Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Deer Hunting, Maine, November 1973

For several summers in 1970s, my parents, younger sister, younger brother, and I would spend a week or so around the Fourth of July at a remote, two-room camp in the middle of the Maine woods, in sparsely-populated Carrabassett Valley, near the southeastern end of Flagstaff Lake (roughly two hours northwest of Bangor).

The camp was constructed in 1947 by my father's father. It had no electricity or plumbing. There was an outhouse situated a short distance behind the camp, though the menfolk (my father and I) urinated next to a tree perhaps 10 yards in front of the camp's porch. There was a small nail on the back side of that tree, which was where the key to the camp's front door lock was hung before we headed back home to Vermont.

At least once, we discovered upon our arrival that the camp had been broken into. There was nothing inside worth stealing; the amenities were extremely bare-bones. There were plates, cups, and utensils, which likely dated from the time of construction, as did whatever was in the creaky medicine cabinet near the door, but that was about it. I've always assumed the breakers-in used it as shelter or a base camp of their own.

For two or three of those years, my father and I returned in the fall for deer season. I have a cassette recording of him talking about our November 1973 trip. I don't know when he recorded it and, to my knowledge, although he christened this tape "No. 1", he made no additional recordings.

In September 1973, I began the fifth grade at the Thomas Fleming School in Essex Junction, Vermont, an old, two-story brick building that had served as the town's high school when my father was a teenager. By the time I was there, it was fifth graders only. (Before I was born, my parents had moved from an apartment in Burlington to one side of a duplex at 6 Prospect Street, almost directly across the street from this school. We lived there until I was almost two, at which point they purchased the house in which I and my two siblings grew up.)

On Sunday, October 14, I competed in a series of drag races held by the Vermont Cycle Association. (I had received a Honda 70 cc motorcycle at the beginning of spring.) 

After completing my first (or second) run, I was zipping through a field, circling back to the area behind the starting line, when my front tire hit a large rock, flipping the bike and sending me over the handlebars into the tall grass. Actually, that's only my best guess at what happened. (The bike's speedometer was smashed, freezing the needle at 30 mph.) I regained consciousness for a few seconds before being placed in the ambulance.

The accident nearly broke both my left leg and jaw. Two days later, I celebrated my 10th birthday in the hospital and received a trophy for second place in the 100 cc and under class.

I was soon discharged and, roughly two weeks later, it was off to Maine.

What follows is a transcript of the cassette. My father is speaking softly and I cannot make out every word. The previous two Novembers, he had gone deer hunting at the camp with various friends. 1973 was my first deer hunting trip with him.
On this tape I'm going to talk about the deer hunting trip that Allan and I took November of '73. Deer season opened, in Maine, opened the first week in November, which was on a – started on Monday [November 5]. So Allan and I planned to go up Saturday, we'd have a couple days at camp, get squared away before the season opened on Monday.

We got our stuff all packed up and left Saturday morning for Maine. And we got up to camp in the early part of the afternoon, I guess it was. [The drive was roughly 250 miles.] Pretty cold up there. Ground was all pretty much frozen, stove pipe needed to be replaced, so we had, we knew this ahead of time, from our trip up there in the summertime, had a length of stovepipe we took up. That was one of the first things we had to do, was fix that. I got up on the ladder, started getting stuff together, Allan got up on the roof. Once we did get it all fitted together, he held it in place while I wired it up and we came down. We didn't cut any wood on that trip, had the chain saw along, didn't cut any because we'd already cut quite a bit, had some good split hard maple I brought from home, that I'd split in August. [?]

So we didn't really do a heck of a lot until Monday. Kinda poked around the camp. Just took it easy. I guess we did drive around a bit. [?] It was cold enough up there, we had to get the fires going in pretty good shape to keep it warm enough in the camp. So we got all squared away, got all our clothes and things all laid out at night, set the clock, set the clock for 4:30 in the morning, went to bed. I guess I must have got up every so often in the middle of the night, had to keep the fires going [?] didn't really start getting warm until it was time to get up. So at 4:30 in the morning, clock went off, we got up, had breakfast, I think we had some eggs, cereal. We were out of the camp I guess by, a little before 6:00, I guess. And we drove up the main road [Long Falls Dam Road], up towards the [?] dam, up there about where the Appalachian Trial crosses the road, went up the hill between the road and Flagstaff. [?] So we got up there just about the time it was getting light and we struck off into the woods there, about 6:30, I guess, just about good enough so you can see. [Sunrise was approximately 6:20 am]

Allan was all dressed up in a snowmobile suit, pretty cold, big florescent hat there, each one of us, new Maine law. Had a florescent vest put on Allan, snowmobile suit was blue [?] Well, we went up and down the hill most of the day. There was no snow on the ground, ground was all frozen, leaves were very noisy, it was just like walking on potato chips all day long. We didn't see a darn thing that day.
I guess we quit about 2:30, 3:00, hit the Appalachian Trail and followed it down to the road. So we got in the truck, drove back to camp, still had a couple hours of daylight, so we walked from the camp down to the pond, first pond down the road [further down the dirt road [Carriage Road] past the camp's long driveway], just as we were breaking out of the brush into the opening by the pond, I looked out there, old bull moose standing there.

Allan was 25, 30 feet behind me, tangled up in brush, I hollered to him, Hurry, hurry, hurry. He came crashing through the brush there, the moose had kind of gone off the right-hand side there a little bit, it was still in the opening by the time Allan got out there. The moose I guess [?] hadn't seen to many people, I guess. Wasn't terribly frightened. We walked out there in the open, we stood there and watched it. I looked at it through the scope of the rifle, held the rifle so Allan could look through it, the scope there. He stood there for a while, didn't really act like he'd run away, didn't let us get too awful close to him, but he stood there most of the while. Finally, we walked on down a little ways, down towards the middle of the pond, sat down in some brush, thought we'd wait awhile and see if any deer would come out. Allan was kind of fidgety, couldn't seem to sit still at all. So we wandered on down to the end of the pond, followed the moose trail, end of the pond over to the second pond, looked around over there [?], walked back, headed back to camp.

The next day, it was really cold. The wind was blowing, howling, had a thermometer out on the porch, just about 20 degrees [-7 C]. Real, good steady wind. This day, we decided that we wouldn't hunt the same place, we'd try going up on, well, what I call Bigelow Mountain. I guess it isn't Bigelow Mountain proper, kind of a hill that leads to it. Take the dirt road [East Flagstaff Road], just before you hit the lake, follow that out there through the gate. I guess we parked at the gate, though, and walked down about a quarter mile, walked down the road to where I got a doe last year. Pretty good area. [?] signs, so we headed for that spot. And we got there, just about light again. Had lunch [?] and starting trudging through the woods, poking along there kind of slow. [?] [?] Got maybe a quarter of a mile into the woods, I guess, same spot where I got the doe last year. Spotted a [?] direction, so we sat down on a log. Planned on sitting there for 10, 15 minutes. We sat there, probably about five minutes, all of a sudden off to one side, I hear a deer coming up the hill, walking along. So I turned around quick, stood up so I could see. There was a lot of, a lot of – growth stuff between us. Wasn't too easy to see where he was. Just about then I caught a glimpse of him coming down through, I could see the horns, pretty good rack of horns. [?] I guess about that same time Allan saw him. And just about that same time, brought up the rifle, just as the scope settled on the front half of him, I touched it off, just before he went behind some brush, the deer made that funny little jump and I knew I hit him. I was positive I hit him. Scope was right on him. And he jumped and he run down the hill a ways, didn't really run, he was just kind of walking. I bolted in another shell and he kind of popped between the trees, just one more time and I threw another shot at him, went right over him.

Felt pretty sure I had him with the first shot. So I was all ready to show Allan just what it looks like if you shoot a deer, you go up there and see a lot of blood on the ground and follow it, follow the trail a little ways and you find the deer. I fully expected that, that's just what was going to happen, happened so many darn times before, I was positive that's what was the way it was going to be. Just to make sure we didn't lose the place where I shot from, in case I had to go back and try and figure out just where the deer was, in case there was no trail or anything, took a box of raisins out of Allan's pack and set it down on the log. Then we walked over to where the deer was when I shot that first time and we kind of looked around the leaves a little bit and we didn't see any blood right away. Didn't see a darn thing.

Couldn't see the deer's tracks because the leaves were all thrown up anyhow. The wind was blowing so, couldn't see any definite footprints at all. Looked around and looked, looked, and finally about, it looked like maybe 15 feet down the hill from where the deer was standing when I shot the first time, I found just a little speck of blood, just the tiniest speck. So I brought Allan down and told him to stand right there, so we wouldn't lose that spot. Went down the hill a little further and looked a little more. Looked and looked, looked and finally found a little bit more. So I brought Allan down to that spot and went on ahead. Did that about three times, then we lost the trail altogether. Just wasn't, wasn't enough blood to say so. And of course it had to start snowing just about that time, just enough snow to cover everything up. Dry, cold snow. We looked and looked, there was just no hope of finding the blood anywhere, because of the snow.

So we spent the rest of the morning kind of hunting downhill from that spot, because I figured that was where the deer was going to head if he was hit, obviously. Usually a deer will head downhill if it's wounded, figured that was where he was going to go. So we wandered around, criss-crossed back and forth and back and forth. We came out of the woods about 2:00 in the afternoon, I guess, didn't really have the energy or inclination to head right back up in the woods, so we kind of packed it up and trudged up the road to the truck and went back to camp.
That's it.

My notes state I transcribed the tape on May 3, 1996, and added these comments:
I remember the next day we went back to the spot where we had first seen the blood and tried to pick up the trail again. I can recall tracking the deer in snow, but I don't know if it was actually snowing that second day. We covered a lot of ground, hiking for at least three or four hours, picking up a single drop of blood on a leaf or maybe a couple of white hairs caught on a twig at about waist or chest level. But the trail never got bloodier. My father didn't think he had grazed the deer with the first shot, but that certainly seemed to be what had happened. I don't recall trying the trail again a third day, but we might have. I can't remember whether we did more hunting the rest of the week, but I know we didn't see any other deer on that trip.

The following November, we did get a deer. It was very early in the morning and it was off the main paved road, again, where the Appalachian Trial crosses the road. It had just gotten light and my father shot a doe. It ran off and we quickly followed, crashing through the woods. It wasn't too far, 50 yards or so, but we found it, on the ground just beyond a fallen tree.
My father gutted it with a large knife and removed its tangle of intestines, the slippery insides sliding quickly out of the deer's body onto the leaves, steaming in the cold morning air. He dragged the deer out of the woods, and down the side of the road to the truck. We hung it up in a small clearing back at the camp.

I vividly remember that moose, though in my memory, we got closer to it than he describes. That pond was odd. After walking through the trees and brush, there was a lot of thick moss before the actual water was visible. It felt like the moss rested on top of the pond and I always thought about the possibility of falling through. There was a lone group of bushes and maybe a small tree and nestled in among there was a small wooden bench. I didn't think much about it at the time, but I wonder now who put that bench there (perhaps my grandfather?), and when.

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