February 2008
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

By Ralph Ricks

As any good Southern story begins, "Y’all ain’t gonna believe this…."

This one begins the same way, sort of. I have heard all my life how smart the whitetail deer is. The only thing smarter in the woods is a mature whitetail buck. He is nearly impossible to kill and virtually impossible to see. When a hunter harvests a trophy buck, I am sure along with the admiration of long tines and heavy racks is an admiration for the hunter who was either lucky enough or good enough to have taken him.

Personally, I do not have much experience with harvesting large antlered, mature whitetail bucks. I have put many a doe into the freezer and many an immature buck back in the day when we shot any legal buck we saw because it was likely to be the only one we saw.

Alabama’s new three-buck limit doesn’t limit my hunting very much because I rarely ever see three bucks in a season much less have the opportunity to take them.

After what happened the other day, I’m not so sure of the intelligence of the whitetail buck.

I have been hunting deer for almost 30 years and have seen deer do some pretty dumb things. Conversely I have been seriously hunting turkeys for about three years and while an old gobbler won’t win any I.Q. tests, I haven’t witnessed any particularly stupid behavior.

I have had deer stand in a foodplot and watch me climb a tree; I have had deer walk back into a field after having one of their herd mates shot. I have watched the same deer come back into a foodplot after having been shot at and missed. I have missed deer and had them stand there for five minutes trying to figure out what that loud noise was and usually they found out.

Last week I was coming home from work on a Saturday. I had been working some cows and it was about three o’clock in the afternoon. I live in town, just two blocks from our local city hall; I’m talking deep downtown.

I had made the turn from the bypass near where I live and was about two-and-a-half blocks from my front door. As I turned the corner, I noticed a mini van on the side of the street with his flashers on. Thinking there had been a fender bender, I proceeded with caution and didn’t want to blow through an accident and make things worse on the poor unfortunate folks who had just had their weekend shot to pieces. As I neared the van, I noticed an animal lying in front of the vehicle and my first thought was someone’s pet had met up with tragedy. At this point I decided to cautiously proceed through the mishap and continue the last three minutes of my trip home.

As I drew alongside of the van, I looked over to see whose poor dog had been "called home" and to my surprise there lay a deer! It was in its death throes and was clearly severely injured. Knowing most city folks know almost nothing about dispatching a suffering animal, I stopped to assist.

Putting an animal out of its misery is a lesson I learned long ago at the end of my dad’s belt. I once made the mistake of abusing an insect and sat on the porch watching it die when my dad came along. He asked what I was doing and stupidly, I told him. He was furious and while the belt was being used, I got a lecture about letting an animal suffer. At least that’s what I can remember. Dad may have told me the meaning of life during that whipping and I wouldn’t have heard it.

Anyway, as I got out of my truck, the driver of the van also got out. He asked me if I had some way to put this animal down. Thinking quickly, I did a quick inventory of my toolbox and remembered a hammer. This may sound cruel, but a good hard, well-placed blow with a hammer can be as effective and quick as a 30/30 rifle. I have had to euthanise cattle with less and it always works. I had no intention of beating this deer to death; just one quick blow and it would be over. About three licks later and several sore knuckles, I came to the conclusion I was on the edge of beating this deer to death and I decided to find some other way to put this animal down. I had no firearms with me and I’m not sure what would have happened had I had one and discharged it in the city limits.

I went back to my truck and retrieved my hunting knife and it was all over. The deer succumbed quickly with as little suffering as possible.

Here I was standing within three minutes of my house over the carcass of a six-point whitetail buck! I asked the driver of the van if he had hit the deer. He said no he hadn’t. He had been driving along when his mobile phone rang. Being on a slow street, he decided to stop and take the call. He was finishing his conversation when this buck exploded out of the backyard of the house on the street, crossed the road in front of his stopped van and slammed into the chain link fence of the house on the other side of the street! He said the deer hit the fence, bounced off, rolled into the street kicking and struggling, and had been that way for about ten minutes before I arrived on the scene. The deer had mortally injured itself and was obviously dying.

Before long, we had a good crowd on the scene.

I asked the man what we should do with the deer and he told me he had called a friend who was on his way with a truck. The friend arrived and we loaded the now expired buck into the back and they went to butcher the animal. The gentleman who lived in the house where the deer had run from said he didn’t know what was going on. He had looked out his back door to see what his dog was barking at and saw two grown men in the street and one had a bloody knife. The good thing is only in a small Southern town would someone not assume this was an altercation, but something very unusual and worth investigating.

With the deer being carted off and the crowd dissipating, I got in my truck and continued home. I arrived right at 20 minutes later than I expected and my wife innocently inquired where I had been. I looked at her and my daughter and with a straight face and a clear conscience said, "Y’all ain’t gonna believe this………"

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.