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Oct 1997/Nov 1997 Volume 2, Number 5

Old Scarface

I first saw Scarface when he was still a fawn. Possibly it was the day he received the wound that gave him his sobriquet because the gash was still fresh. It looked as though his mother had jumped a barbed-wire fence and junior had tried to go straight through it, as fawns often do. He had a nasty gash across his face, running diagonally from below one eye to above the other. I was driving my pickup out our farm driveway when I spotted him on the neighbor's property, looking very worriedly onto our land where his mother was standing in the timber next to our road. As I passed, both watched me warily.

The next time I saw him, the wound had pretty well healed, but the hair covering the gash had come in a grizzly off-white color, giving him a rakish look, and he had grown into an unusually large deer for his age. By this time he could clear fences with but a twitch of his ankles and had developed a compelling taste for apples. Our property has a number of Volunteer apple trees on it, as well as a few in our small orchard, so we saw "Scarface" often. As we left early in the morning or returned in the evening, it was fairly common to see him standing in the timber waiting for us to pass or to see him bound over the fence and into the neighbor's timber.

As Scarface grew older, he was recognizable by his size as well as by his scar. Also, by the time he was two, his antler spread was quite impressive. Of course, being a blacktail, he was still a fork horn, but the spread was wide and the antler base unusually heavy. (In the Western Count, only one side is counted and brow tines are not used to determine antler points, so a Western fork horn could go as a four-to six-pointer by eastern count).

In those not-too-distant days there was an agreement among the farmers in my area. I could hunt their lands and they could hunt mine. A neighbor's boy had shot the monster buck which bedded in a brushy section of our north forty. I had been playing ring-around-the-rosy with him for a number of years and had nearly put a ball into him on several occasions, but he had always managed a last-minute escape. Now he was out of the picture. My thoughts turned to "Scarface." By this time he had grown into a 4-pointer of well over 200 pounds a worthy opponent and a lot of prime eating. Indeed, he had gained quite a reputation for cunning and size among local hunters. Many had sought him but he had outwitted them all.

One morning, in "Hunter's Choice" season, I was out early checking the Volunteer apple trees when I heard a sound in the brush to my left. I paused by an old oak tree, silent-cocked my rifle and waited. Soon a young doe walked into the open, over to the nearby fence, and hopped over. I waited. Then another doe followed the first. This one was larger and was keeping her ears back to listen for someone or something behind her. I waited. Out stepped Scarface. I was shocked by his size. He had grown into a truly big deer. He had his antlers back across his shoulders and his nose pointed at the now-absent doe. His upper lip was curled back and his nostrils were quivering with the scent of doe-in-heat. His defenses were down and his mind on one thing only.

I stood by the old oak and watched him do his comical, mincing walk over to the fence. A twitch of his ankles and he was on the other side, nose still quivering and lip rolled back. A moment later and the only evidence of his passing was the trail of prints in the soft earth. Why didn't I shoot him? He had passed within 30 yards of me. He had no idea I was around. He was defenseless. That is why. Hunters will understand but those who see "winning" as the only thing won't. As I was growing up, there was a general contempt for the kind of guy who hunted to show his "manhood," who shot everything he could. Writers like Lucian Cary, Kenneth Clark, Ted Trueblood and Russell Anabelle helped to form my way of thinking. You may be a predator, but you respect your prey and hunt by unwritten but well understood rules of the fair chase. In short, you do not take unfair advantage of the animal you hunt. To shoot that buck would not have been a fair hunt, just as it is not fair for one boxer to hit another before the opening bell sounds. That year we ate beef.

Things were changing in our area. The county paved our gravel-surfaced country road and city folks started to build in our neck of the boonies. One nice couple built a beautiful home on some acreage with a creek. They especially loved it because of all the wildlife they saw when they camped on their new property. They could hardly wait until the house was completed and they could move in. While waiting, they went to work on some improvements. The thick brush which lined the creek was removed, as were most of the brush and scrub that covered the unforested parts of the property. As soon as the fences were completed, "No Hunting" signs went up.

I don't know if the lady-of-the-new-house knew that I hunted, of if she was just feeling like ranting, but one day when I was in town, she sat down with me to have a cup of coffee and started complaining about how "the hunters had killed off all of the wildlife that they had so loved." I fear that I made a mistake right then and there. I explained to her that small animals and birds need brush for shelter and deer don't care for her park-like lawns. They are brush browsers. The wildlife had not been killed off by hunters, it had been chased off by animal lovers. I went a bit farther and explained how hunting by any predator, be it man or beast, can help to keep a wildlife population healthy. As it turned out, there was no way that I could convince her that hunting was good for wildlife. However, she could see the value in a food and shelter supply for her beloved wild things. I never fail to be amazed at the type of thinking which sees a pack of coyotes dragging down a deer and eating it alive as "natural" and quite acceptable, but views a human quickly killing a deer for food as somehow unnatural and cruel.

In any case, the deer lady took part of my comments to heart and installed a number of shrubs to give the birds cover, and put out feeders which she kept well supplied with choice bird seed. Nuts were placed in a box where squirrels could get them, and apples were thrown out for the raccoons. Soon she was happy again. Her animals were back. They came in from the surrounding brushy acreage where there was still a decent place for them to find shelter from natural foes.

Meanwhile, "Old Scarface" grew bigger, drove more hunters nutty with his wiles, and developed an even more impressive rack. I saw him several times in the next two years. I was repairing fence and there he was, just watching me. I was driving the tractor, hauling logs to the landing, and there he was, watching me. I was hunting his favorite bedding ground with my favorite rifle and....he was gone. A clever old rogue!

Meanwhile, problems were brewing. With timber prices high, several units of neighboring land were logged off, their Volunteer fruit trees bulldozed into piles for burning. An absentee land owner had a dozen or so fruit trees cut down to remove "an attractive nuisance." He feared someone would fall out of one and sue him. Several tons of fruit which had once fattened the deer for the coming winter were no more. Increasingly, the deer were moving to our dear neighbor lady for a handout of sweet apples. Increasingly, they were losing their fear of humans. The land around her was becoming known by the lazy and inept as an easy place to get a deer. She was grouping and conditioning them for easy slaughter.

Oddly enough, it was still not the human hunter that cut most deeply into the population of deer in her area. Bordering her land is a county road. In the fall, when the apples are ripe, the long, misty, grey evenings make seeing a deer in the road very difficult. Folks rushing home from their jobs in the city soon found that the deer in that part of the county had little fear of anything and had a bad tendency to jump out in front of oncoming traffic. Deer/auto accidents became a real problem. Dead deer along that section of road became as common as the sundry parts they had knocked off of the vehicles which had hit them, along with the corpses of numerous raccoons, possums, and other animals which were drawn there by the free lunch. Several people ended up in the hospital. Fortunately, no human died.

Local law enforcement investigated to see just why there was a rash of animal/auto accidents in that area. One of them quietly dropped by the dear lady's house and informed her that she was creating a hazard for both man and beast as well as putting herself in danger of being hit by numerous law suits. She stopped feeding everything but the birds, so that when you passed her place, the only corpses you saw in the road were those of house-finches and black-capped chickadees who had tried to race across the road ahead of a car. She soon moved back to the city and now feeds the swans in the park.

Old Scarface? During the rut, shortly before the dear lady stopped her deer feeding program, he followed an apple attracted doe onto the road, all defenses down, and was hit by a lumber truck. He lay in the ditch, bleating in pain until the driver put him out of his misery with a length of 2X4. His magnificent rack was smashed to pieces by the truck and his mangled carcass left to feed the vultures.

In his novel, The Big Sky, A.B. Guthry tells of how man destroys that which he loves the most. It seems that a major segment of our population is now in the process of loving our wildlife to death in the guise of environmentalism. The process pits the rational against the emotional, with nature as the prize. It reminds me of Popeye and Bluto fighting over who is to save Olyve Oyle. Olyve Oyle always ended up the loser.

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