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THE RITES OF AUTUMN
Bil Gilbert
November 27, 1978
Getting up to Pennsylvania's Potter County for Opening Day is an annual imperative for 50,000 faithful who journey to this deer-hunting mecca
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November 27, 1978

The Rites Of Autumn

Getting up to Pennsylvania's Potter County for Opening Day is an annual imperative for 50,000 faithful who journey to this deer-hunting mecca

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Odo and the doe have been nibbling, seeking shelter from the snow in a grove of hemlocks in which they normally spend the daylight hours. However, this is an unsettling morning, with the sound of gunfire and disturbing scents in the woods. To escape the alarms the doe leaves the thicket and starts up a transridge trail. Odo follows. When he comes into the open he halts, testing the air, apparently trying to locate and identify a strong and suspicious foreign scent. In that second or so there is a roar from a rifle, and almost simultaneously a bullet from a .30-06 Ruger smashes into his chest.

What does he feel? Again this cannot be precisely documented, but because Odo is a mammal with a highly developed nervous system, he probably feels much as the man who pulled the trigger would if by some chance the buck were to gore him through the chest with an antler. From testimony of our own kind who have suffered and survived somewhat comparable experiences, there is a sensation of ripping and tearing as the bullet shatters bone and muscle, then terrible burning pain in the destroyed lungs. In agony and shock Odo makes a final instinctive lunge, but the marvelous legs can no longer carry him through the woods at 40 mph. The wound is too severe. He drops on the spot and dies in the snow above Bailey Run.

From that moment on, by custom and law, Odo, or at least his carcass, belongs to Robert Stahlman, a 31-year-old steelworker from Warren, Ohio, who fired the Ruger. Stahlman is immediately aware of, and ecstatic about, the size of this buck. After tagging and gutting the body he takes it to Dennis Goodenough's sporting-goods store in Coudersport, which is the official headquarters of the annual Potter County Big Buck contest. Eventually Stahlman and Odo win it. The rack scores 32 trophy points (on the basis of antler size and spread). When the season is concluded, Odo is certified as being the best buck shot in Potter County. While the measurements are being made, the carcass hangs outside Goodenough's store, and Stahlman hangs around inside accepting congratulations, smiling and bursting with pride.

"I'd have been happy with anything," he says, "even a spike. When I saw that monster I couldn't believe it. When he went down it was like the big moment in my life, like winning some big game. I never thought anything like that would happen to me. I just thanked God for that buck and that I was there and got that shot."

"I guess you felt like God had smiled on you in God's Country."

"Right—that's just how it was."

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