Case: Encounter with wounded deer may have been a turning point

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / A whitetail deer fawn and its mother look up as they graze along LaFayette Road in Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in July 2021.

Some of you may be done with deer hunting for the year (for your sake, I hope not). It is the end of the first week of buck season here in West Virginia, and in truth, most of the activity happens the first three days of the season.

I would not be truthful if I didn't say it is sad to me that there are, no doubt, far fewer hunters in the woods for this season than in the past. If I could get nostalgic for just a minute, gone are the days of the mass migrations to the mountains with camps being set up everywhere, an army of blaze orange on the hillsides. Depending on which surveys you read, the number of hunters in general may be rising slightly, or not.

Many times I have probably told you here that I am not the most rabid of deer hunters. I like that so many of you enjoy it, and there is no doubt it fuels most of the license sales and the economy boost where hunters buy all of the guns and ammo and sporting goods, along with gas, groceries and all they things they need for deer camp. I will deer hunt with you a little. I probably like the various doe seasons the most; we can go and enjoy deer camp, get some good venison in the freezer and the canner, and we have a chance to introduce others to deer hunting and hunting in general.

(But you know what? Lately I have been thinking more and more how maybe I would like to collect a big ol' mossy horned buck. We'll see.)

Well, having said all that, this little ditty isn't really about all that — the deer season, how it has changed and the number of hunters out there. This is about one deer in particular and a chance meeting with a skinny kid on the banks of a muddy river back in the mists of time (cue the dream sequence music).

Nov. 15, 1971, and it is my 18th birthday. I am checking muskrat traps on the Coal River near my home outside of St. Albans, West Virginia. As I climb upwards, leaving the riverbank to cross the railroad tracks — BAM! Up jumps a big doe deer, running through the brush in front of me.

I am sure I stood there with my mouth open. First, I had never seen a deer in this area, and second, while it was running away from me, this deer was doing it on three legs. The doe had a broken front left leg, and it was flopping at a terrible angle. I soon figured out that while I could not catch up with this deer, if I would stop, the doe would also stop and soon lay down. I hightailed it to the house, a mile or so away, to get my dad.

There followed a long evening. We called the conservation officer for the county, and he said they would be a while getting there. I sat close by the doe into the night waiting for someone to show up, knowing she would be hard to find. Dad came later with an old Model 70 .30/06. Even though I had been a hunter since I was very young, I remember being a little upset — I don't know why — when he did what we had to do and put the deer out of its misery.

As to what caused the injury, my memory is hazy on whether the deer had been shot, which would have been illegal, or it had been hit by a car. What I do remember well is Dad taking aim, the flame from the barrel lighting up the night and me thinking we were doing something wrong with the gun and the light.

It is funny how some memories stick with you over the years.

I went on to do 36 years with the West Virginia DNR Law Enforcement Section. Over the years, I would sometimes think about that night and marvel how this incident could have been such a big deal to me, as now it would be the most routine of calls: a wounded deer.

Did that deer have anything to do with my becoming a CO and natural resources police officer?

I don't know, maybe. Now it seems like a long time ago.

"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at larryocase3@gmail.com.