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Deer hunting with a friend

By Bernie Kuntz

“It was strange about time; it slipped under a man like quiet water, soft and unheeded but taking a part of him with every drop — a little quickness of the muscles, a little sharpness of the eye, a little of his youngness, until by and by he found it had taken the best of him almost unbeknownst. He wanted to fight it then, to hold it back, to catch what had been borne away…it wasn’t he was a afraid to die, it was the things that were lost to him more and more … the notion that each new day would be better than the last … A man’s later life was all a long losing, of friends and fun and hope, until at last time took the mite that was left of him and so closed the score.” — The Big Sky, A.B. Guthrie

“First time I’ve been deer hunting in four years,” I say to my old friend John Thorp. “Just too gimped up to get out and do it alone anymore.”

We are sitting in John’s pickup west of the West Gallatin River in Montana, and watching the willow and brushy bottoms for white-tailed deer. It isn’t long before we spot deer moving along this side of the heavy cover more than 300 yards distant.

“Those deer may cross right over here,” John says as he points to the north. I shot one a couple weeks ago that came through there. You could step out of the truck, rest over my pack and shoot.” I keep thinking that a dozen years ago I would have jogged out to a spot 100 yards from the pickup, hidden behind a stump and waited for the deer to arrive. However, my jogging days are long over, and if I dropped down to the ground in hiding, I would have lots of trouble getting back on my feet!

Unpredictably, more than a dozen deer suddenly leap from a willow patch less than 100 yards from us, and walk toward the pickup. They stare at us and we know the gig is up. One of the deer is a small three-point buck — just what I would like for the freezer. However, when I open the door the deer burst into flight, and by the time I get to John’s pack they are 200 yards away and running like the devil is after them.

A week later we are back at the same spot, but today John has along a pop-up blind he borrowed from his brother. In a high wind, he erects the blind, stakes it down and puts my folding chair inside along with some shooting sticks … all this for me, his old friend.

Then we go for a drive on the two-track roads on this ranch. Several times we see deer running at 400-plus yards, but none offers a reasonable shot.

“There, Bernie! In the tall grass!”

I see the antlerless deer watching us from about 100 yards. I quietly exit the pickup, lean against it and squeeze off a shot from my 7 X 57. The deer is down. It is a female fawn the size of a Sitka blacktail. We both were fooled by its size, thinking it was a mature doe. But meat is meat, it is legal, and the landowner wants the deer numbers reduced. John drags the deer across the creek, I tag it and he field dresses it with my Kauffman knife.

John seems as pleased as I am as we drive back to the blind, park the truck out-of-sight, and enter the blind. I sit on my folding chair and adjust the shooting sticks, and soon we see deer moving. My right leg is throbbing. I do my best to endure it.

We see two small bucks and an assortment of antlerless deer come out of the heavy cover, and one buck is standing about 200 yards distant. Trouble is a fence rail is right in my line of vision. In years past I would have sat on the ground to get beneath the rail, but time has taken away my flexibility.

“There … take that one, Bern!” I aim at a lone antlerless deer at about 150 yards and drop it with one shot. John again does all the work, dragging the deer to the two-track, dressing it, loading it, taking down the blind, and hauling me back to Bozeman. Most people wouldn’t bother taking a doddering old guy hunting; John Thorp volunteered for it. I have long treasured his friendship.

“I am glad you saw me in my best days, John, when I could walk the tail off a horse.”

“I remember you could out walk just about anybody. But today you do what you can. That’s just the way it is.”

“Yes it is.”

Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors columnist for the Sun since 1974