The tag end of fall climaxes with big clashes of skill and stamina. There's the Army-Navy game, the Rose Bowl, and other decisive contests between giants. Less heralded—but no less climactic—is the struggle of man vs. deer. Like other traditional contests it has its occasional upsets. And it's doubtful if any bigger upset was pulled off in the woods this year than one by a 14-year-old, first-year deer hunter named Paul Ward Jr., of Auburn, Maine.
The story of his urchin triumph starts one afternoon when he came home from school and his father said: "You're going after your first deer day after tomorrow." This, to Paul, was like telling a promising young boxer that he's been offered his first bout for the title. His father is a licensed Maine guide and hunting has come down through the family from a long way back. But so far Paul had never gone after anything larger than rabbit, nor had he ever fired a rifle above the caliber of .22.
A SECRET FEEDING GROUND
Two days later, after an early supper, Paul and his father loaded the car and took off for Flagstaff Pond, a man-made lake in Somerset County, about 60 miles away. Riding with them was a second man, Adelard Croteau, who runs a sporting goods store in Auburn. He claimed to know a secret deer feeding ground near Flagstaff Pond.
The three hunters spent the night in Mr. Croteau's camp by the lake. They set out gray and early the next morning for a bivouac spot closer to the hunting ground. They started down the length of the lake in an oversized boat with an outboard motor—loaded to the gunwales with equipment.
At the far end of the lake they picked out a good place to pitch a tent, spread out a tarpaulin for a floor, and Paul built a rude but adequate fireplace. Then they ate and headed up an old, abandoned tote road.
Along the way, Paul's father showed him how to use a map and compass, since a first-year hunter can get lost in the woods as easily as a 5-year-old in Macy's basement. The lesson over, the two men quickly saw to it that Paul did get lost, acting on a well-accepted hunter's theory that if you're really going to be a good huntsman you've got to learn to be all alone in the woods without getting scared stiff about it.
Left on his own, Paul found himself wandering around a hunk of Maine called Bigelow Mountain, where the occasional crack of a twig is about the only sound. Hours went by and he neither saw nor heard a trace of the two men. Finally, following the compass only, he broke through brush and bramble until he came in sight of the lake, about 50 feet from the tent. He still saw no deer, though he did see the pontooned Piper Cub of the modern Maine game warden circling overhead, looking for a reasonably calm place on the water to land and check licenses. The warden found none and flew on.
The men came back and they and Paul ate and compared notes. Then, about 4 p.m., all three set out once more. They trudged, presently, up a long, steep knoll. When they reached the summit, they found a nice gap in the shrubbery through which they could peer. Before their eyes, at last, was the firewarden's secret place: an open field, except for scattered hedgerows and low evergreen trees, full of soft grass and moss that deer dearly love to munch on.