Where deer are plenty they are often seen in fields and in the woods, but although they are often shot in one of these, it takes something more than this to make a successful deer hunter. It requires an understanding of the habits of the animal. In the spring of the year, when the deer is poor, and worthless as food, and the hide is thin and good for nothing, he is careless as to the approach of man, and may be seen in the meadows and fields searching for food.
I do not know that they would at this time be unhealthy as food, as it is said that the deer is never sick. I certainly never saw a sick deer, although I have killed hundreds in my life. Some of them were cripples, but none of them seemed to be diseased. The deer has no gall in his liver, but in the month of June I have found cavities in the liver filled with a substance resembling gall, having round, flat objects moving in it. I have seen several of these in one liver, but never in August or September.
While in this condition the animal is dumpish and dull, but as cool weather comes on, he wakes up; and now, my boys, look out. In September the buck begins to harden his horns. He lies in side hills facing the sun, and rubs his horns against little bushes to get off the bark or velvety skin. Now is the time to get a crack at him, if you can, for his meat is excellent for food. But you will have to be sly and keep to windward of him, for he is on the look-out, and if the wind blows from you to him, he will scent you. To know how the wind blows, ever so little, put your finger in your mouth until it is wet and warm, then hold it above your head, and the wind will cool it on the side from which it comes. This is a hunter's trick. Now proceed to hunt against the wind, and when you discover a deer, raise your rifle and aim at the knee of the fore leg: then raise the muzzle slowly until you sight the body, (following up the leg) and then haul off. Don't hold your breath, for that will make you tremble, but breathe freely until you get ready to pull trigger.
This is for September. In October the buck is very shy and the doe twice as much so. She goes into thickets to hide from the buck, thus keeps well hid from you, while the buck passes around the thicket watching for her to come out. When he gets sight of her, they both set off as if routed by a hunter. During this month but few deer are killed. In November the fun begins. Then the doe comes out to the buck, and the spring fawn generally keeps with its mother, so that you may get sight of the three at once, and a good steady marksman sometimes gets all three of them on the spot. To do this, shoot the doe first; the buck and the fawn will both stay around. Next shoot the buck and then the fawn, so as to have the three. I want to tell you never to go and see what you have shot, without first loading your gun. The deer may not be very badly wounded, and will jump up and run away unless you have your gun ready to stop him.
This reminds me of a couple of hunters, John Weiss and George Meyers. They started out on a deer hunt with about ten inches of loose tracking snow. John soon discovered a fine large buck, and at once took aim and unhitched the contents of the old rifle. Down goes the buck, and away goes John to cut his throat. When he gets to him, down goes his gun into the snow. George hears the report of the gun and comes up about this time. John had laid hold of the buck with the intention of letting blood, but up come the hind legs and wipe John oif and throw his knife out of his hand some distance. John makes a spring to mount him again, and succeeds in straddling his back just as he begins to rise. George had now come within hailing distance, and cried out in broken English (for they were Dutchmen) " Hang on, Chon! Hang on, Chon!" and away went buck, "Chon" and all. Well now, John found himself in quite a fix, going through the air at a great pace. The ground over which he ran was hilly and covered with oak brush, and the old buck made for the clumps of brushwood to wipe the rider off, if possible. But John had learned something, too : he found the buck's horns, that lie back on his neck when he runs, to be of use, not only to hold on by, but to guide his beast, and now they came to the top of a steep hill, clear of brush for a distance, while near the bottom was a thick clump of brushwood. Now John expected his death, and commenced to pull on the old buck's horns to turn him around. To his great joy he succeeded in turning him, and when they got to the foot of the hill, the buck was so disheartened, that he stood still. John worked one hand into his pocket, got out a small knife, opened it with his teeth, and reached around and cut the buck's throat; and he sat there, until down he went, and up came George, both as highly gratified as ever two boys were; but some time was spent in hunting up the gun that was buried in the snow.
The deer is afraid only when there is real danger. He is not afraid of you when you are at work driving team, or hoeing or chopping; but take a gun and begin to poke about, and you will find him off. I once saw a yearling doe standing far out in a forsaken field. I had no gun and no means of killing it. There was a little snow on the ground, which had a crust on it in the open field. My attention was called to the deer by a neighbor's dog, which stood barking at it.
Thrasher, Halsey. The Hunter and Trapper. New York: Orange Judd and Company, 1808.
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