Sage Grouse

Stupid or smart?

Remember Bullwinkle? “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” episodes often had alternative titles like, “Stupid or Smart: Or, Are Rocks in Your Head Good or Bad?”

A friend sent me a story about a rancher who decided to rope one of the deer which frequented his feeder, corral and fatten it, and slaughter it like a corn-finished beef. Things did not go well and the deer managed to beat the pulp out of the poor guy. A wonderful example of unintended consequences.

The rancher underestimated the deer’s strength, instincts and mixed martial arts capabilities. But he lived to write about his encounter.

So did I.

Jack O’Connor was to major sporting journals in the 1960s what Bob Woodward was to investigative journalism for several decades — master of the genre. O’Connor often professed that the white-tailed deer was North America’s most wily, shrewd, sought-after big game species. My father was obsessed with big game hunting, and he shared O’Connor’s assessment of the white-tailed deer.

One year, between colleges, I went hunting white-tailed deer with Dad, near Hulett. We rose very early and drove out to a ranch before sunrise. When the light level became legal, maybe, we spotted a couple of bucks. I held the .243 steady and squeezed the trigger. The buck, 150 yards away, went down. Woo-hoo! Except no one said woo-hoo in the early 1970s.

Maybe more like, “What a surprise that you can shoot straight when it is nearly DARK!!”

Anyway, that buck went down. I ran up the hill, knife on my belt and rifle in hand, to find it. Just as I got to it, it stood up, a bit dizzy. Both of us were uncertain about this encounter. Glares were exchanged.

I studied the critter, wondering why my bullet had led to such an uncertain encounter. After examining neck, head, ears, I finally detected a nick in the antler. This deer was not wounded; it just had a really mean headache.

Able to approach, I decided I would grab the deer’s antlers, twist its head and slit its throat. Searching for the most humane approach under the circumstances, this alternative seemed appropriate.

White-tailed deer have incredibly strong muscles, particularly the neck and shoulder muscles. It is nothing at all for a young buck to lift a 140-pound hunter with full kit way up into the air when said hunter grabs onto its antlers. “Wee” was not the sentiment felt at the time. More like, “Bad Idea.” That young buck hoisted me several times. The only thing which spared me from a good goring is that the buck was still dizzy from the bullet hitting his horn.

I got lucky. This young buck (me) with long knife in one hand and deer antler in the other could have been a candidate for a life flight. Fortunately, I got away.

Lesson useful in all contexts: never underestimate your adversary.

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