Deer tale: When the dead arise

By Peter C. Berry

Guest Columnist

My high school classmate Dickey Wyman and I were sitting at the counter in the Mayfair Diner located in Post Office Square, Bridgton on a cold, dark November Saturday in 1952. It was 5:30 a.m. as we finished our breakfast of ham and eggs and put 50 cents each on the counter to cover the meal and the tip, pulled on our heavy, red woolen jackets and made our way through the frosty, pre-dawn gloom to Dickey’s robin’s-egg-blue LaSalle coupe and headed up Main Hill toward Sweden and our favorite hunting spot.

This hunting excursion had begun the night before with me having supper with Dickey and his family and sleeping over at their apartment in Pondicherry Square. It took me awhile to get used to the traffic noise just under my window, but eventually I fell into a deep sleep only to be awakened at 5 a.m. by an insistent alarm clock. I quickly dressed and we hit the diner for breakfast where several other hunters were fueling up for the day’s grind.

We had hunted this area in Sweden several times the past couple of years and had seen deer each time, so Dickey always wanted to go there saying that one of these times one of us would get his deer. Between us, resting against the padding of the seat, were our weapons for the day; Dickey’s 30-30 Winchester, model 94 that had been in his family for years, and an old, borrowed, bolt action Enfield Army model that was my equalizer. It came with three bullets, which I kept in my shirt pocket until time to load. (Foreshadowing Barney Fife?) We talked about where we would position ourselves once we reached the end of the Camp Tapawingo Road and crossed the little brook into a beautiful piece of woods. That was the gist of our conversation as we turned onto Route 93 from North High Street and picked up speed, secure in the heated cab of The Blue Goose, as we called his huge rolling hulk of an automobile. We were young, we were eager for the hunt and we were full of hope for a successful day.

Dickey had pulled the floor shifter into high gear and we were rolling along pretty good, the engine of the old Blue Goose purring like the well-oiled machine that it was, so I took my eyes off the road to look at the Enfield and daydream about how I would hoist its bulk to my shoulder and bring down a trophy buck with one skillfully placed shot when at that very moment in my self-congratulatory reverie Dickey slammed on the brakes and the Goose came to a shuddering stop — I couldn’t say a screeching halt because the Goose was incapable of that, but she stopped pretty darned quick.

In the second after he hit the brakes, I looked at him and saw that his arms were stiffly braced on the steering wheel and he was literally standing on the clutch and brake pedals. His red felt hat had tipped back on his head giving him the look of a chuck wagon driver from the old west.

He said, “Jeesum.”

In the next second, I looked out the windshield and there, plum in the middle of the road, stood the biggest buck you ever saw. The headlights penetrating the early morning mist lit him up like spotlights on the Deertrees Theatre stage, framing his magnificent self with a pale yellow glow and outlining his royal rack against the surrounding darkness of early dawn.

While I sat dumbfounded, Dickey nudged the gear-shift into neutral, set the parking brake, picked up the 30-30, opened his door and stepped out of the Goose all-the-while fishing in his pocket for a shell which he found and placed into the chamber of the rifle.

It took Dickey a few seconds to get out of the Goose and the only movements from the buck were two jets of steam pulsing from his nostrils. I now had my door open and was standing on the running board when the buck decided he had had enough and took a couple of steps before leaping to the edge of the road. One more leap and he was at the base of a stone wall that surrounded a small cemetery and with another he landed in the center of a few dozen old, gray headstones. In my mind’s logic, he would take one more leap and disappear into the woods at the back of the burial grounds, but he didn’t follow my assumed scenario. He stopped, turned slightly, and looked down at us.

The soft edge of dawn had broken the hard grip of night while this drama was playing out and now I could see the full majesty of the buck standing in the last vestiges of swirling mist looking surprised at the very thought that something would disturb his early morning routine. At that moment, a tremendous sound broke the dead silence and sent a shaft of fear straight to my gut. Dickey had fired the 30-30 and as I watched, baffled at the turn of events, that big buck dropped like the proverbial ton of bricks.

The report from the rifle had echoed down through the woods to Highland Lake and beyond while we stood looking at the spot where the buck had fallen and, although we couldn’t see him, we knew he was there. I finally got a shell from my shirt pocket and had the Enfield loaded and ready to go, but with the safety on. We must have been a sight standing in the middle of the road with our weapons at the ready, the Goose idling away with both doors open and headlights glowing, but we were a determined pair and moved with a mixture of caution and satisfaction toward the stone steps that led into the cemetery.

We ascended the steps and I moved to the right following Dickie’s whispered instructions and had taken only a couple of paces when an angry snort broke the silence and that buck jumped into the air right in front of us. He gave another nerve-rattling grunt, shook his antlers at us and leaped a good 10 feet, gathered himself for another and was gone into the woods. Dickey fired a shot after him and I brought the Enfield to my shoulder and pulled the trigger. Nothing. In the excitement of the moment, I had left the safety on and stood there suffering from what hunters far better schooled than I was in those things chose to call “buck fever.”

At noon on this most frustrating of days, Dickey and I were seated at the counter in Percy’s restaurant, a popular eatery and hangout for high school kids situated near the top of Main Hill and not that far from the scene of our disappointment. We ordered cheeseburgers and Cokes and sat in silent contemplation of all that had happened on that fateful morning.

After the buck had plunged into the woods from the cemetery, we pulled the Goose off the road, waited a half hour and slowly walked into the bush after him hoping his wounds had forced him to lie down. But, no luck. We were soon standing on the edge of Route 302 looking at fresh tracks in the gravel. We crossed the road and looked for tracks there, but found none so we drove the Goose around and waited another half hour before entering the undergrowth and carefully searching along 302 for a couple of hours. The woods in this area were very thick and in some places impossible to negotiate so we drove to the Hio Ridge Road and spent another hour or so in the woods there checking for signs, but found nothing so we resigned ourselves to the fact that the biggest buck either of us had ever seen was gone and, we hoped, had survived.

Dickey was such a nice guy and said that what happened to me with leaving the safety on happens to all hunters and the next time would be different. I knew he was disappointed that the buck remained on the loose, but he was also excited about the day’s events and said we were so close to the biggest buck ever that we could have reached out and touched him and that we would have something to talk about for years to come. I hate to think of how many hunting laws we overlooked on that fateful morning, but in the suddenness of the moment we acted, as novice hunters are likely to do, without considering the finer points of those laws.

Recently I was driving along Route 93 and stopped my little blue car, affectionately named The Blue Goose IV, at that cemetery and relived those few moments of high excitement and saw the silhouette of a majestic buck with antlers beyond belief standing among the ancient stones looking down on me and saying, you had your chance.

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