Oh, Deer

Speaking of being new to New Hampshire,” the woman said, “we hadn’t been living here long when I heard gunshots in the woods, so I called the police. I got the dispatcher. I guess she was the dispatcher. She wasn’t particularly cooperative. ‘I need to talk to the chief,’ I said.

“‘No,’ she said, ‘you can’t.’”

“‘Can’t you get him on the radio? I really need to talk to him. I heard gunshots in the woods.’

“‘You can’t talk to the chief,’ she said. ‘He’s out hunting!’”

Shots on a November morning can be startling until it dawns on you: deer hunters. Startling, too, men (sometimes women, but usually men) with guns against their chests sliding down the road, eyes narrowed, nerves aquiver.

You can’t miss them. The blaze-orange hat and vest contrast fashionably with the camouflage shirt and pants. The orange warns others not to shoot should the hunter find himself thrashing through the pucker brush. But sitting quietly in a tree, he removes the orange and disappears, so the deer will meander unsuspecting into range. It’s all very scientific.

Hunters on the road, you’ll notice, are always headed downhill, too loaded with equipment, a seasoned hunter explained to me, for uphill climbs. In fairness, shouldn’t they go naked into the forest with a coating of bug spray and a knife between their teeth? In reality, your modern hunter requires a good deal of equipment.

He needs a weapon — rifle, muzzleloader, bow or all-of-the-above, depending on the season. In his backpack he carries, among other things, a law book because sometimes it’s open season on bucks. Sometimes on does. Sometimes either-or. The rules change yearly and vary according to the phase of the moon and county. How’s a hunter to know which county he’s in without GPS and a compass for when the GPS conks out? He needs a cell phone so Mother will know when to put supper on the table. A two-way radio lets him know the movements of his buddies and any deer they might be driving his way.

“Come in, Uncle Sore Toe.” (All hunters have nicknames.)

“There’s three yearlings headed your way, over.”

“Yo, Squint. I didn’t hear gunfire. Why didn’t you shoot? Over.”

“Too small. Too far away.”

Other necessities tucked into his pack, hanging from his belt or zipped into his pockets: ammunition, license and tags, gloves and chemical hand warmers to insert into the gloves, rain poncho, binoculars (to distinguish antlers from branches), buck call, aka the farter, antlers (for rattling, so the deer think “fight” and gather to place bets), buck scent (to attract the ladies), hunting knife (for gutting), rope (for dragging), matches (for warming up or cooking a light lunch), hot coffee and lunch (jerky, raisins, sardines, hot dogs, cucumber and watercress on anadama, the makings for s’mores).

For long waits on stands, he needs a folding stool, bun warmer, pop-up blind and a Dan Brown novel.

That ought to do it.

Which reminds me: Last fall, the dog and I walked a wood road, both draped in blaze orange so we wouldn’t be mistaken for meat. Rain the night before had filled the ruts and froze. We skirted the pockets of ice and were quite a long way out, when we heard this terrible crashing, roaring, revving and thumping. What the heck?

Sure enough around the corner comes a four-by-four Dakota. That truck had bounced in and out of every rut, depression and pothole, smashing that new ice as it went.

The truck pulled up beside us. Inside were two men in blaze orange over camouflage. I noticed one rifle in the gun rack, another on the seat between them. The driver rolled down his window and motioned me closer. He leaned out, put a finger to his lips and whispered: “You didn’t hear us coming, did you? We’re deer hunters.” NH