Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Eastern Shore Deer Hunt

Just back from another superb weekend hosted by Virginia's Eastern Shore's greatest host and sportsman, Mudge.  No stone is left unturned by this great man, and a hunt with Mudge is not to be missed.

We gathered Friday evening at Mudge's spread on Back Creek, a place that displays his sensibilities and his wife's knick-knacks.  Three dachshunds make up the present menagerie, as both Mudge and Mrs. Mudge are partial to the Weiner Dogs.  I must say, they are cute little rascals, and incredibly social.  More about them later.

The hunt was to consist of Mudge, me, Mike and Nevin--though Nevin would not join us until a bit later at the Moose Lodge in Exmore, VA for dinner.  I know it probably is impossible for the average reader to grasp, but I have never stepped foot in a Moose Lodge.  We were met at the front door by this extreme mountain of a man--Sid--who was to be our host.  Sid is a friend of Mudge's, and he is employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia as an aerial game warden/fisheries cop of sorts.  Sid spent twelve years in the Navy as a diver, the last few of which he commuted to work in his own single engine prop plane, flying from the Shore to Norfolk where he had cars and motorcycles stashed.  This guy was a character and a half, and got more bar stories out of 12 years in the Navy than any 10 other men get in 30 year careers.  But then again, I imagine Sid's Navy stories were only a small fraction of the stories the man could tell.

The Moose lodge was like a scene out of the movie "The Deer Hunter".  Smoky.  A trio banging out (really good) rock and roll tunes.  A few prematurely aged women dancing on the small dance floor.  Good, filling, "American" food.  Good ole boys.  A half dozen kids running around, with parents chasing them in-between swigs from long-necks.  A few young hotties not yet run down by the cigarettes and long-necks.  The coolest thing though was this immense bar, three sides of a square, around which were place what appeared to be fortune 500 quality CEO desk chairs.  Big leather jobs that reclined.  The kind that once you sit in it, you don't get up--which is of course, the point.


We spent a few hours at the Moose, I ate way too much and came out with smoke smell so thoroughly permeating my clothes that I fear the Kitten will burn them now.  We headed to one of Mudge's (several) properties, a great little hunting cottage that I've stayed in before.  Nevin had joined us at the Moose, and the three of them took to the wood burning stove room to drink Crown Royal and smoke cigars.  Having been through that scene last year, and then nearly falling out of my deer stand from exhaustion, I demurred this time and headed to bed (it was around 11PM).  We were due up in our stands 30 minutes before sunrise, so I figured I should get a little sleep (and yes, they stayed up drinking until 2AM, though I am aware of no deer stand catastrophes).

We geared up at (yet another) one of Mudge's properties, adjacent to which is a huge forested plot in which he has sited three deer stands.  He's had infrared surveillance camera's making deer porn for him for months, and he was sure there'd be deer to shoot at.  We walked back to our stands by morning civil twilight, with the air cool and unmoving.  There's something about watching the sun come up from a deer stand deep in the woods, each ray revealing some new treasure of the woods.  I wished I had a good cup of coffee with me, but realized that if I did, it would make me have to pee--which is a no-no when deer hunting, at least anywhere near your stand.

After about ninety minutes, a single shot rang out to my right, the report of Mike's shotgun.  My heart began to race, as I hoped it would cause deer to come bounding into my field of view.  About a minute later, to my left, Mudge's pump action fired off two rounds.  Again, I was delirious, thinking I was about to be converged upon by a group of deer offering themselves up for my dinner table.  It was not to be.

About twenty minutes later, Mudge came walking toward my stand, making the kind of silly human noises one makes when one wishes not to be shot.  He told me that he had gotten two shots off on a good sized buck, but that he had gotten off into the deep part of the woods.  His hat now marked the spot where the buck had entered the woods, but Mudge could not find any blood (or anything but the strong smell of deer urine at the wood's entrance) to track the deer with.  This caused him obvious pain, as he shot a deer last week that he was CERTAIN he'd hit, but that he was never able to find.

He told me that Mike had got a doe right by his stand, dropped it where it stood.  Mudge was now going to go home and get one of his dachshunds to see if it might get on the deer trail and help him find his buck.  Mudge has had these dogs for years, and one of his favorite's, Sammy, used to perform this task.  He's got rescued dogs now, none of which had yet performed the service for him.  He drove back with Mike's doe in the bed of his truck, and offered the doe to the three weiner dogs, none of which seemed to show much interest.  He grabbed the oldest one, the female (Heidi) and brought her out to help him find the buck.  He didn't.  But he did nearly lose Heidi, who seemed more interested in frogs and squirrels.  And he found the deer he shot last week, already showing signs of returning itself to the food cycle.

About 1000 (30 minutes after Sid performed some low-levels over the woods to get the deer running--no such luck) , we got out of our stands and returned to the house adjacent to the woods, where our cars were parked.  Mudge and Mike field dressed the doe, and we were joined by a friend of Mudge's, a passerby named Walter, an 83 year old lifetime resident of that part of the state.  Walter was a joy--a fountain of historical knowledge and homespun goodness, the kind of guy you want to spend four hours listening to.  We chatted with him for a bit, then headed back to Mudge's main compound for a meal of tasty venison chili prepared for us by Mrs. Mudge.

A short segue on the field dressing of a deer.  I had never before witnessed this process, and Mudge performed it like a surgeon.  He pointed out all of the important parts, what one shouldn't nick, what one could cut with impunity.  This doe wasn't the world's biggest, but the removal of her innards was quite a job, and Mudge is no lightweight.  It was clearly tiring work, but once complete, we had a doe ready to take to the butcher.

To be honest, I would have been happy to call it a day at that point, had it not been for Mudge's buck.  We all wanted to find that deer, especially given his finding of last week's lost boy.  So we ate up and headed back out, where we were joined again by Walter.   The five of us then commenced a search through thick woods, and though I wondered about Walter's ability to stay up, I should only have worried about myself. After less than an hour of searching, Mudge found him--a beautiful 8 pointer, shot good behind the front shoulder and a wound near his quarter (presumably the second shot).  This was a big guy (or in any case, big to me) and Walter estimated him at 150 lbs.  One hundred fifty pounds doesn't seem like much, until you try to drag it out of the woods.  Mudge started out trying to do so by himself--with some rope tied around the bucks' horns.  Then he and Nevin dragged, all the while just trying to get to the perimeter road that Mudge had created with his recently acquired back-hoe.  Finally, they exited the woods.  Mudge decided that he'd move at the quickstep back to get his back-hoe, as we had a long way to drag this beautiful beast without it.  I now know why good old boys love those ATV's.  It sucks trying to move a big deer without something to provide mechanical advantage.

Mudge was gone a long time.  I figured he was either having trouble with the back-hoe or he had a major coronary on the way to get it.  In any case, Nevin and I began to drag the beast along the perimeter road, thinking we'd get things over with faster that way.  Eventually, Mudge showed up and we loaded up the buck to be taken back for a field dressing of its own.  If the doe looked like hard work, dressing the Buck was unbelievable.  Now, it seems clear to me that there are probably a bunch of tools that could make the job easier, but at the end of the day, breaking a deer's pelvic bone just takes brute force.  After the buck-dragging exercise, I could see that Mudge had had a day's work.

Once complete, with both the buck and the doe in the truck, Eric and Mike headed off to take the deer to the butcher (a new one, as Walter made a recommendation to Mudge that Mudge decided wisely to follow--but the butcher was hunting himself, so it would mean a return trip).  Nevin went off antique shopping (his wife had been in the area the previous weekend and laid eyes on some things she wanted), and I headed back to my deer stand.

By now it was 3:15PM, and I estimated I had about an hour and forty-five minutes before there wasn't enough light to hunt.  It was also about the time that I was hit with some amazing heartburn from the lunch chili.  At about 4PM, I came down from the stand and sat down next to the tree, hoping that by spreading out I wouldn't have such a time with the heartburn.  About 4:30, I gave up and headed back to where the trucks were parked--no deer seen, let alone shot, from my vantage point.  But a wonderful, wonderful day nonetheless.

I sat down in Mudge's truck for a nap, Nevin had re-taken his stand and Mike had headed out to his.  After a short while, all three showed up, we recounted our great fortune, and said goodbye to Nevin, who was driving home to Tidewater to spend the night with his bride, before rejoining us for breakfast the next day.

Our next trip was to the butcher, the new one Walter had mentioned.  Mudge wasn't thrilled with the last butcher he'd used, so he took Walter's advise and we drove about fifteen minutes to a great little outpost of capitalism.  In it, a man of about 30 was cleaning up a carcass in a clean, well-lit space.  It looked like the kind of place you wanted meat from.  He was a natural salesman and a really good guy--Mike and Mudge told him how they wanted their deer prepared, and we were on our way back to Mudge's, for our first showers of the day.

After we cleaned up, we consulted Mrs. Mudge as to whether we should eat out or order in.  We coalesced around Chinese food, which we ordered and went to pickup.  I assure you, if I lived where the Mudge's lived, I would never get takeout unless I was driving past it on the way home.  It's a long way to just about anywhere there, and on virtually every road one fears the site of a bounding deer, seen too late.  But we made the trip, ate to our heat's content, and hit the sack in preparation for the final event of the hunt, breakfast at William Turner's tower.

William Turner is a well-known figure on the Eastern Shore.  A dentist, artist, and author, his family has lived on Virginia's Eastern Shore and he has written beautifully of the life there.  He's constructed an observation tower adjacent to a saltmarsh on his estimable holdings, and from this tower one has an unobstructed view of the majesty of the Chesapeake Bay.  Every Sunday, a group of guys from the area gather for breakfast, and Mudge has been a member of their number for many years.  He brought Nevin, Mike and me as his guests today and introduced us to a group of characters, the likes of which one has to--well--read a William Turner book to understand.  It was ninety minutes of laughter, trash talking and wisdom.  Every man had something to do with the meal, whether it was setting the table, cooking the food or cleaning up afterward.  The clear majordomo of the operation is a man named Webby, who served as chief engineer on an ocean going tug for forty years.  Mudge says there's nothing he can't fix.  We were joined by no fewer than five labrador retrievers, two yellows and three blacks--beautiful, well-behaved dogs all, even if the blacks (all male) did appear to trying to gang-rape the younger yellow.  She fought them off nicely.

After breakfast, I said my goodbyes and headed north to my little part of the Eastern Shore.

It was--as last year was--a wonderful event orchestrated by a rare man of consideration and kindness.  Mudge outdid himself, and I'm sure I speak for the other guys when I say that we hope to be lucky enough for another invitation.  We have a couple of photos of Mudge and his buck, and when I get one, I'll post it here.

10 comments:

BigFred said...

With no further information I propose that Nevin outshot everyone in the group.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

Nevin and I both skunked.

SamShapiro said...

Very well written...loved it.

Doc Milnamo said...

I concur with Sam Shapiro. Sounds like the times I had when hunting - either deer or grouse. More fun just being out in nature, being with the dog(s) and all the tee-heeing afterwards. I was a terrible shot!

"The Hammer" said...

Sounds like my kinda place, but you ain't exactly William Faulkner despite what your coterie of sycophants may say. Ok, now that we've established that your prose is, well, very UVA like, I want to change the subject.
Yesterday we did our part and gave Carolina an ass whipping at their house. What's UVA gonna do for us next week? If we beat a pretty good Maryland team (at College Park) we'll have to play Tech again for the ACC Championship. What we need from the Cavs are lots of injuries. Think TyRod and busted knee. Would you pathetic bunch of losers do this ONE thing for us? Please!

Shing said...

Do you know anything about football? Ass whooping? Cut me a break. Pretty good Maryland, for the ACC maybe. You're a basketball and field hockey conference. Get over yourself.

"The Hammer" said...

Are we any good at field hockey?

Dennis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Doc Milnamo said...

"...but you ain't exactly William Faulkner despite what your coterie of sycophants may say." You are correct Hammer. You don't have to read CW four times to understand just what the hell he's saying!

"The Hammer" said...

Oh Jesus, I've pissed off the Waltons. Ok Doc, have it your way.

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