It probably wasn't over two minutes that I held the sights on the doe, but it seemed much, much longer. There she stood in the failing light, about 65 yards out in the open woods, surrounded by waist-high weeds, staring me right in the eye, those big ears fanned out like sails. I knew she would bounce away at any second and the opportunity would be gone, but still I hesitated. She looked so small and far away. That was as far as I had ever shot at a deer, and this time I was pointing a smoothbore, untried against game at anything like that distance. I made certain my cheek was properly placed on the stock, because, with no rear sight, that's critical. I checked the relationship of the front blade to the top of the barrel. It has to be just so. I remembered an opinion I'd heard about deer seeing the flash from the prime and 'dodging the bullet'. I thought that my white front sight, painted with acrylic, was showing up unusually well, especially considering I was looking right at the light, where the sun had disappeared 15 minutes before. I noticed that the sun had left a magnificent sky behind when it set, all crimson and gold and wavy, and that the scene was one of which every hunter dreams. All the while, I stared, she stared, and those sights held steady on the front of her chest. Come on, old girl, turn just a little, I won't take the shot from straight in the front. Even if she does turn, will I take the shot? It's almost dark, hard tracking time. Small margin for error at this distance, considering where I want to hit her. But, I've hunted fifteen times this season, this is the first deer to come under my sights, and there are only three days left to fill my tag. Sitting on my log, my back against the small cedar, my arm on my knee and with a good, steady rest, I felt confident, but not totally so. The last deer I pulled the trigger on with this gun heard the hammer fall from fifteen feet and jumped almost out from in front of the bullet. But, not quite. I really, really wanted to prove that the Carolina smoothbore flintlock could do the job, straight up, no fluke, but was this the time to test it?
I had taken my seat on a log at the base of a small cedar, to break my silhouette, and hadn't been there more than half an hour when I saw the flicker of a tail at the base of a slope across the wooded bottom. Thick brush and weeds screened the deer, but I got my gun into position and cocked it while I watched her meander toward me, catching glimpses only now and then. Just when I thought she might come clear, I caught movement to my left front and saw a doe looking at me from behind a tree not thirty yards away. I froze, but she panicked and bolted toward the slope. Suddenly the brush was alive with deer, and at least six others followed her. They all stopped on the slope, too far away, and began stamping and blowing in alarm. Shortly, all but two left by loping around the slope. The other two seemed more curious than alarmed, and began easing back toward me, fidgety and alert. When the lead doe came into a clear patch of weeds sixty-five yards out, I had my sights on her and our staring contest began.
The doe finally made up my mind for me by turning twenty degrees to her right without taking her eye off me. That gave me something other than a full frontal shot, and meant that, if I shot true, the ball wouldn't wind up in the belly. Like a NASA countdown on hold, then resumed when the problem is solved, the squeeze on the trigger increased as my concentration increased, I *thought* the ball into that special spot on her chest, just inside the left shoulder, and almost by itself, the gun bucked back, roared and produced a humongous cloud of smoke. Instant ignition, the stuff flintlocker's wet dreams are made of.
Light wind and very humid air meant the smoke hung in front of the scene a long time. When it finally thinned, I saw...nothing. Not a flicker, not where the deer had been or anywhere else. Heard nothing. It was as though I had always been alone there in that magic spot. Had she gone, or was she down in the weeds? Down in the weeds, surely, because I still had that sight picture clearly in my mind, and it was a good one. Hell, it was a great one.
I reloaded leisurely and walked to her, but was astonished to see that she wasn't there. Not anywhere. Not a drop of blood, a skidded track or a strand of hair, after a half hour of searching. It quickly got too dark to see anything... bad tracking, indeed. I hiked to the car, brought it close and fired up my gasoline lantern which I always carry for just this situation. Forty-five minutes with the light, slowly and carefully, back and forth for 75-100 yards in all likely directions, and I was no wiser. Looked as though when the wolf came howling at the door this winter, it would be porridge or nothing.
I've slept better, some nights. A few minutes after sunrise this morning, I was back on the spot, going over it all, again, in the 30 degree, frosty weather. Having never been in this situation before, I was surprised to have it dawn on me that frost covers up blood, just fine. I circled and coursed like an anxious hound, but after a half-hour decided I had missed her. Hecky Durn!!
Just on the odd chance, I decided I would use my knowledge of the lay of the land and just try walking where I thought a wounded deer might go. Around the base of the slope, then up a bit onto the deer trail I knew to be there, along a ways, and there she lay, dead as a stone, about 150 yards from where I had taken the shot. Now, *that's* a great feeling.
The ball had entered within an inch of my aiming point, just inside the point of the left shoulder, coursed through the right lung and some big vessels and exited at the last rib on the right. It had not entered the belly, at any point. In the cold air, she had kept very well, indeed, and is now hanging in my garage, all skinned and washed, butterball fat and ready for cutting. Visions of tenderloin, of chili and roasts dance in my head.
A grand memory. Too bad I didn't do it when I was younger, so I could enjoy it longer.
As a bonus, I learned some things. Frost covers blood. It is possible to shoot a deer with a flintlock while she is looking straight down the barrel at you, and have her not move a twitch before the ball hits her. Deer really can't tell you from a stump, if you don't move. Deer really can't see all that disgusting orange color. White paint works on my front sight, and how. Most importantly, though, flintlocks are the best gun ever invented, and I lo...lo... love 'em!!!
Copyright © B. E. Spencer 2001 All rights reserved.