As many of you know, my almost lifelong friend, Paul called this morning. He suggested that I tell the story of opening day of the Vermont bow season in 1965–October 9th.
I drove up to Vermont that Friday night by myself in my Falcon that Paul had sold me, for very short money, as he was off to the Sea Bees.
I woke Mrs. Wickberg, the town clerk, in Athens at her home about 10:00 that night. Not only was she not upset with me that I had disturbed her, but rather she offered to put me up for the night as I had no idea where I was or where I was going to sleep.
When I declined to stay, I asked if there was a place nearby where I could set up my tent. She told me to go right across the road along the pasture and cross the brook and I could set up my tent there as she owned that land. It was one of the luckiest breaks I ever got.
Too tired to set up the tent, I simply curled up in the front seat and went to sleep.
I awoke at daybreak, grabbed my bow, and climbed the steep hill in front of me, not knowing what lie ahead. A few hundred yards and 20 minutes later I thought I died and went to heaven. There on my left was a beautiful field and right in front of me was an old apple tree full of apples. Even an inexperienced hunter like me knew I was in a perfect spot.
With my mind still comprehending my surroundings, I was startled out of my shorts by the snorting of a deer just a few yards in front of me. I had never heard that sound before, but I knew instantly what it was. I got only a glimpse of this big old doe as she bounded off. As it turned out she and I would have several encounters over the next two years. She taught me more about deer than all the other deer I would come across the rest of my life. But that’s another story.
I then worked my way down the tote road that paralleled the field inside the wood line. I came across a group of six or so apple trees, most with apples and so much deer sign even this novice could not help but notice.
I looked about and picked an apple tree to climb–one that had two trails intersecting under it. I climbed, carrying my bow with the exposed broadheads in my hand. I wasn’t smart enough yet to have a rope with me. Of course I had enough rope in the car to string up a 10 deer, but it was in the car.
There was a slight drizzle–perfect for bowhunting, but not for climbing.
As I reached a large fork in the tree I thought, “If I step out there on that branch I’ll have a better shot.”
I also thought to myself, “Be careful!” as I looked down at my Converse sneakers.
I no more than had that thought when I found myself falling! I had the presence of mind to throw the bow and the loose arrow as I fell. I hit the ground with my left elbow jamming into my ribs. However my first thought was about the bow and the loose arrow.
It seemed like an eternity, but the bow came down just above my head and what seemed like minutes later the arrow stuck less than a foot from my nose.
I now assessed the damage. I knew nothing was broken, but I couldn’t breathe. I was literally crawling on all fours making the most god awful sounds in an effort to breathe. I looked up and saw a bowhunter still-hunting down the tote road. I tried calling to him, but I could not make a recognizable sound and watched him pass by.
After an agonizing hour or so, I managed to get myself back to the car. A couple of hours later, while I was eating, the other hunter came down to his car that was parked near mine.
We exchanged hellos, and I asked him if he saw anything. He responded, “No, but I have to tell you something. I have hunted all over this country and Canada, but I heard a sound today that I’ve never heard before. It was weird…like something dying!”
I then told him it was me.
I assumed that I would see him again, and other hunters, in my new found heaven on earth, but I was wrong. I never, in many years of hunting there, ever saw another bowhunter and only a couple of gun hunters, and two of them were very pretty young ladies.
I did my best to recover and made my way back up the hill, known as a mountain to flatlanders, that afternoon. There was no way that I could climb a tree as I had all I could do to stand erect. So I sat myself down under a hemlock just feet from where I had fallen, in an effort to save the day.
I was sitting for a couple of hours when suddenly I heard what had to be deer hoofs walking straight towards me. I grew concerned because the sounds were close but I knew I should be able to see a deer above the grass in front of me, but there was none to be seen.
Suddenly, right at my feet was a young raccoon, a kit. He walked right up my right leg, stepped on my right shoulder and up the tree. He was followed by another and then another. All stepping right on me. Now I know I’m in trouble because here comes Mama!
What to do? If I move, I know she’ll attack to protect her young. So I freeze even more than before. I even hold my breath. Thank God they were all moving very briskly because they were not at all aware of what was immediately in front or under them.
Sure enough Mama trots right up my leg and onto my shoulder, but as she climbs the tree she keeps her last foot on my shoulder and taps me with it, as if she realized that she wasn’t walking on wood. I’m still trying to decide what to do if she attacks, when she lifts her foot and crawls out on the branch immediately over my head and hangs her head down to see what I am.
I looked up and scooted several feet away, paying no mind to my aching ribs and back. Thankfully she ushered the little ones up the tree and stared at me until I left…almost crawling.
That was my first real day of bowhunting. It could have discouraged me or even killed me, but I was thrilled, and full of anticipation of what tomorrow would bring.
I would spend countless hours and days and nights there and share it with family and friends, over the next 20 years. Almost 50 years later, it still is one of my favorite places on earth.