Every hunter I
knew was gaunt about the ribs. Socially, they were inattentive. The deer
hunting in the Adirondacks had been awful.
The sport long
ago became another witless mass diversion automatically performed in the autumn
by droves of the wrong people, a meaningless, commercialized, anachronistic,
habitual indulgence, an annual all-points diddle of women, employers, the deer,
ourselves. We've learned to live with the mob wheezing and hacking about the
woods in search of a hood ornament.
The past several
years, but this year, especially, there didn't seem to be any deer. People quit
asking each other. "Got your buck yet?" They assumed not. If somebody
did get one, he didn't brag. His buck only emphasized the scarcity of others.
He parceled out the meat for his friends.
I waited for snow
and cold, hoping the deer would start to move, thus making tracks, thus proving
their existence. My old hunting area, the hills around Lake Ozonia, had been
sold and divvied up—leased, anyway. I trespassed a little with the natives,
leaving the posted country to the lessees on the weekends. They probably don't
even know where their lines are. Ambrose Stark kept saying we would put one in
the kettle. Day after day we saw nothing, not even a doe.
One man I talked
to had simply quit. Said he wasn't hunting because there weren't enough deer in
the woods. He is glaringly unique to react so logically. Most of us hunt deeper
and longer, not less.
Earl Hazen, for
example. He has 60 cows to milk night and morning, and his hunting club is an
hour away. His whiskers grow, schoolboys come over icy roads on bicycles to do
the chores, the corn ground goes unplowed. He sees a buck at last, misses with
the first shot, and his gun, neglected, jams. He cleans and oils it, then tries
it on a coy-dog pouncing after rodents way off at the top of the pasture,
misses, but the weapon reloads properly. He resumes. The schoolboys milk
I felt like Earl
about hunting—it had to remain credible. Surely deer existed in the big private
holdings hereabouts: Kildare, Whitney, St. Regis, Litchfield, Rockefeller.
These tracts of Adirondack forest must provide hunting with the old coherence,
craftsmanship, romance. I wanted a few thousand acres to myself, that was all.
I would seek an invitation; meanwhile, not to miss a chance, Earl took me to
Until around 1940
most of the St. Regis Paper Company land that lay northwest of the town of
Saranac was open hunting. But the taxes rose, and St. Regis posted its land,
forcing the hunters to lease. To retain the right to hunt a little of the area
they used to roam, Thurm Hazen and some local men formed a club to lease 3,300
acres bordering Madawaska Pond. They bought a demonstration Quonset off the
grounds of the St. Lawrence County Fair, hired a camp cook, put in a phony
telephone to see how guests react when told their wives are calling, and have
been hunting together almost 30 years, fathers and sons and friends.
The older men are
more cheerful, louder than the young. They have not darkened over the lack of
deer. Their poker is rough. Their talk is profane and clean. They appreciate
each other. This year a white leghorn rooster is at large in the camp.
Earl and I and
Gary, another guest, arrive before first light. Earl slips into the dark
Quonset to write down where we are hunting. The rooster goes berserk in the
pitch-black bunk room. We can hear it from out there in the pickup. Earl brings
out a blob of whiteness in his arms and spills it by the woodpile. Later, two
miles deep along the Ross line, we hear it crow for dawn. This trail is a
boundary with wealth—across it is a 23,000-acre private park. Deep in, there is
a stretch of swamp and timber knolls where deer cross from Madawaska to feed on