SI Vault
John O'Reilly
November 22, 1965
Late fall is a beautiful season in the Pennsylvania woods, but when the deer hunters come the beauty is best observed from a deep-dug foxhole or the steel safety of a tank
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November 22, 1965

The Redcoats Return To Bucks County

Late fall is a beautiful season in the Pennsylvania woods, but when the deer hunters come the beauty is best observed from a deep-dug foxhole or the steel safety of a tank

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I am not against hunting as such, but some of the methods and attitudes prevalent in these thickly settled areas of the East would have driven Daniel Boone into a monastery. Game-department officials agree that the traditional American concept of hunting, the hunter stalking and outwitting the wily game in the silence of the forest, no longer exists. These phalanxes of redcoats marching into the woods have a single purpose: to get a buck and get out with a whole skin.

They make themselves as obvious as possible, and well they might. The woods are full of other redcoats, tense and eager, some of them novices literally trembling with buck fever. One method is to line up and drive the deer, the hunters beating on tin pans with such enthusiasm that you might suspect it was half time at a Chinese football game.

One neighbor of mine who had not hunted since his youth decided he would give it a try. He climbed up a tree near a deer trail and got his buck all right, but getting it out of the woods was another problem. He and the lad helping him would carry the buck a piece, then drop it, talking loudly and at the same time watching for the gangs of other hunters, who by this time were on the prowl for deer alive or defunct. My friend described the trip as a period of downright terror and said, "Never again."

Another hunter found a solution of sorts. He was clothed in such fiery red that if he had had a tail he would have looked like the devil. Walking warily down the old road, he stopped at a point only 300 feet below my house. There he stood for three hours, his rifle at the ready, waiting in hopes that a buck would be driven out of the woods in his direction. My wife, who was cleaning the house, would glance out the window once in a while and grin. At one point she observed, "Looks like somebody erected a statue out there."

My wife used to regard the hunters with outspoken hate. A forthright woman, she invariably won the day in clashes involving the chase. One morning she heard a fusillade of shots and loud yells close by. Dashing out, she came upon a dying buck behind the barn. Half a dozen redcoats climbed over a stone wall and jogged toward her. Their one concern was that she might claim the buck.

"Honest, lady, we didn't shoot him here," one pleaded. "He jumped over the fence after we shot him."

"I don't care where you shot him. Take him away and be quick about it." Under her reproachful gaze the redcoats dragged their victim across the field and over the stone wall into No. 56.

Over the years, though, my wife's attitude toward the hunters has gradually mellowed. She has watched as they have fought snow and bitter cold, urged on by a passion beyond her understanding They get lost, they have accidents and they hurt themselves. In small-game season they are forever losing their dogs, and their plaintive calls for old Rover can be heard far into the night. Their joy in the sport is shadowed by an abiding fear lest they, instead of the deer, become the victim. (And some of them do.)

My wife is no Diana, but she laughs at some of the things the hunters will do. They will snap to the alert on spotting tracks that are weeks old. They tear their britches crawling through fences. She remembers with glee a morning after the usual platoon of redcoats had advanced into No. 56. In the road just beyond neighbor Pratt's she came upon five deer. They had simply circled the hunters and were headed into a piece of posted land.

Now my wife's attitude toward the hunters has become one of amused pity. Recently she has even been seen chatting amiably with groups of them as they pass the house, an odd sight comparable to Carry Nation's having a sociable drink in a saloon.

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