"Spotlight Poaching"

4 December 2009




He would lay his high power rife across the hood of the car and then before the herd spooked, take down one of the car spotlighted, bigger does. And so it was ever couple of months or until the meat gave out. But I am getting ahead of myself.

In the early 1950's, my mom's father owned several hundred acres of farm and mountain land and deer then, like now, were everywhere and could be an absolute nuisance. I doubt you have ever seen what 10 or 15 deer can do to a corn field or a farmer's large garden. Anyway, my grandfather was a self sufficient farmer, which meant he was poor and hardly ever bought anything from a store expect for coffee, sugar and white bread and my dad was a hunter by ancestry and given those 3 elements, spotlighting deer at 2am in the morning and shooting one for the meat was an absolutely logical thing to do. To my grandfather and father, it did not matter that it was against the law to hunt deer out of season and that spotlighting deer out of hunting season carried a even bigger fine. Deer were free meat and I want to make it clear that this killing was not "sport" no more than my dad shooting hogs in the head at butchering time.

Now this spotlight poaching, although the word "poaching" was never used, would always begin the same way. On Friday, after my mom and dad got off work, we would make the 40 mile trip to my grandfather's farm. Then from the time we arrived until around 2am or so, a bottle of whiskey was shared among those there in the large, warm, country kitchen. In retrospect, I think the alcohol, drink, was to make all involved forget in advance, what the night was going to be like after the spotlight shot rang out. But around 2am, my dad, grandfather, me and sometimes an uncle or 2 would load into my dad's 1950 Ford and begin driving into and around the open fields my grandfather owned. I am sure at first, there might have been some actual searching to be done, but after a while, they always knew were a herd could be found and once they got close enough, the spotlight that my dad had installed on the Ford, would come on and a quick sweep would quickly locate potential meat. To me, as a child, being on these early morning "hunts" was a real adventure. Beside driving a car into an field in the dark and bumping up and down, there was always the chance that a game warden would happen by on the main road and see the lights in the field and figure out what was going on. But the real memory out of all this was when the car stopped, the spotlight was shining on 10, 15 or more deer and they absolutely did not stir, like they could care less about all that light being shone on them. Then, sometimes in the cold, sometimes in a sky so filled with stars you could walk without a light and almost see the herd without a spotlight, my dad would unzip his rife from its protective carrying case and prove once again, his marksmanship. He never missed that I remember. How could he? The deer herd was no more than 50 yards away, an easy shot for a, in season, deer hunter.

When the single shot rang out, sometimes the herd would scatter immediately and other times not. I never remember my dad shooting more than one deer at a time and always only a doe. Then, with the meat on the ground, most would walk to where the deer lay and my dad would drive the car up and the deer would be loaded into the trunk or perhaps put into the bed of my grandfather's pickup truck. Then we all would drive to my grandfather's barn and the deer's gutted and throat cut and the deer would bleed out for several hours. Funny, but I do not remember what became of all the deer guts? Don't suspect it was fed to the hogs but could have been.

Then back to the house where my grandmother had warm coffee ready and large, galvanized wash tubs and after a couple of hours, the deer would be skinned out and the process of cutting it up with a saw and then a meat grinder would begin. I know it is my memory but all I ever remember is deer "hamburger", lots of "hamburger." Today, deer meat is prized because it is lean or has very little fat and so I guess I grew up healthy because from the time I could chew food until perhaps I was 14 or 15, deer was the staple meat out my mom's table.

Now for those that have never experienced butchering an animal, you can not imagine the amount of work involved and the bloody flesh. Actually used to gross me out and I am happy that my dad and grandfather did not force the "issue" with me. I would have been hard pressed to have cut open the deer and pull the guts out of it or cut it's throat, even if already dead and to this day, have not done either.

And after all the cutting and grinding, the meat was wrapped in freezer paper and the flaps folded to hold a package together and then all was put into one of the several deep freezers my grandparents had out on the screen porch on the back of their country home.

Time for bed. I not sure when bed was but remember that it was still dark and so perhaps no more than 5 or 6am.

Saturday would be a day of visiting with the grandparents and perhaps some fishing in one of their many ponds or hunting squirrels.

Then on Saturday evening, my dad and mom would head home with a trunk full of deer meat for out freezer and all sorts of canned goods from my grandparents vast garden.

And so that is about it for my remembrance but I have one more piece to add and that is the night that the game warden was driving the main road and saw our car lights in the field and sat waiting for us to come out and be caught. Vague memories but remember the car being driven through the field with no lights on and then through another gate and out onto the road, some couple hundred yards from where the game warden was parked. Then quickly out of the car and the deer in the back of my grandfather's pickup truck was thrown into the ditch beside the road and both the car and the pickup truck started up and driven on down the road away from the warden. Once all thought it were safe, we drove back down the road to the house and then after a while longer, back out to the site where the meat lay in the ditch. A longer night out of it but the same results: free meat.

I doubt that anyone spotlights deer anymore. Not even sure you can buy a spotlight to mount on your car or truck anymore but in the early 1950's, I am sure deer provided many a family with the only meat they ever had.


For more Ron Stultz writings, click here.