luck. I watched the skies for buzzards or alert crows that might home in on the doe’s remains. Nothing. The buzzards I did see were high in the sky, searching without focus. No crows were around.
As I continued to search, wandering through some dense, thick cover, the hair bristled on the back of my neck. What if I did find the bear, stumbled upon him 10 yards away in a thicket munching on the doe? How would he react? What would I do? Since I was simply retrieving a dead, field-dressed deer, I didn’t have a firearm with me.
Eventually, not knowing which direction he might have headed, I gave up the search.
It was a hard lesson learned. The next deer, I vowed, was coming out with me, no matter how late it was or how difficult it was to haul out.
Fortunately, the 8-point buck I harvested later in the rifle season was easier to retrieve and now rests safely in the freezer.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.