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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 9. A Summer Hunt


FATHER and I went hunting one day. I took my shot-gun, loaded with half a charge of shot and three rifle bullets, which just chambered in the barrel, so I thought I was ready to shoot at anything. Father went ahead and I followed him; we walked very carefully in the woods looking for deer; vent upon a sand ridge where father saw a deer and shot at it. I recollect well how it looked; it was a beautiful deer, almost as red as a cherry. After he shot, it stood still. I asked father, in a whisper, if I might not shoot. He said, "Keep still!" (I had very hard work to do so, and think if he had let me shoot, I should have given it a very loud call, at least, I think I should have killed it.) Father loaded his rifle and shot again. The last time he shot, the deer ran away. We went to the place where it had stood. He had hit it for we found a little blood; but it got away.

It is said "the leopard cannot change his spots nor the Ethiopian his skin," but the deer, assisted by nature, can change both his color and his hide. In summer the deer is red, and the young deer are covered with beautiful spots which disappear by fall. The hair of the deer is short in summer and his hide is thick. At this time the hide is most valuable by the pound. His horns grow and form their prongs, when growing we call them in their velvet; feel of them and they are soft, through the summer and fall, and they keep growing until they form a perfect horn, hard as a bone. By the prongs we are able to tell the number of years old they are.

In the fall of the year when an old buck has his horns fully grown to see him running in his native forest is a beautiful sight. At that season his color has changed to a bluish grey. When the weather gets cold and it freezes hard his horns drop off, and he has to go bare-headed until spring. Then his hair is very long and grey. Deer are commonly poor in the spring, and at this season their hide is very thin and not worth much. So we see the deer is a very singular animal. As I have been going through the woods I have often picked up their horns and carried them home for curiosities. They were valuable for knife-handles.

When the old buck is startled from his bed and is frightened how he clears the ground. You can mark him from twenty to thirty feet at every jump. (I have measured some of his jumps, by pacing, and found them to be very long, sometimes two rods.) How plump he is, how symmetrically his body is formed, and how beautiful the appearance of his towering, branching antlers! As he carries them on his lofty head they appear like a rocking chair. As he sails through the air, with his flag hoisted, he sometimes gives two or three of his whistling snorts and bids defiance to all pursuers in the flight. He is able to run away from any of his enemies, in a fair foot race, but not always able to escape from flying missiles of death.

Before the fawn is a year old, if frightened and startled from its bed, it runs very differently from the old deer. Its jump is long and high. It appears as though it were going to jump up among the small tree tops. The next jump is short and sometimes sidewise, then another long jump and so on. It acts as though it did not know its own springs, or were cutting up its antics, and yet it always manages to keep up with the rest of the deer.

Father had killed some deer. He shot one of the largest red bucks I had seen killed. After this we wanted meat. Father said we'll go hunting and see if we can get a deer. He said I might take his rifle and he would take my gun. (For some reason or other he had promoted me, may be he thought I was luckier than he.) We started out into the woods south of our house, I went ahead. There was snow on the ground, it was cold and the wind blew very hard. We crossed the windfall. This was a strip of land about eighty rods wide. It must have been a revolving whirlwind that passed there, for it had taken down pretty much all the timber and laid it every way. Nothing was left standing except some large trees that had little tops, these were scattered here and there through the strip. It struck the southeast corner of what was afterward our place. Here we had about three acres of saplings, brush and old logs that were windfalls.

I think this streak of wind must have passed about ten years before we came to the country. It came from the openings in the town of Taylor, went a northeast course until it struck the Rouge (after that I have no knowledge of it.) In this windfall had grown up a second growth of timber, saplings and brush, so thick that it was hard work to get through or see a deer any distance. We got south of the windfall and scared up a drove of deer, some four or five.

The woods were cracking and snapping all around us; we thought it was dangerous and were afraid to be in the woods. Still we thought we would run the risk and follow the deer. They ran but a little ways, stopped and waited until we came in sight, then ran a little ways again. They seemed afraid to run ahead and huddled up together, the terrible noise in the timber seemed to frighten them. The last time I got sight of them they were in a small opening standing by some large old logs. I remember well to this day just how the place looked. I drew up the rifle and shot. Father was right behind me; I told him they didn't run. He took the rifle and handed me my gun, saying, "Shoot this." I shot again, this gun was heavily loaded and must have made a loud report, but could not have been heard at any great distance on account of the roaring wind in the tree-tops. The deer were still in sight, I took the rifle, loaded it, and shot again; then we loaded both guns but by this time the deer had disappeared. We went up to where they had stood and there lay a beautiful deer. Then we looked at the tracks where the others had run off, and found that one went alone and left a bloody trail, but we thought best to leave it and take home the one we had killed. When we got home we showed our folks what a fat heavy deer we had and they were very much pleased, as this was to be our meat in the wilderness.

A man by the name of Wilson was at our house and in the afternoon he volunteered to go with us after the other deer. We took our dog and started taking our back tracks to where we left; we followed the deer but a very little ways before we came across the other one we had hit; it had died, and we took it home, thinking we had been very fortunate. Here I learned that deer could be approached in a windy time better than in any other. I also learned that the Almighty, in His wisdom, provided for his creatures, and caused the elements, wind and snow, to work together for their good.

Now we were supplied with meat for a month, with good fat venison, not with quails, as God supplied his ancient people over three thousand years before, in the wilderness of Sinai, or at the Tabernacle, where six hundred thousand men wept for flesh, and there went forth a wind and brought quails from the Red Sea. No doubt they were fat and delicious, and the wind let them fall by the camp, and around about the camp, for some distance. They were easily caught by hungry men. Thus was the wind freighted with flesh to feed that peculiar people a whole month and more.

When the terrific wind, that helped us to capture the deer, raged through the treetops it sounded like distant thunder. It bent the tall trees, in unison, all one way, as if they agreed to bow together before the power that was upon them. When they straightened up they shook their tops as though angry at one another, broke off some of the limbs which they had borne for years, and sent them crashing to the ground.

Some of the trees were blown up by the roots, and if allowed to remain would in time form such little mounds as we children took to be Indian graves when we first came into the woods. Those little mounds are monuments, which mark the places where some of those ancient members of the forest stood centuries ago, and they will remain through future ages unless obliterated by the hand of man.

We thought that the wind blew harder here than in York State, where we came from. We supposed the reason was that the mountains and hills of New York broke the wind off, and this being a flat country with nothing to break the force of the wind, except the woods, we felt it more severely.


 


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