Published July 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.
Over the years, a few of you have written in to say that my hunting stories are out of place in a cooking magazine. I won’t rehash my vigorous defense of this activity, but instead I offer the following narrative, told by one of our Vermont neighbors, Ryan Brown, in which the hunter becomes the hunted. I will let you judge its veracity.
“I had this idea that I was going to rope a deer, put it in a stall, feed it up on corn for a couple of weeks, then shoot and eat it. The first step in this adventure was getting a deer. I figured that, since they congregate at my cattle feeder and do not seem to have much fear of me when we are there—a bold one will sometimes come right up and sniff at the feed while I am in the back of the truck— it should not be difficult to rope one, get up to it and toss a bag over its head (to calm it down), then hogtie it and transport it home.
“I filled the cattle feeder, then hid down at the end with my rope. The cattle, having seen the roping thing before, stayed well back; they were not having any of it. After about 20 minutes, three deer showed up. I picked out a likely-looking young buck, stepped out from the end of the feeder, and threw my rope. He just stood and stared.
“I wrapped the rope around my waist and twisted the end so I would have a good hold. The deer just stood transfixed, although it appeared to be mildly concerned about the whole rope situation. I took a step toward it; it took a step away. I put a little tension on the rope and then received an education.
“The first thing I learned is that, although a deer may just stand there looking at you funny while you rope it, it is spurred to action when you start pulling.
“That deer exploded.
“The second thing I learned is that pound for pound, a deer is a lot stronger than a cow or a colt. A cow or a colt in that weight range I could fight down with a rope, and some dignity. A deer? Not a chance. It ran and bucked and twisted and pulled. There was no controlling it and certainly no getting closer. As it jerked me off my feet and started dragging me across the ground, it occurred to me that having a deer on a rope was not nearly as good an idea as I had originally imagined. The only upside is that they do not have as much stamina as many other animals.
“A brief 10 minutes later, it was tired and not nearly as quick to jerk me off my feet and drag me when I managed to get up. It took me a few minutes to realize this, since I was blinded by the blood flowing out of the large gash in my head. (I had cleverly arrested the deer’s momentum by bracing my head against various large rocks as it dragged me across the ground.) At that point, I had lost my taste for corn-fed venison. I just wanted to get my rope back and go home.
“I figured if I just let the buck go with the rope hanging around its neck, it would likely die a slow and painful death. I recognized there was a tiny chance that I shared some minuscule amount of responsibility for the situation, so it was up to me to find a solution. I managed to get it positioned between my truck and the feeder—a little trap I had set beforehand, much like a squeeze chute. I started moving up so I could get my rope back.
“Did you know that deer bite? They do! I never in a million years would have considered this possibility, so I was surprised when the deer grabbed hold of my wrist with its teeth. Now, when a deer bites you, it is not like being bit by a horse: it bites and then lets go. A deer holds on and shakes its head— like a pit bull.
“Thinking back on it, I guess that the proper thing to do at that point would have been to freeze and draw back slowly. Instead, I screeched and shook my arm like it was on fire. My method was ineffective. While I kept it busy (allowing the buck to tear mercilessly at my right arm), I reached up with my left hand and pulled the rope loose. That was when I got my final lesson in deer behavior for the day.
“Rearing up on their back feet, deer will strike at your head and shoulders with their front feet, which are surprisingly sharp. I learned a long time ago that, when an animal—like a horse—strikes at you with its hooves, the best thing to do is try to make a loud noise and move aggressively toward the animal. This will usually cause it to back down so that you can escape.
“However, this was not a horse, so I surmised that this strategy would not work. In the course of a millisecond, I devised a different strategy.
“I screamed like a 5-year-old girl, turned, and ran.
“Now, the reason I had always been told not to try to turn and run from a horse is that there is a good chance that it will hit you in the back of the head. As I quickly learned, horses and deer do, indeed, have a lot in common. The second I turned to run, the buck struck me in the back of the head, knocking me down.
“But when a deer gets the upper hand, it does not immediately leave. I suspect it does not recognize that the danger has passed. Instead, it jumps up and down on your back while you lie there, begging for mercy, covering your head.
“I managed to crawl under the truck, and the deer finally went away.
“So now I know why people go deer hunting with a rifle with a scope. Deer may appear cute and docile, but when provoked, they are merciless killers.”