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The Observer Paper 12/17/14

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Autumnís elusive quarry

The various signs of autumn abound — from the turning of fall leaves to shop floors soaked in deer blood.

Everyone likes a good story and when it’s hunting season, the listener should be careful not to interject more than a nod of the head or an occasional “Oh?” For when a hunting story is told, it’s more for the sake of the storyteller than the listener.

Civil dusk is a time known to pilots who fly for the federal government and hunters — it’s the time of day that one must legally be on the ground or have the rifle sheathed. It’s when the quarry is handled, the whiskey poured and the stories unwound.

The Wallowa Valley is thick with deer and the towns that dot Highway 82 are so clogged with them they are more pest than prey. Depredation hunting is, in part, to eliminate some of the population, which has become overused to humans and their tasty hay and alfalfa fields. More importantly to me, it is a year’s worth of barbecued back strap and steaks, roasts, stews, stir fry and jerky.

One night after I’d nestled into a pile of comforters, my scout returned with a tale of the successful hunt. After hitting his mark he said, “Then I reloaded the muzzleloader in case I had to kill her again.”

He went on to describe jamming the wooden shaft into his hand that is used to tamps down the ball into barrel.

He continued the tale of retrieving the doe, which luckily did not have to be killed again, interspersing each sentence with, “And I was bleeding!”

He ended up gutting, dragging the deer out of a creek, loading it into the truck, hanging and skinning it all by himself with a bleeding paw. I handed him a glass as he showed me his wound.

My fall quarry was elusive as well, but didn’t involve bleeding by hunter or hunted. Last spring there came a killing frost and most of the county’s apples fell victim. Finding enough for a 5-gallon carboy of cider was proving difficult.

My scout traveled far to gather apples from one tree and an afternoon collecting along the western edge of the county proved, well, not very fruitful.

Yet for once my bad sense of direction paid off. By taking the longest way possible to cover a story in the northern part of the county I discovered a roadside tree full of apples. The detour had turned into a boon. Saturday morning we retuned to the spot and filled boxes with tiny apples.

Sunday the deer quarters were whittled down to steaks and roasts, the spare parts saved for hamburger, and the sparer parts roasted for the dogs. Let the snows fly, the freezer is full and the cider is bubbling.

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