PAT NEAL: The great deer hunt

I spent all last summer cursing the day deer were invented for what they did to my garden.

Herds of worthless deer ate my garden down to the roots, then yanked the roots out and ate them, too — leaving me with a patch of barren dirt that looked like a goat yard.

I thought it was only a matter of time before hunting season. Gangs of hunters would show up and build a lead fence around the vegetables, saving me the trouble, but no.

It turns out hunters have more excuses than fishermen.

It had been so long since we’ve had a decent rain, the woods were too dry. There was no way you could sneak up on anything. The wind was blowing the wrong direction. The moon came out at night. The fog rolled in. It all added up to a recipe for failure.

There was nothing left but to sit around and wait for the weather to change. This can take some time.

One thing led to another. Soon, our trophy hunters were inhaling vats of punch and tubs of chili.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, the big buck stories started in.

These are a collection of simmering grudges and half-baked fables, such as the story about the four-point buck shot by Captain Carp that nobody ever saw.

In a master stroke of yarn-swapping genius, he still claims a dog drug the trophy deer head off and buried it before anyone had a chance to look at it.

Nobody believed him.

“I can prove that,” he growled, beating his hook on the table amid a shower of abuse. “I’ve got that dog right out in the truck!”

No one could argue. He had them there.

At some point, I suggested a change in hunting tactics and explained how I get my buck every year without even hunting. It’s simple really, just pretend you’re cutting firewood.

Over the years, deer have evolved into sensitive, highly intelligent animals that don’t want to get shot. The deer know all the hunter’s tricks by now. They know to the day when the hunting season starts just by monitoring traffic patterns.

The whole secret to getting a deer these days, I explained to the hunters, was to look like you’re doing something else. Cutting firewood is a healthy, invigorating outdoor activity that can be a real workout besides.

I explained how wildlife is attracted to the sound of a running chainsaw. The aroma of fresh sawdust is like an aphrodisiac to a big buck.

Things can be really boring out in the woods. Critters like to watch loggers. Maybe they feel sorry for us. Sometimes when you start up a saw and make a big mess of freshly cut browse, the wildlife just naturally gets curious and comes in for a look. That’s when you bag your buck.

The secret to hunting this way is to look busy and make a whole lot of noise. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

The deer hunters pitched in and cut and split my winter wood supply. After only one day of deer hunting, er, wood cutting, I had a huge pile of firewood you could probably see from the moon. But no one shot a deer.

Everyone acted like it was my fault so they went home mad with no meat.

As luck would have it, I got a big four point buck the day after they left.

Unfortunately, a stray dog ran off with the horns before anyone got a look at them.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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