The first day of deer hunting season in Pennsylvania is almost a state holiday. Most schools in rural areas are closed that first day of the two-week rifle season. That is because most male students, a fair number of female students, and many of the teachers and administrators are going to be in the woods hunting. Over the years, it became more practical to close school the Monday after Thanksgiving, than having school in session with so many students and faculty mysteriously 'ill'.
I was a member of a hunting club that had about 400 acres on which to hunt. We owed our membership to our forefathers who purchased the property and chartered the club in 1952. Four men had joined together to purchase the property. The intent was to own a place where they would always be able to hunt. Now we had 14 members, mostly descendants of the original four. There was a small cabin in the center of the property. We kept it supplied with a lot of beer, chips, and bullshit; a lot of bullshit.
I was in the woods about noon, enjoying the solitude, when I heard the shot. It came from the stand my brother had made for Tom, his 14 year-old son. I made my way over and found him staring at a dead deer. He had made what would have been an excellent shot, had it been a legal deer. The problem was it was anterless, and he only had a permit for antlered deer. I silently cursed my brother for leaving a novice alone in the woods.
"What should I do, Uncle Paul?" asked Tom nervously. "I thought I saw horns on it!"
It was not my job, or place, to decide what punishment the boy should suffer. It was my job as the adult on the scene, to see that the situation caused as little trouble as possible. I bent over and began field dressing the deer. As I worked, I explained a few simple facts.
"This mistake is simply not acceptable, Tom. You must identify your target before you shoot. This is death and it is not to be taken lightly. I think a few of the guys have doe permits. We'll take it back and you'll have see if someone will tag it."
We dragged it back to the cabin and stashed it under an old blown down tree. I should have explained to Tom just why I had concealed the deer. We went inside and found Chuck Tracy having some coffee.
"Chuck, Tom shot a doe he has no tag for," I began. "Would you want to tag it and help the kid out?"
"The little shit should be more careful," laughed Chuck. "I have plenty of time to get a doe and I'll fill my own tag. Where is it?"
Before I could stop Tom, he told Chuck where we had hidden it. That was the kid's second mistake. A couple of the other guys came in. I was about to ask them if they wanted to tag the doe when an ominous knock sounded. I opened the door and saw Sam Watson, the area game warden, standing there.
"Hey, Sam!" I greeted him. "Come in and have some coffee."
I learned about game wardens at my father's knee. He had taught me to be careful around them, but not fearful, and never tell them anything. They would never be able to make any charge stick if they didn't get someone to cave in and talk. I gave Tom a quick look and shook my head.
Sam walked in and looked around. He knew me well enough to know he wouldn't pin any wrong doing on me. He also knew, however, there were several people in the room he could make sweat. Then he saw some blood on my boots.
"I see blood on your boots, Paul. Did you get lucky today?" queried Sam.
My tag was still on my back so the only possible answer was to deny shooting anything.
"I had a little nosebleed earlier," I grinned.
"If we take those boots to a lab and they show deer blood, you'll wish you had come clean," warned Sam as he watched for my reaction.
"Right, Sam!" I laughed. "You have a crime lab in your truck. The FBI comes to you for help. I heard they are going to have a "CSI, Deer Hunting" on TV next year and you'll play the lead. Even if you had a lab, and you don't, and it turned out to be deer blood, and it isn't, you would prove one thing. I had deer blood on my boots. I never read any laws against that, but if you can just tell me the page it's on, I'll read it tonight!"
Sam shook his head and decided against any more comments regarding my bloody boots. We both knew the game commission didn't do ballistic tests, blood tests, or DNA tests.
He began his usual line about the weather and other meaningless banter to relax everyone. Then he attempted to coax information out of us. Soon, he was asking if anyone had shot anything.
"How about you, young fellow?" he asked of Tom. "Get any shots?"
"The kid got nothing but cold," I answered for Tom.
I wanted Tom to see how to respond to questions from a warden. Sam looked at me and nodded. Then he looked at Chuck and smiled.
"Staying out of trouble, Chuck?" he asked. "I sure don't want to have to fine you again. Hope you and your buddies are obeying all the game laws. You know how I have to give everyone a summons if I find anything amiss and no one admits to it," he chuckled. "I know how that last fine stretched your finances. You don't have anything hidden in the wood pile, do you?"
I couldn't believe my eyes as Chuck actually began sweating and his cheek started twitching. I had no doubt where this was going to end up. He had been caught with a loaded weapon in his vehicle a few years back, and it had cost him a couple hundred dollars. Still, I had to try to stop Chuck from rolling over on the kid.
"Not me, Sam," answered Chuck nervously. "If you find anything, it wasn't me!"
Sam had played this game a long time and like a wolf that smelled blood, he realized Chuck was wounded and limping badly.
"I think maybe you did do a little more bending of the state's game laws," stated Sam. "A search of the place may prove it!"
"Go ahead and search, Sam," I interrupted. "I won't even make you get a warrant for it. Go ahead. We have to get out and get that big buck, so make it quick!"
Sam looked at me and again nodded his head. He knew where the weakest link was and he went for the kill.
"Okay, Chuck. I'll look around, but if I find anything, it's your ass I'm going to nail to the goddamn wall. You have proven yourself to a man that breaks the laws of the Commonwealth, and you'll be found guilty so fast your head will spin!"
"It was the kid!" squealed Chuck. "He shot a doe and didn't have a tag. He hid it under that tree behind the cabin!"
"Sonofabitch!" blurted Jack Hook, a member of our club who had no idea there was any deer stashed, but knew a chicken-shit prick when he saw one.
He had been standing quietly waiting for the warden to look around and leave. Chuck's stool pigeon act repulsed Jack. He and I exchanged glances with neither of us bothering to conceal the contempt we felt for Chuck.
Sam seemed surprised and disgusted as well. He was doing his job, but hadn't intended, or wanted, to catch a kid screwing up in his first hunt. He looked around a little sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders.
"Let's go look at that doe. I'll have to see your license, son," Sam stated almost apologetically. "This is going to be an expensive lesson for you."
I stepped in front of my nephew. His father was still in the woods hunting and the job had fallen to me. I wasn't about to shirk what I knew I had to do.
"Sam, I shot that goddamn doe and you'll have to deal with me. That asshole, Chuck, doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about," I avowed.
Sam looked at me for several seconds. It wasn't his first rodeo.
"Okay, Paul, if you want to confess. You know what happens next. I'll write you up and be done with it," he agreed.
He knew I was lying. Everyone in the room knew that Sam wasn't fooled. It was how the game was played. He had an illegal deer and a confession. He had no desire to pin it on Tom, and I silently thanked him for being a stand-up guy. He was doing his job. He had to try to catch hunters bending the laws, but Chuck didn't have to tell him a damn thing.
Sam went down the road with the doe and my check made out to the Game Commission for $220. I was so livid I went back into the woods, without my rifle. I was afraid I would beat the shit out of Chuck if I went back into the cabin. I didn't return to camp until dark. Luckily, I had cooled off by then.
Jack was heating some chili on the stove and the other guys were sitting around having a few beers waiting for dinner. Tom and his dad were not anywhere to be seen. Jack saw the question in my eyes.
"Lou took Tom home so he could go to school tomorrow. Lou was as hot as I've ever seen him when he heard Tom shot a doe, and then how Chuck rolled over on him to the warden," Jack said. "Lou wants a meeting when he gets back. He made it plain that he wants Chuck blackballed from the club. Chuck has been reading the camp's by-laws and minutes for an hour, looking for a loophole, so he can keep his membership."
A short time after dinner was finished and the dishes washed, Lou walked through the door. He immediately announced that, as president, he was calling an emergency meeting. He dispensed with any reports and cut to the chase.
"The single most important rule we have in this club is no member rats on another member, or guest, to a warden. This dickhead did exactly that. I move we toss his ass out!" concluded Lou.
It was seconded immediately and passed unanimously, with Chuck showing the good sense to abstain from voting. Then he dropped his bombshell.
"The by-laws say I have an option, if I want to take it," he announced. "I have decided to invoke that right."
"Jesus, boy!" blurted old Bill Taylor. "That was a joke we made as a rule one night years ago, when we was all drunk!"
.... There is more of this story ...