It was one of those old wooden hotels in the Catskills, and it hadn't burned down yet, probably because the owners had decided to take in hunters that fall in the hopes of taking in enough money to pay the taxes one more year. Its exact location is a blur, but to get there we drove, in a spitting snow, through the town of New Paltz, where the main industry seems to be apres -ski.
The tone of the trip was set as we stopped by the deer-checking station at dusk to see how good or bad opening day had been. The fish and game officer didn't blink as a hunter - $10 will get you $20 that he was from Queens - proudly checked in a billy-goat he had shot, tagged and tied to the roof of his car. (Remember, some farmers in Dorchester County, Maryland, have begun painting C O W in big black letters on both sides of their livestock.)
At the hotel we drew our rooms, built a fire in the fireplace, cleaned up from the drive and went down to the rathskeller for dinner and an evening of drinking around the deserted stage bar where the careers of a handful of entertainers might have been launched but where the careers of countless more surely were brought to an abrupt halt. There were perhaps two dozen hunters, all in good spirits and ogling the three or four waitresses with black hair, black stockings and black dresses about the size of a postage stamp. The Lea & Perrins seemed to have been placed deliberately on the top shelf, in lieu of live entertainment.
The morning brought ham and eggs in the empty upstairs dining room, a steady 20-knot wind, snow and 20-degree temperature, and, wearing insulated underwear and fluorescent orange vests, we went out and were dropped off at our points about 150 yards apart facing a laurel-lined draw with our backs to a gorge that dropped vertically about 350 feet. We hand lunch in our pockets, and Thermos bottles, some of which were alleged to contain coffee.
The does moved all day. Ocassionally, a rifle would be fired, always across the other ridge. By the time the sun was high in the southern sky it was all one hunter could do to keep from shooting a woodpecker - by then, bedding time for deer, the only living thing in sight.
The temperature continued to drop, and the wind to pick up, and by 3 o'clock we decided to give it up. We unloaded our guns and opened their actions and began the walk, a mile or so along a rocky road, back to the hotel. Naturally, we jumped a couple of bucks along the way, but in 20 minutes we were in front of a fire with toddies. And watching the waitresses.
The owner, who was sitting on something like a thousand acres of taxable property, was quite upset that nobody was bringing in any deer - how good would that be for next year's business? He told me that if I would leave right then and head out the other way about half a mile I'd come to an orchard, where he knew for sure a herd of deer had been hanging around.
We had come, after all, to hunt. The snow was crunchy on the way over, and, in about 10 minutes, sure enough, there was a small apple orchard, at the end of one of the lonest meadows I'd seen in the East, surrounded on three sides by second-growth timber, with an expanse of snow that burned the eyes. As I approached, the whole herd, which had been hidden by the trees, took off, led by a fine eight-point buck. They vanished into the trees, and so I back-tracked 50 yards or so and circled the area, heading into the far woods, not far from where they'd gone, knowing that before sun-down, if I kept perfectly still, they would return to the apples.
And, an hour later, when the sun was about to dip behind the mountain, they did. In a parade. The does edged out of the trees first, heading along the far edge of the meadow, followed by two or three spike bucks. I eased my rifle onto a fallen tree in my woods, and waited for the big buck to follow them on their march toward the orchard, which was between 100 and 125 yards away from where I lay. By the time the sun vanished he still had not come, and it was going to be now or not at all, so I sized up the biggest of the spikes and, just as he was pausing to munch an apple, I shot him behind the right shoulder and he went down.
Even at that distance I could see the red foam as he thrashed around in the snow: he had been lung-shot. I jacked another cartridge into the chamber and broke out of the brush running, having no unclination to track a wounded deer through that country half the night. The does had taken off at the shot, but when I was about 50 yards into the meadow they came dancing back to the spike, pirouetting around him as if (and I am no anthropomorphic believer in Bambi) begging him to get on his feet and get the hell out of there, and I took off my hat and waved it frantically at them trying to get them to take off before I arrived and we all would break down together and cry. After an eternity, they left. I put a bullet into the spike's heart, and, ttrembling, tagged him and began the job of dragging him in. I sensed the does watching me.
That evening, in the rathskeller, it turned out that I was the only hunter who'd killed a deer, and everybody had to hear about it, every detail; and, as is the way in deer camps everwhere, little stories make for retelling over and over, and when the owner revealed that that big meadow was actually the ninth fairway of a golf course, somebody said, "Hell, you oughta used a 7-iron," and everbody laughed and that, of course, is the line that stuck.
The Lea & Perrins was as high on the shelf as ever that evneing, but it wasn't all that much fun. Later we drove home, and after a few days of aging my spike was ready to be cut up, and over the winter I fed its flesh to my children. It was the least I could do. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By Ted Miller.