Sports

Matthew Dickerson: On being taunted (by wildlife)

My father, on “good” years when his work permitted it, would get away in the autumn on short deer-hunting trips to Western Maine, about a four-hour drive away from our house in Massachusetts. “He’s out harassing wildlife,” my mother would say when he was gone. Her disdain for hunting was evident in her voice. 
My late mother grew up in Indiana and Michigan in a family that hunted. During the depression, wild game was an important part of how her father fed the family. My grandfather brought home deer, rabbits, squirrels, and an occasional bear to provide for his wife and five children. Later, at least two of his sons joined him in the hunting. But my mother — who had an adult career as an elementary and middle school teacher — was more enamored by stories of Bambi and the talking animals of Narnia than by the hunting stories of her father and brothers. She couldn’t help but anthropomorphize woodland creatures. 
Maybe it was the influence of my mother and the Narnia stories she read to us. I didn’t do a lot of hunting growing up. I did a little squirrel hunting in the woods around our house (with some success using my .22 caliber rifle), and even some rabbit hunting (also with my .22, but with no success). However in the places and days of my youth (rural Massachusetts in the 1970s), there were few opportunities to hunt big game. Deer were rare, and rifle hunting wasn’t allowed in the state. 
Though my oldest brother once joined my father on a hunt in Maine, I never did. Maine had a blue law prohibiting hunting on Sundays, which meant his trips usually involved school days. Also, during my latter teenage years when I might have been of a good age to join him, his hunting trips were temporarily suspended for work-related reasons. He didn’t pick up hunting again until I had moved out of the house. 
Not long after moving to Vermont in my mid-20s, however, I took up hunting large game. That was when I learned that my mother’s Bambi-influenced view of hunting as “animal harassing” was largely wrong. Hunting, as it turned out, wasn’t primarily an opportunity for me to harass large animals; it was primarily an opportunity for large animals to taunt me. Every year of hunting has provided new and creative ways for the large game I pursue to have a good laugh at my expense.
The turkeys have proven very good at it. And they are not subtle at all. The final three days of the 2020 fall turkey season I set out an hour before down, decked out in camo gear with my father’s old shotgun. The first morning, I sat in the woods at the edge of the cornfield north of our house. At sunrise, my wife texted to tell me turkeys were in the cornfield east of our house. They watched her in the window, waited for her to finish sending the text, then quickly snuck off. So the next morning, I sat on the edge of the field east of the house where they turkeys had been the morning before.  To my delight, just before dawn they appeared out of the woods 800 yards away across a cornfield and meadow, and spent 30 minutes meandering more or less right toward me, crossing a full 600 yards of cornfield in plain view. Then they suddenly veered right and disappeared into the trees right where I had been the morning before.  The last morning of the season they didn’t show up at all. That is, they didn’t show up until two hours after sunrise, and an hour after I had come inside. Then they walked all around where I had been.
Of course each of the three mornings after turkey season ended, they also came out. The Monday after the season ended, they walked right to the exact place on the east side of the house where they had been on Friday, where I had waited for them in vain on Saturday. One of them stood in the exact spot where I had been seated, and then looked up at our house with a big smirk on its smug, waddled beak just to make sure I could see it gloating.
The deer are not quite as brazen as the turkeys, but they still taunt. Their favorite way to taunt is to send the does walking right past my stand during the rifle season—the season that is only for antlered bucks. The does pretend not to notice me, but their big Bambi eyes don’t deceive; I know they are laughing inside. Another way they like to taunt me is to beat me to my hunting location where they wait just under my stand so that the moment I appear they can stamp their feet, waive their annoying white flags at my face, and run off. It doesn’t matter what time I arrive. Any time of day, they make it a point of getting there just before I do, so they can have the pleasure of running off and letting me know I don’t have a chance of seeing anything else that day. I think they secretly watch my house from the woods, so that when I head out the door they can race to my stand and wait for me, just so they can run off when I arrive.
This year, however, they found yet a new way to taunt me. Because of the need to cull the current overly abundant population of deer in many management units, and because some past December muzzleloader seasons had yielded lower success rates than anticipated, Vermont instituted a new early four-day muzzloader season at the end of October. Unlike the November rifle season, it was for does (antlerless deer) only. Not wanting to deprive the poor harassed woodland creatures from the pleasure of taunting me, I dutifully got myself an antlerless tag and went out after them. Of course I should have predicted the outcome. Instead of sending the does walking past, the herd picked out a big muscular six-point buck and sent it my way late one afternoon. It meandered past me where I sat in the woods leaning against a tree. When it got directly in front of me, it turned and looked me in the eyes, gave a big smug grin, then turned and walked off into the darkness. 
So it wasn’t my mother’s anthropomorphizing of animals that was wrong. It’s just that she mistakenly took her cues from Bambi. Those who watched the Saturday morning cartoons I grew up with know the real story. It’s not the story of Bambi, but the relationship of Bugs Bunny to Elmer J. Fudd that really got it right. Bugs Bunny always won, and Elmer always ended up looking and feeling foolish. 

Share this story:

More News
Sports

Tigers, Commodores run well at meet

Winning performances by Tiger junior sprinter Jazmyn Hurley and one Tiger and two Vergenne … (read more)

Sports

MAV lacrosse cruises past MUHS

In what was the first-ever regular-season meeting between Addison County’s two high school … (read more)

Sports

Tiger boys’ lacrosse topples CVU

The Middlebury Union High School boys’ lacrosse team rode strong defense and goaltending a … (read more)

Share this story: