I’m two woodcock and a couple of spray-and-pray shots at ruffed grouse into the day when Henry’s little French Britt, Koda, goes on point. Or at least the beep-beep-beep of his electronic collar tells me he’s on point.
I jam my way through the nasty tangle not yet suppressed by a real hard frost toward the dog. In this thick stuff you’ve got to be within 15 feet of the dog to see him, so I’m walking with the 20-gauge at the ready, unsure how close the bird might be. And then Koda moves, or least the tinga-ling of his bell tells me he’s moving.
And he’s back on point. Then barking. Then moving. And barking. And seemingly on point again. Weird.
“You see him Henry?” I yell.
“No,” Henry yells back. “He’s closer to you.”
Koda barks again, about the same time the beep goes off on the collar.
“What the hell is going on with him?” I yell to Henry.
And then I see it. At first I think it’s a fawn stuck in a muddy depression, but when my brain catches up with my eyes I realize Koda is standing – barking – a few feet from a mature whitetail doe with paralyzed hindquarters .
“Christ, Henry!” I yell. “It’s a deer!”
Henry emerges from his patch of thick alders just as I notice a quarter-sized hole on the doe’s spine. It’s a fresh wound, oozing blood, not a lot, and she thrashes around at our feet using only her front legs. I can see her backbone in the hole.
It’s archery season here, and I know the landowners have a couple of treestands hanging not far from where we are in the cover.
“We’ve got your deer!” I yell, thinking the archer would be within earshot if they were still in the woods.
Once it becomes clear there’s nobody but Henry, Koda and me in the woods with this deer we have to devise a plan. I run back to the truck to get my cell phone and a knife. I call the landowner’s son – who’s still in high school – and ask him if he might have shot at a doe from his stand in the last 24 hours. No, he hadn’t. Maybe his brother did? No, he hadn’t, either. A couple of phone calls later and it’s clear that whoever shot this doe is neither the landowner or still around. The game warden is called, and he’ll come around to tag it for us so we can get her out of the woods without violating any big game laws.
With little fanfare, I lay on the doe’s front legs, holding them tightly so she can’t swipe us. She doesn’t protest much, her bulging eyes the only real sign of panic. Henry takes the knife, tenderly caresses the doe on her neck just once, and plunges it into her jugular. She doesn’t die quickly, the blood gurgling in her throat as she bleats.
“They are tough bastards,” says Henry, as she flops and flutters. I notice he has blood stains on the knees of his pants. Finally, after a period of time longer than you’d think, the life drains out and her heaving chests stops moving.
The warden comes with the high schooler and his brother. We meet them on the edge of the woods and we drag her out. She’s legally tagged. They clean her and bring her to a butcher shop.
Henry and I finish our hunt – we found the deer in what’s really the sweet spot in the cover – and I manage to knock down one more woodcock.
The woodcock, too, is still alive when Koda finds it.
I just rap its head against a small tree. The bird does not bleed. It immediately goes limp.
– Matt Crawford