The Christmas Tree Buck: Saga of the Gun Continues
As told in another story, my grandfather always hunted with a side by side 12 gauge that he got in Europe in the 40’s, and would keep one side filled with buckshot, and the other with birdshot. In his eyes, a dead partridge was more likely than a dead deer on any given trip.
My grandparent’s house in Maine sits on about 40 acres, most of which is a thick pine and cedar swamp. There are untold numbers of critters walking, flying, and moving around the woods there, we just rarely see them unless they come out for a viewing. However, directly behind the house, my grandparents had a “skidder” trail as they are called up there. It was simply a grass and dirt road, through the woods to a place that my grandfather has used as a dump for over 60 years. I cannot count the number of walks that have been taken on that road, whether it was hunting, or just being a child, and sitting under a pine tree loaded with snow, just so “Grampie” could shake the branches above and dump it all down on us. We’ve snowmobiled and 4-wheeled down that trail, hundreds of times. We also find our Christmas tree down that trail every year, in those woods, and who knows how many simple walks were done over the years.
Like many old homesteads, the kitchen was the center of the house, and my grandparent’s house was no exception. Their window over the sink looked out into the back yard, right at the part of the woods where the trail started. To this day, the sound of my grandmother saying “Kids, come look at this”, and we would run over to the window just in time to see a moose, deer, or whatever it was, walking out into their backyard. Sometimes, the animal would continue over to their garden, and help itself to some beet greens, or whatever else was edible, until one of us would yell out the window for it to get out of the garden.
As you first entered the trail, there were some overgrown apple orchards that were still producing. Every year, many partridge saw their last moments of life as they perched on those few apple trees. My grandmother would be washing dishes, and if she saw a bird in those trees, she’d tell Grampie or just go get the shotgun herself.
Well, the year was 1994, and we were about 10 years removed from my grandfather taking the best deer of his long life. He had shot a nice 9 pointer with that gun of his. This year, like all years before, the family always got together at their house for part of the hunting season. My father would always get a license for deer up there, although he never really got anything. It usually just turned into one of those nice long walks that we always seemed to take. This time, my father decided to go for a nice afternoon walk by himself. He grabbed my grandfather’s gun. And, like my grandfather, he decided to load a round of buckshot and one of bird shot, because in all the “hunts” taken on that road, no deer had ever been shot there, just those darn partridge. We had seen some, but never actually got one there. So my Dad headed out. The trail took him out and around, and he got to the “Dump”. He wondered if he should continue, looked at his watch, and decided that he still had time until dark. He continued down the path, towards the area where we liked to cut our Christmas tree every year.
Well, he hadn’t walked for another minute or 2 when he heard something walking though the thick stuff to his left. If you have never walked through these woods in northern Maine, you have never seen “thick”. Along with the fact that the stuff right against the road grows up almost like a hedge that’s 6 or 8 feet tall, the woods just don’t yield to your field of view. Most of the deer shot here are from areas cleared by man’s hands, or when they happen to cross a logging cut or road. So, my Dad just stayed put, and hunkered down at the edge of the road as best he could under a pine tree. As he sat there, he could hear whatever it was getting closer to the road. Considering Maine has a very good bear population, it’s always a little uneasy not knowing what is going to step out 10 yards in front of you. Fortunately for my Dad, it was not a bear, but a thick bodied spikehorn. My Dad already had the gun up, and with one pull of the trigger, sent a nice pattern of buckshot into the buck’s neck. Looking at it later, the buckshot pattern had spread only about 2 inches. That’s a close shot, so I guess it was a good thing it wasn’t a bear, huh?
It was getting close to dark, and my grandmother looked up from the sink, and saw my father coming out of the woods, as has been done thousands of times over the years. She said “There’s Rich”. But, there was something different this time. “I think he’s dragging something”, she said. Then she started to laugh, and said “I think Richard got a deer”. Everyone piled out into the yard to see what he had shot.
The Christmas tree was cut down later in the week, and the deer and tree were loaded onto the car for the 8 hour drive home. That actually used to be quite a frequent sight in the north woods of Maine, to see a deer and a Christmas tree on top of a car together. It’s getting less so now, but you still can see them on occasion. My Dad did get some funny looks once he arrived back in Vermont though, considering that our season didn’t start for a few days. But, my dad got his deer, and the “Gun” got another buck. That gun is now sitting at my parent’s house, waiting for the day that I can take it out to carry on the tradition and get my own Maine buck!