Mike Wilson: It’s that time of year again

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, February 8, 2024

I shot my first deer as an adult in Virginia about 35 years ago. Here’s a story of a couple variations of buck fever. When I was a kid in Tennessee, whitetail deer were so rare that the sighting of one usually prompted a little mention in the local newspaper, so I eventually began my deferred big game hunting career after too many years of grad school in Massachusetts. (And don’t get me started on the subject of the People’s Republic…).

The big doe was running across a brushy hillside about 100 yards away. I shot her cleanly through the neck with a .30-30 H&R Handi rifle with open iron sights. I mention this not to brag, but only to suggest that under normal circumstances I was a fair marksman. In this case, the “normal circumstance” was that it concerned a doe.

The next season I had upgraded to a nice Winchester 94 Big Bore in .375, purported to be a real stopper with its flat-nosed 200 grain bullets. The first morning of the season I was crossing under a utility line while walking toward the gravel road in front of my little farm when a buck sporting two medium rocking chairs on his head got up out of a briar patch right in front of me.

My finely honed instincts took over as I drew a bead and proceeded to jack all the rounds out of the chamber and the magazine tube, working the BreakFree-slicked lever as fast as possible. So fast, in fact, that he was still quite in range when I finally pulled the trigger to a resounding “click.” I said bad words.

I am pleased to report that this happened only once. I was fortunately outshone in this particular arena the first time I took my new brother-in-law out.

By then I had upgraded to a BAR in .30-06 with a nice gold bead front sight. No more pesky levers for me! We first enjoyed a fine breakfast that included my dear sister’s wonderful sweet milk gravy. We took a leisurely stroll across the dewy pasture that led to an old logging road we would use to take us down to some cut cornfields bordered by creeks.

I was carrying the rifle, planning to hand it to him when we were in place. I was certain he knew the basics of marksmanship and safety from ROTC (required in those days of all males), but why take chances? We had barely set foot inside the woods when a nice little forkhorn got up and I dropped it after it had only run about 20 yards. My guest, still picking his teeth, remarked, “Gosh, deer hunting is easy!”

After we field dressed it and dragged it back to the house, it was his turn again. Reverting to Plan A, we quietly approached the edge of the cornfield and sat down in front of a big oak. After a while we heard excited dogs in the distance running hot and drawing nearer and nearer. We stood up. There was something heavy crashing through the woods and suddenly there he was — a perfectly perpendicular buck crossing the field like a running boar target about 75 yards away with his afterburners on. I can still see what happened next as if it were this morning. If only I could project my mind onto YouTube!

The intrepid hunter fixed his steely eye on the prey and, assisted by that ultra-reliable Browning gas mechanism, proceeded to fire all five shots into the ground in rapid succession as he tracked the deer across the field. The resulting holes were at neat one yard intervals starting about a yard in front of us. He stood transfixed for a few moments and then began to mutter. What else could he do?

My very pregnant sister, on the other hand, enjoyed the following year a one shot, one kill career, walking the crosshairs of a scoped Ruger .243 up the leg of a nice 6-point to the boiler room and then coolly squeezing off the round as instructed only once. A Star (though with eyebrow cut) Is Born!

I have an evil tendency to remind him of that day periodically, but this is the first time I confess my own advanced case of buck fever to him or anyone else. We’re even!

Mike Wilson is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor and 13-year resident of Prince Edward County, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu.