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"Oaky-Doaker. I guess I'm going to have to write you up for no tag," says Curfman, and both men look relieved. However, before he brings out his citation pad the game protector bends over the deer again and pats the carcass, which is steaming noticeably. "Nice buck, but Holy Tomatoes, he sure is warm for having been dead so long."
"Look," Ruckus blows up. "I'm tired of these insinuations. What the hell are you accusing us of?"
"Oaky-Doaker," says Curfman, and there is a click in his voice like a bolt being shoved home. "Since you brought the subject up, I'm just going to have to tell you. But first, Mark and Rich," Curfman says, turning to his student-trainee and his son, "why don't you follow those tracks back into the woods a little way. You might find the pencil they lost, and you just might find something else. Now to get back to your question. I feel this deer was shot right here on the edge of the road. Also, judging from the deer's eyes and the body temperature, I'm positive this deer has been dead at most a half an hour, which is an hour after it is legal to shoot. Now if you two fellows have anything you wish to tell me before Rich and Mark get back, I'm willing to listen to you."
Only about 50 yards back in the hemlocks Mark and Rich find the kill spot and a pile of warm deer entrails. However, by the time they return to the road, Ruckus and Banana have come clean and confirmed Curfman's suspicions. It costs them $50.
Curfman has been a game protector for 19 years, and last year he was designated as Pennsylvania's outstanding game officer. In the course of his service he has seen just about every misdemeanor and felony man can commit against deer and heard some very ingenious excuses and explanations for doing so. Generally he feels things are getting worse. "The quality of the hunter is definitely deteriorating," he says. "There are very few persons today who are willing and able to put on an all-day drive, which is a good way to hunt and good exercise. Each year they seem to stay closer and closer to the roads. A number of them are all too willing to commit a violation. They do things up here they'd never do at home, and, Jeepers Jenny, we only catch a few of them. As far as I'm concerned it's part of the overall disrespect for authority and all forms of law enforcement—that, and that people are forgetting good hunting traditions."
There is another absolutely essential, if presumably involuntary, participant in the Deer Hunt, Odocoileus virginianus, the white-tail. Generally we think about the animal in a composite way, in terms of population, age structures and curves, average annual consumption of food, reproduction, growth and mortality rates, the dynamics of the herd. However, it is well to remember that a "herd of deer" exists only in the same sense that the "upper middle class" exists. It is an abstraction, a convenient way of dealing with a large group of somewhat similar creatures, each of which, by reason of genetic and existential distinctions, is as unique as, say, John Raffensperger, Cousin Sam and Dick Curfman are unique.
Consider, so far as it is possible, one of these unique individuals of another species who is in Potter County on Opening Day. Call him Odo for short. Most obviously he is set apart from his kind by reason of his size and condition, being a buck of some 160 pounds, carrying a rack with a 20-inch spread and 12 points. He may be a 5-year-old, and if so has reached an extraordinary age, not in terms of the natural life-span of the species, which is up to 20 years, but in terms of bucks in Potter County, where about 75% of all antlered deer are killed each year during the hunting season. Odo may well be one of the very last of his class of several thousand male fawns born in the spring of 1972.
The presumption is that he was born close to where he is on this Opening Day, in the valley of Bailey Run in southern Potter County. Deer are not great travelers, and Odo probably spent most of his five years in the same square mile, following like an unadventurous commuter the same trails he found and made as a yearling, traveling them for purposes of foraging half a bushel or so a day of hemlock, tamarack, cherry, maple, oak, blackberry, grape, blueberry, wild-rose shoots, twigs, acorn mast and apples from several abandoned orchards in his territory, as well as other aquatic and upland herbage. Again because of his condition, he has apparently fed well and been fortunate in avoiding serious infestations of tapeworms, liver flukes, lung worms, botflies, ticks and mites. He may have survived and prospered simply by chance, or perhaps because of some mysterious superiority of the eye, nose, muscles, glands or brain.
It is likely that he has bred several, perhaps half a dozen, does each of the past three autumns. If so, he has ferociously fought for their favors against other bucks, probably successfully, given his strength and size. Early on the morning of Opening Day he is with a doe, perhaps one he had mated with the previous month. However, by Thanksgiving weekend the great hormonal tides that aroused him during rut have subsided. His once tawny coat has turned darker and the narrow ridge of bone below the coronet of his antlers has begun to be absorbed, preparatory to the dropping of the rack. His reasons for being with the doe are other than reproduction. They may be together for companionship or security or communal pleasure, but this is sheer speculation, because when it comes to intraspecific behavior, we are knowledgeable only about the grossest relationships.