Making Sense Out of Hunting
and steady, drowning out whippoorwills and other creatures of the night.
He roosted in a new place every night, but his locations were always surrounded by terrain impossible to move across in the dark, a mixture of rocks and brush and blackberry thickets and steepnesses familiar only to ticks and copperheads - and him.
Lots of hunters tried to get Crazy Ralph. A noiseless stalk wasn't really necessary, because Ralph answered every sound: car doors slamming, owls, distant cows and roosters and even the sound of a man tripping over a tangle in the dark and saying "Dag-nab-it!"
At the first faint intimation of light, when an anxious hunter would be close enough to hear Ralph make the chuffing sound of the strut, Ralph's work was done. With a crash of wingbeats designed to cause cardiac arrest, Ralph would explode from the other side of a giant pine and setting his wings, sail to some distant open ground a half-mile away.
I have to own up to the fact that my wife and I were as guilty as anyone. My wife would say, "Do you want to hunt turkeys this morning or chase Crazy Ralph?"
Crazy Ralph was simply an exercise in frustration. I always imagined him, like the sheepdog of the cartoon, punching his timeclock after one of these episodes.
Which bring us to "Old Smokey," a buck deer of roughly my present age in deer terms, which means that you couldn't have a steak from old Smokey anymore than you could eat a piece of saw belting.
The deer was a local legend. Huge and compact, like his antlers, he showed up every deer season, appearing like a smokey illusion at a deer stand wherever the youngest or greenest of the hunters had been placed to watch.
My first meeting with Old Smokey came when, as a young man and a new deer hunter, I was guarding the head of a likely crossing.
The big deer appeared like a magic trick on the opposite hillside. I never doubted he was the Smokey of deer camp stories.
He stood, solid and burly as a church, staring down the hollow a second, and then swung his grey, ancient head with its blunt rack toward me. He stood long enough to let me shoot once, ka-blam! over his back, and then was simply not there anymore to shoot at.
The sound of the shot brought all of my hunting companions, who took