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Those we leave behind

For our favorite outdoor companions, deer season is a trying time

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 11/8/18

For those of us who hunt, the opening of firearms deer season is one of the year’s big events. It’s that one time of year your brother or cousin ventures back to the old stomping grounds for a …

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Those we leave behind

For our favorite outdoor companions, deer season is a trying time

Posted

For those of us who hunt, the opening of firearms deer season is one of the year’s big events. It’s that one time of year your brother or cousin ventures back to the old stomping grounds for a week spent traipsing through the woods by day and playing cards and sitting in sauna by night. It’s that time of year when we reconnect with our more primal instincts, and harken back to a time when we lived as hunters and gatherers.

But for the dogs in our lives, let’s face it. Deer opener is hell.

For our dogs, deer season is about gathering anticipation, cruelly dashed by those four awful words: “You have to stay.”

It doesn’t matter how gently you try to break the bad news. Don’t think for a moment that the dog doesn’t know what’s up. A couple days before, you pulled out your thirty-aught to give it a once-over. On Friday, you pulled out your deer hunting uniform— the blaze orange coat and lined overalls. The orange brimmed hat with the fuzzy, pull down flaps for when the cold wind blows. The old mitts. The long johns. To us, it’s just the stuff we wear when we head to the stand, but to the dog, it’s like an old yellowed tome revealing in layer after layer a heroic tale of imagined exploits.

The smells of the hunt and the kill can drive a dog wild. The blood, the urine, the buck musk, the spilled doe scent from two years ago. It’s all still there on that gear that you forgot to wash for, like, the past ten years. As I pull it all out from back closet, the dog is on me like a shot, giving the once and twice-over to almost every square inch of it.

Because we all take our dogs fishing and hunting the rest of the year, they can only imagine that they will, naturally, play a leading role in this next thrilling adventure in the woods.

So much hope and excitement, followed by such utter disappointment.

Those of us out in our deer stands, of course, only witness the miserable look on the poor dog’s face for that fleeting moment as we head out the door. It’s those who stay behind at the house who are forced to deal with the total devastation— the pathetic howling and frantic pacing as the dog runs from window to window sure in the knowledge that there has been a hideous mistake and that their master will return momentarily to whisk them away to glory.

“You have no idea what you left me with,” my wife Jodi used to say back when she had two dogs to console— ours and my father’s black lab. The black lab, named Babe, was a joy to watch in the field and she loved to hunt. By the time my father would arrive at the house, Babe was living the dream, or so she thought. To make matters worse, he’d come up a day early and we’d spend the Friday before opener with the dogs out grouse hunting, just priming the pump for the poor things.

Babe would be inconsolable on opening morning as we’d slip out the door on the way to our stands. According to Jodi, Babe would pace endlessly, making ungodly sounds like a dog being flayed alive. Eventually, the stress was too much. The dog would start throwing up, all over the house. At times, Jodi feared poor Babe would simply expire right there on the floor.

There is, of course, one consolation in the life of a dog during deer season. At least around our house (I’ve got a very productive stand), the misery is usually forgotten at the exact moment that I walk in the door with fresh deer blood on my hands. From then on, deer season is the highlight of the dog’s year. Taking the pickup down the woods road to load up the deer, hanging and skinning the carcass, quartering and deboning. At every step, there’s a little piece of this or that which, to the dog, is like manna from heaven. The deer’s four legs become like playthings for months, as the dogs take turns burying and unburying them, and, apparently, after the appropriate “seasoning” they become just right for a good chew.

Over the years, the dogs kind of learn the routine. But this was the first deer opener for our new dog Loki, and as of this writing, he’s yet to experience the upside of the season. It’s been a little quiet on the edge of the Lost Lake Swamp.

Hopefully, the good times are right around the corner!

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