The “Mighty Hunters”…and me

Let me tell you how my son’s first deer hunt went. I want to warn you that our guide for the day, fellow blogger John Floyd, and my son William will try to tell you something different. Let me assure you that everything I am about to tell you is entirely accurate. I swear it’s ALL true. OK…Most of it is true.  What I mean to say, is some of this tale is accurate, and there was not a whole lot of embellishment, unless it was just a minor detail.  And maybe a little creative license…Otherwise this is an accurate account of the events of 22 Oct 2016

John has followed some of my blogs and had invited me to join him up on Tucker Ridge to do some fishing. He was tired of all my posts about how unlucky I am when it comes to my skill as an angler.  When he saw that I graciously declined the offer, he felt confident I would do the same when he suggested I bring my son up to deer camp for the 2016 Youth Day hunt for whitetail deer. His confidence was misplaced!

I love deer hunting! And I love deer camp! I mean come on! A grubby old cabin with lots of drafts, nothing for heat but a leaky old woodstove that makes it either cold and smoky, or hotter than the inner gate to Hades! Mildewy, lumpy mattresses that reek of mice and mothballs! Leaky roof! Cooking over a fire and burning your food to a crisp! I COULDN’T WAIT!!!

Will and I loaded up the van and made the journey up I-95 through Lincoln, into the hills and valleys bursting with green, yellow and brown beech trees, up through Springfield and on to Tucker Ridge.

I knew when we got there that John, like most other bloggers, didn’t share the same high standards for accuracy that I do! “Deer Camp”??? All I saw was a cunnin little house with a cozy front porch complete with rocking chairs! I mean sure…It was a cabin, but not at all what a grizzled old woodsman like me has come to expect.

After shooting the breeze a bit, and getting to know each other in person, John was eager to get Will and me settled into the camp before it got dark so we could get some shooting in. I wanted to make sure William was comfortable with the weapon that had been loaned to him by one of my readers.

Bear with me for a moment, before I tell you how shocked I was by the condition of what Mr. Floyd so crudely refers to as a “hunting camp”. I want to talk about Question 3 on Maine’s 2016 ballot, as it could have a major impact on some young hunters like my son next year.

If this law is passed it would require a background check for ALL transfers of firearms in the state of Maine. Not just sales.

My son is small for his size. Most “junior” weapons have a distance of 10-13 inches from the butt of the stock to the trigger. My son needs something that was just over 9 inches.

We found a weapon that had that size in the form of an AR-15 300 in black out. Now I don’t really know what all that means, but many of you know this type of weapon by its scary reputation to be an “Assault Rifle”. In reality, many weapons out there in the woods every November are just as powerful, and in many cases even more powerful.

This weapon with a reputation for being lightweight and simple to use is not quite as terrifying as it is made out to be. It has features that make it popular among shooting enthusiasts but are simply not needed for entering the woods to shoot a deer. In the hands of a common person, it is not a simplified killing machine that makes mass murderers out of common folk. I promise. A 12 gauge shotgun is FAR easier to use for the first time mass murderer wanna be.

But this is not about AR-15s. It’s about a boy needing a weapon to hunt with. And this beautiful AR was exactly that. The caliber was high enough to cleanly kill a large game animal, but its design uses the force of the bullet being fired to work the action to load the next round thus reducing the kick of the weapon. All this really means is there was no need for a recoil pad that would have added length to the stock.

Back to the point of this rant, so I can get back to the point of the story. If Question 3 passes, my son would NOT have been able to hunt on Youth Day. You see, Question 3 DOES allow people to swap weapons “while hunting”… Not “for hunting”. The word “while” in place of “for” is very important. ”While hunting” means the owner of the weapon must be with the person he/she wants to loan it to, unless they pay to go through a background check.

The owner of the weapon William is using lives in the Guilford area. I live in Stetson. Hunting camp was in an unnamed township near Lincoln. Certainly not convenient! Further, I was in possession of the weapon for more than a week before hunting, so my son could fire it, and learn to use it safely, and it is still in my possession now.

You CAN borrow a weapon to hunt with, and not have the owner with you, as long as you remain in an area where hunting is legal, the entire time you posses the weapon.  For example:  You may never hunt from a motor vehicle.  You may never hunt within 10 feet of a paved road.  You may never hunt within 100 yards of an occupied dwelling.  You may not hunt before, or after legal shooting hours.  You may never hunt the urban side of the DOT Compact Urban Line.  So basically, once I place a borrowed weapon in my van, I am in violation of the law as it is written.002

Under the conditions of Question 3 it would have cost, based on today’s prices, a minimum of $40 in background checks. Something my family, and MANY other families can not afford. Please consider that as you enjoy the rest of my tale…er um…I mean factual retelling of my ordeal.

So anyway, to call this place a “deer camp” would be a slap in the face to other deer camps. No, what this was, was more like a house. Exactly like a house really. Full kitchen, dining area, a living room furnished with a flatscreen TV complete with a DVD player, AND a VCR along with a wide variety of movies to watch!

So I cooked supper in “deer camp” in proper pots and pans, on a stove. Nothing over or under cooked. No chunks of raw meat mixed in with burnt hunks. No clumps of raw spaghetti combined with a pasty pile of goo…TERRIBLE!

After dinner, with the dishes washed in hot soapy water and drying on the rack, William and I had a few hours to kill before bed. Had we known there would be decent Internet service I could have brought a laptop and amused myself somehow. Instead, I had to sprawl out on the couch with my son and watch a movie on the VCR. It was starting to get chilly, so my son had to snuggle in with his dad to keep from shivering.

I had been worried that we would have to endure a temperamental woodstove, and that would have compromised the scent free body wash, and laundry detergent we had been using for a couple of days. You cant walk into the woods smelling like woodsmoke! But it was FAR worse than that!

When we walked in, John commented that it was kinda chilly and that he was sorry that the woodstove hadn’t been installed yet. I assured him it was fine. When John came back to have dinner with us, he again mentioned it was chilly, and my boy agreed….So he fired up the frigging furnace! IN DEER CAMP! The nerve of some people! As soon as he left, I shut the damned thing off!

Once bedtime rolled around, Will and I climbed into a queen sized bed with sheets, a blanket, and a comforter! Lucky for me, the pillow was flat and inadequate!

3:45 am rolled around just after 3:44 and I got up. Since all I had was a fully loaded kitchen, I had to make do, and made hunter’s breakfast with some venison tenderloin tips, scrambled eggs, toast, good hot strong coffee, and ice cold milk out of the fridge. You couldn’t have had a better feed unless you had gone to the sportsman’s club, or grange hall but we were roughing it.

We loaded up into the truck just before 5:00 am. Typical of the luck I have, it was raining. It had been raining pretty steady for more than a day. We got into the woods about forty-five minutes before daylight, and we were sitting up in a tree stand with plenty of time before legal shooting which was 6:30am. (if you ask me, we should have been in the woods much earlier…But William is 11, and I suspect John, as a guide, has gotten soft from dragging wealthy sports into the woods. You REAL hunters know what I mean!)

So we sat there, in the tree-stand. I was shocked at the advances in the hunting industry! Back in my day, you found a tree stand built by your father’s buddy’s grandfather sometime after WWII, and you climbed into a swaying old tree on slick rotted wood praying that the ladder didn’t come apart as you climbed, and then you prayed, as you lay on the ground trying to catch your breath that you didn’t injure anything in the fall…But this thing was AMAZING! A REAL ladder with metal rungs, and a brace against the trunk of the tree to hold it steady. Then there was a metal platform with plenty of foot room and a bench to sit on! But there was even more! A rail folded down to act as a safety bar/gun rest, AND it was padded! To quote Russel Crowe in ‘Master and Commander’…”What a fascinating modern age we live in!”Tree stand

As the rainy woods brightened slightly, William dozed now and then. John, the guide, fidgeted, and fretted with rattling antlers, and grunt calls. I did what hunters are supposed to do. I sat in the rain. Perfectly still. Sure, my knees got a little stiff. But this wasn’t about my comfort. This was about building memories of the hunt for my son!

I didn’t even move when the hot cup of sweet milky coffee I was trying to drink splashed into my eye because a HUGE drop of water plopped into the thermos cup, nearly blinding me with the scalding liquid! NOPE! I just sat there, statue still! Drinking coffee, and eating Hershey’s Kisses, and fried eggs wrapped in flour tortillas.

After about four hours of this William and John apparently got cold, and suggested we move on. With all the rain and nothing to get the deer moving, they were going to stay bedded down in the thickets.

I was dead set against this. But John and Will were already out of the tree staring up at me wondering when I was going to come down. William even took the thermos, and remaining food, thinking that would get me down, but I was there to hunt deer!

Next thing I know, they are chucking rocks at me and suggesting that maybe I was scared to climb down or something. John was a regular laugh riot walking around the tree. Hands tucked into his armpits, flapping like wings. Clucking! Now and then he would scratch at the fallen leaves with his feet, and thrust his neck back and forth. William even cut loose with a “COCKA-DOODLE-DOO!” Funny guys!  I tell ya!

Soon the left me, and went back to the truck, and were laying on the horn, when I realized half an hour later, that this was “Youth Day”, and I didn’t even have a gun! So I didn’t climb down out of the tree, I slid down the ladder with my hands on the side like they do in the movies! Me? Scared? HA!

John and William will tell you another story. Great hunters will do that. Make up stories about hunting, and hunting trips. You see, although we hunted hard for the rest of the day, sneaking down access roads along thickets of pine hoping to jump a deer from its bed, Will did not get his first deer.

But he was right there in the wet marching along with us battling the rain, the mud and the bugs! (It was nearly 70 degrees, and there were tons of skeeters! That is why they call it hunting. And we hunted hard.

Much as I did some thirty-seven years ago, my boy has become a hunter, and he didn’t complain once! In my eyes, that makes him a GREAT hunter! I hope this was the first of what will be many hunts for him, and I cant wait to hear the stories he will tell!

I for one will always cherish the memory of my time up on the ridge with my new friend, and my son.  If any of you are interested in learning more about Tucker Ridge, I bet John would be more than happy to help you make some memories of your own!

Doug Alley

About Doug Alley

I grew up in Bath, Maine in an upper lower class family with 3 step sisters, a step brother, and a little sister. After high school I spent 3 years serving in the USAF at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage AK. I've competed in, and won, demolition derbies. I've competed in, and never won, stock car races. I am the 47-year-old father of an 11-year-old boy who is pretty sure he is smarter than I ever was. We live on a little less than an acre of land in a 1973 mobile home in Stetson with my wife Jen, some cats, a few chickens, and rabbits, and a couple of goats. I hunt, fish, camp out, dabble in photography, gardening, and I cook in variable degrees of near success.