(And now for something not completely different ...my annual deer-hunting column, first published in 2006.)
I’m lousy with memory but I still can remember the first deer I shot.
It was in Naples (New York, not Italy) and I was 17 and more inclined at the time to be scouring the woods for wineries than for deer.
It was late morning and I was walking slowly through a woodlot and coming up to an open field. I could see a few does standing on a rise so I snuck behind a tree and waited.
Sure enough, seconds later, a buck trotted over the rise into my view.
It ran about 100 yards and collapsed, dead from a single shot to the neck. Wow.
I pulled a folded piece of paper from my pocket, an article on how to properly field dress a deer. I was reading it when another hunter came over to see what I shot.
“Nice buck,” he said. It wasn’t. It was a little crotch-horn but I was young and he knew it and yeah, it was a nice buck. Best buck I ever saw.
The guy took out his knife, told me to put away the crinkled article and showed me how to gut the deer. He did most of the work, which was a relief at the time, and I watched.
He helped me drag the deer through the woods to an old farm lane. I sat there grinning, waiting for my dad and his friends to arrive, trying to remember if I thanked the guy, who I never saw again.
Actually was sitting atop the deer’s body when they showed up.
Never been to Naples since but I remember it fondly.
I remember many of the hunts I went on, successful or not, which is what I think about in the week leading to opening day, today.
It gets me excited, which has been lacking in recent weeks.
As of this writing, Friday morning, I have yet to even sight in my gun.
Oh, by the time the paper arrived this morning I’m sure I’ve already field-dressed and dragged a 200 pound 10-pointer back to my house but as of this writing, the excitement has yet to kick in.
The second buck I shot was in Springwater, my all-time favorite place to hunt. My dad, Robbie and Kent told me to head up the hill this many yards, turn here, follow the trail there and at a certain tree just plunk myself down and wait.
I did and sure enough a spike horn came prancing through with a bunch of does. Dropped him on the spot. Kent told me later that he had seen that deer every time he was in that area, almost always at the same time and traveling with does.
Springwater surrounds Hemlock Lake and was always a tough hunt. After years of driving to the top of the hill and hunting above or below the road, my dad bought a canoe and we could paddle across the lake and then climb 400 yards up a steep hill.
Better hunting, he said, and fewer guys. It was public land but few, if any, hunters were crazy enough to hunt like we did.
I’d get up at 2 in the morning, usually never even sleeping, pack, drink coffee, and head to the lake, about a 70-minute drive.
We’d eat breakfast in Lima and arrive at Hemlock about 4:30 a.m.
I remember having to punch through the ice to launch the canoe. I remember having to drag the canoe along with all our gear down a fire lane to find water when the lake level was low. I remember paddling as hard as I could for what seemed like forever and never getting anywhere because the wind was against us.
But we always made it and then it was that insane, almost straight up and down climb and when I would finally stop at what I thought was the perfect spot, I would see another more perfect spot farther up the hill. When I settled, I’d always be dripping wet with sweat, even if it was 10 degrees.
And it sometimes was. Once I had to build a raging fire late morning just to thaw my sandwich, which had frozen solid in my backpack. That’s how cold it was. On the return trip across the lake we had to knock the ice off the paddles every few minutes.
Shot my first big deer at Hemlock, an eight-pointer with about a 16-inch spread.
Too many guys started to make that trip in a boat or canoe and we lost interest in Hemlock Lake and Springwater. Always hated seeing other hunters in the woods, unless, of course, they were going to gut and drag my deer for me.
Now I hunt locally, which is much easier, and I never see many hunters.
It’s not quite the same. I don’t have to wake up at 2. I can leave my stand and go home for coffee, food or a nap, unlike Springwater where I would be in the woods for 10 hours. I can hear traffic on the roads. Dogs barking. The bus stopping in front of houses.
But when the first deer moves my direction all that goes away. I’m back in Springwater or Naples or anywhere I’ve ever hunted and I hear nothing but the soft crunch of hooves on the forest floor and the soft click of my safety and the thumping of my heart.
(Scott DeSmit is a general assignment reporter for The Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)