Deer are the most beautiful animals of the woods. Their grace, poise, agility, and alertness make them a lovely and inspiring sight. To see them feed undisturbed is wonderful; such mincing steps, such dainty nibbling is a lesson in culture. With wide, lustrous eyes, mobile ears ever listening, with moist, sensitive nostrils testing every vagrant odor in the air, they are the embodiment of hypersensitive self-preservation. And yet deer are not essentially timid animals. They will venture far through curiosity, and I have seen them from the hilltop, being run by dogs, play and trifle with their pursuers. The dog, hampered by brush and going only by scent, follows implicitly the trail. The deer runs, leaps high barriers, doubles on his tracks, stops to browse at a tempting bush, even waits for the dog to catch up with him, and leads him on in a merry chase. I feel sure that unless badly cornered or confused by a number of dogs or wolves, the deer does not often develop great fear, nor is he hard put to it in these episodes. Quite likely there is an element of sport in it with him.
Why men should kill deer is a moot question, but it is a habit of the brute. For so many hundreds of years have we been at it, that we can hardly be expected to reform immediately. Undoubtedly, it is a sign of undeveloped ethnic consciousness. We are depraved animals. I must admit that there are quite a number of things men do that mark them as far below the angels, but in a way I am glad of it. The thrill and glow of nature is strong within us. The great primitive outer world is still unconquered, and there are impulses within the breast of man not yet measured, curbed and devitalized, which are the essential motives of life. Therefore, without wantonness, and without cruelty, we shall hunt as long as the arm has strength, the eye glistens, and the heart throbs.
To go deer hunting, the archer should seek a country unspoiled by civilization and gunpowder. It should approach as nearly as possible the pristine wilderness of our forefathers. The game should be unharried by the omnipresent and dangerous nimrod. In fact, as a matter of safety, an archer particularly should avoid those districts overrun by the gunman. The very methods employed by the bowman make him a ready target for the unerring, accidental bullet.
Never go in company with those using firearms; never carry firearms. The first spoils your hunting, and the second is unnecessary and only gives your critic a chance to say that you used a gun to kill your animal, then stuck it full of arrows to take its picture.
On our deer hunts we first decide upon the location, usually in some mountain ranch owned by a man who is willing and anxious to have us hunt on his grounds. The sporting proposition of shooting deer with a bow strikes the fancy of most men in the country. If we are unfamiliar with the district, the rancher can give us valuable information concerning the location of bucks, and this saves time. Usually he is our guide and packer, supplying the horses and equipment for a compensation, so we are welcome. Some of the intimate relations established on these expeditions are among the pleasantest features of our vacation.
Having reached the hunting grounds, we make camp. Tents are pitched, stores unpacked and arranged, beds made and all put in order for a stay of days or weeks.
Each archer has with him two or more bows, and anywhere from two to six dozen arrows. About half of these are good broad-heads and the rest are blunts or odd scraps to be shot away at birds on the wing, at marks, or some are shot in pure exhilaration across deep canyons.
As a rule, there are two or three of us in the party, and we hunt together.
Having decided what seems the best buck ground, we rise before daylight and, having eaten, strike out to reach the proposed spot before sunrise. There we spread out, approximately a bowshot apart, that is to say, two hundred yards. In parallel courses we traverse the country; one just below the ridges where one nearly always finds a game trail; one part way down, working through the wooded draws; and the third going through the timber edge where deer are likely to lurk or bed down.
In this way we cross-cut a good deal of country, and one or the other is likely to come upon or rout out a buck. With great caution we progress very quietly, searching every bit of cover, peering at every fallen log, where deer often lie, standing to scrutinize every conspicuous twig in anticipation that it may be horns. Does, of course, we see in plenty. So carefully do we approach that often we have come up within ten yards of female deer. Once Compton sneaked up on a doe nursing her fawn. He crept so close that he could have thrown his hat on them. While he watched, the mother got restless, seemed to sense danger without scenting or seeing it. She moved off slowly, pulling her teats out of the eager fawn's mouth, gave a flip to her hind legs and hopped over him, then meandered leisurely to the crest of the hill. The little fellow, unperturbed, licked his chops, ran his tongue up his nose, shook his ears, and seeing mother waiting for him, trotted away unaware of the possible danger of man. But we do not shoot does.
So we travel. Sometimes a startled deer bounds down the hillside leaving us chagrined and disappointed. Sometimes one tries this and is defeated. One evening as we returned to camp, making haste because of the rapidly falling night, we startled a deer that plunged down the steep slope before us. Instantly Compton drew to the head and shot. His arrow led the bounding animal by ten yards. Just as the deer reached cover at a distance of seventy-five yards, the arrow struck. It entered his flank, ranged forward and emerged at the point of the opposite shoulder. The deer turned and dashed into the bush. As it did so the protruding arrow shaft snapped; we descended and picked up the broken piece. Following the crashing descent of the buck down the canyon, we found him some two hundred yards below, crumpled up and dead against a madrone tree. It was a heart shot, one of the finest I ever hope to see. Compton is a master at the judgment of distance and the speed of running game.
Having worked out a piece of country by the method of sub-division, we meet at a pre-arranged rendezvous and plan another sortie.
If the sun has not risen above the peaks, we continue this method of combing the land until we know the time for bucks has passed. For this reason we work the high points first, and the lower points last, for in this way we take advantage of the slowly advancing illumination.
Sometimes, using glasses, we pick out a buck at a considerable distance, either in his solitary retreat, or with a band of deer; and we go after him. Here we figure out where he is traveling and make a detour to intercept him. This is often heartbreaking work, up hill and down dale, but all part of the game.
Young and Compton brought low a fine buck by this means on one of our recent hunts. Seeing a three-pointer a mile distant, we all advanced at a rapid pace. We reached suitable vantage ground just as the buck became aware of our presence. At eighty yards Young shot an arrow and pierced him through the chest. The deer leaped a ravine and took refuge in a clump of bay trees. We surrounded this cover and waited for his exit. Since he did not come out after due waiting, Compton cautiously invaded the wooded area, saw the wounded deer deep in thought; he finished him with a broad-head through the neck.
Not having had any large experience myself in hunting deer with firearms, the use of the bow presented no great contrast. Mr. Young has often said, however, that it gave him more pleasure to shoot at a deer and miss it with an arrow, than to kill all the deer he ever had with a gun. For my part, I did not want to kill anything with a gun. It did not seem fair; so until I took up archery, I did not care to hunt.
Therefore, the analysis of my feelings interested me considerably as we began to have experiences with the bow.
The first deer I shot at was so far off that there was no chance to hit it, but I let drive just to get the sensation. My arrow sailed harmlessly over its back. The next I shot at was within good range, but my arrow only grazed its rump. And that deer did something that I never saw before. It sagged in the middle until its belly nearly touched the ground, then it gathered its seemingly weakened legs beneath it, and galloped off in a series of bucks. We laughed immoderately over its antics; in fact, some of our adventures have been most ludicrous at times.
Once, when two of us shot at an old stag together as it raced far off down the trail, the two arrows dropped twenty yards ahead of it. Instantly the stag came to an abrupt stop, smelled first one arrow at one side of the trail, and the other on the opposite side, deliberated a moment, bolted sidewise and disappeared. What he got in his olfactory investigation must have been confusing. He smelled man; he smelled turkey feathers; and he smelled paint. What sort of animals do you think he imagined the arrows to be?
This reminds me that Ishi always said that a white man smelled like a horse, and in hunting made a noise like one, but apparently he doesn't always have horse sense.