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The Deer


There are upwards of eight varieties of this animal which inhabit

North America. The common red or Virginian deer is found throughout

the United States. The stag or Wapiti deer is now chiefly confined

to the country west of the Mississippi and northward to British

America. The moose we shall speak of hereafter. The Rocky Mountain

mule deer, and the long-tailed deer of the same locality, are two

more species, and there
re also the black-tailed deer and the

reindeer, the latter of which is a native of British America. The

scope of our volume will not of course admit of detailed directions

for trapping each variety, but, as the habits of all the species are

in a measure similar, our remarks will apply to them in general,

and particularly to the red or Virginian deer, which is the most

important to American trappers.

The trap for taking deer should be large, strong, and covered with

spikes. The Newhouse (No. 4) is particularly adapted, and is especially

arranged for this purpose.

When the path of the deer is discovered on the border of a stream

or lake, the trap should be set beneath the surface of the water,

near the tracks of the animal, and covered by a handful of dried

grass thrown upon it. When thus set, it may either be left to run

its chances, or success, further insured by the following precaution:

In winter the principal food of the deer consists of the twigs,

buds, and bark of various forest trees, and particularly those

of the basswood and maple. In the season when the traps are set

as above described, a most tempting bait is furnished by a large

branch of either of those trees, freshly cut, and laid near the

trap. The deer in feeding are thus almost sure to be captured.

There are certain glands which are located on the inner side of the

hind legs of the deer, and which emit a very strong and peculiar

odor. The scent of these glands seems to attract the animal, and

for this reason are cut out and used by trappers as a scent-bait.

In the case already described, it is well to rub the glands on

the twigs of the trees, thus serving as an additional attraction

to the bait. There is still another method of trapping deer, which

is commonly employed in the winter time. The trap is sunk in the

snow at the foot of a tree, and the bait, consisting of an ear

of corn or a few beards of other grain, is fastened to the tree,

above the trap, three or more feet from the ground. The animal, in

reaching for the bait, places its foot in the trap and is secured.

When first caught, the deer becomes very wild and violent; so much

so that if the trap were chained or retarded by a heavy clog, the

chain, or even the trap itself, would most likely be broken. The

weight of a trap of this size is generally a sufficient impediment,

no clog, or at best a very light one, being required. The first

frantic plunge being over, the entrapped creature immediately yields

and lies down upon the ground, and is always to be found within

a few rods of where the trap was first sprung upon him. During

the winter the traps may also be set in the snow, using the same

bait already described. It is a common method to fell a small tree

for the purpose, setting the traps beneath the snow, around the

top branches. The deer, in browsing in the tender twigs or buds,

are almost certain to be captured. Dead-falls of different kinds

are sometimes used in trapping the deer, with good success; using

the scent bait already described, together with the other bait.

The food of the deer during the summer consists of nuts, fruits,

acorns, grass, berries, and water plants, and when in convenient

neighborhood of cultivated lands, they do not hesitate to make

a meal from the farmer's turnips, cabbages, and grain.

As we have said, the winter food consists chiefly of the twigs of

trees. When the snow is deep the deer form what are called yards,

about such trees as they particularly select for their browsing.

These yards are made simply by tramping down the snow, and large

numbers of the deer are often thus found together. As the supply

of food is consumed, the yard is enlarged, so as to enclose other

trees for browsing, and where deep snows abound throughout the

winter, these enclosures often become quite extensive in area.

Panthers, wolves, and wolverines take especial advantage of these,

and easily secure their victims. By wolves especially entire herds

of deer are thus destroyed, and whole yards depopulated in a single

night. Panthers secrete themselves in the trees above the boughs

overhanging the yards, and, with stealthy movements, approach and

pounce upon their unsuspecting prey. The blood-thirsty wolverine

secretes himself in the nooks and by-ways to spring upon its tawny

victim unawares. These, together with man, form the principal foes

of the deer, and we can truthfully assert that the hunter is

much more its enemy than the trapper.

As we do not wish to encourage the wanton trapping of this noble

creature, it would perhaps be well for us to devote also few words

in describing the various modes of hunting the animal,

adopted by the professional sportsmen throughout the land. The

most common method is that called still hunting, most generally

pursued in winter. The hunter is shod with deer-skin or other soft

sandals, and starts out with his rifle and ammunition. Finding the

fresh track of the deer, he cautiously and noiselessly follows up

the trail, keeping a sharp lookout ahead. A practised deer-hunter

becomes very skillful and accurate, and the animal is nearly always

tracked to discovery, when he is shot. The deer's sense of smell is

extremely acute, and, when in shooting range, it is very necessary

to approach them in the face of the wind, the direction of which

may be easily determined by holding the finger in the mouth for a

moment, afterward pointing it upward toward the sky. The cool side

of the finger will indicate the direction from which the wind blows,

and toward that direction the deer should always be approached, or

as far toward that direction as possible. It will sometimes happen

that the hunter will surprise the buck, doe, and fawn together. In

order to secure the three, shoot the doe first. The buck and fawn

will remain near the spot. The buck should next be shot, and then

the fawn, the charge being aimed at the breast. Never approach a

wounded deer without reloading the gun, as he is often more frightened

than hurt, and is likely to start and run away, unless prevented

by another shot. During the snow season, deer are always watchful

of their back track. They are generally at rest during the day,

starting out late in the afternoon on their usual ramblings, which

they continue through the night. During the dark hours they love

to resort to the water side in quest of aquatic plants, and are

here often taken by hunters, many of which consider night hunting

the favorite and most exciting sport. It is pursued in the following

manner: The hunter requires a boat or canoe, page 261, a good rifle,

and a lamp. The lamp, with a screen or reflector behind it, is

placed at the bow of the boat. One hunter takes the oar, and, with

noiseless paddle, propels or sculls the boat from the stem. The

armed hunter crouches behind the light, with the muzzle of his

rifle projecting beyond the screen sufficiently to easily show the

forward sight on the tip of the barrel. A dark lantern is sometimes

used as a light. The eyes of the deer shine very perceptibly at

night, and his presence on the banks is thus easily detected. If

he is noiselessly approached, he will remain transfixed by the

effect of the light from the boat, and he may be neared even to a

very close range, when he is easily despatched. Hundreds of deer

are thus taken during the summer and autumn. Deer are also chased

by dogs until they are forced to take refuge in the nearest rivers

or lakes, when the hunter in his canoe overtakes and shoots them.

Another method is frequently employed in the hunting of the deer.

These animals are very fond of salt, and with it they are often

decoyed to a spot where the hunter lies in wait for them. These

places are called deer licks, or salting places, and can be made

as follows: Select a locality where deer are known to frequent, and

place a handful of salt either on a smooth spot of ground or in

the hollow of a log. A section of a log is sometimes slightly dug

out at one end and the other inserted in the earth, the salt being

placed in the hollow. The hunter secretes himself in a neighboring

tree, sometimes erecting a bench or scaffolding for comfort, and,

provided with gun and ammunition, he awaits the coming of the deer.

Hunters say that a deer seldom looks higher than his head, and

that a sportsman on one of these scaffoldings, even though he is

clumsy in his movements, is seldom noticed by the animal.

The salt lick is also utilized for night hunting. A head-lantern

is generally required. This can be made in the following manner:

Construct a cylinder of birch bark or paste-board or any like substance,

ten inches in height, and of sufficient size to fit closely on

the head. A circular partition should next be firmly inserted at

about the middle of the cylinder, and the centre of the partition

should be provided with a socket for the reception of a candle.

On this end of the cylinder a piece should now be cut to admit

of the passage of light from the candle on that side. Having this

fire-hat at hand wait patiently for the game. When a significant

noise is heard light the candle and place the cylinder on the head,

with the open cut in front, thus directing the light toward the

ground. As the deer approaches, his fiery eyes will easily be seen,

and the light from the candle will shine sufficiently on the rifle

to clearly reveal the sights and admit of a sure aim. There is

still another method of night hunting by the salt lick. The rifle

is aimed directly at the salted spot, and thus firmly fixed--this

preparation being made in the daytime. When night approaches, the

hunter finds a piece of phosphorescent wood or fox fire, and places

it on the ground, at a point which he has previously determined

to be on a direct line of the aim of his gun. The fox fire is

plainly seen from the tree, and as soon as it is darkened he knows

that it is obscured by the deer, and he pulls the trigger and kills

his game.

Deer are hunted at all seasons of the year, but ought not to

be hunted during the summer. The sport legitimately begins in September,

when the buck begins to harden his horns, and when his flesh is

in its best condition for food. In October the deer is more shy,

and during this month and after, the sport is at its height. The

deer should be skinned from an incision down the belly, and the

hide spread on a hoop stretcher, page 275.