‘Two Buck Tiff’ or ‘My Daughter the Double Deer Slayer’

The recent column on Mel’s site from my friend and former boss Greg Awtry struck a chord of memory.
Greg wrote of mentoring a grandson this season on his first successful deer hunt in the Michigan woods near where he lives in retirement.

The memory that story brought rushing back to me is older than his – much older. It’s the tale of a shared experience with my daughter, Tiffany, in the fall of her sophomore year at UNK (this year her son, Dominic, is a sophomore at UNL).

Our stable of cheap vehicles included an old, red Toyota Celica in those days. Various Moseley kids used it. That year it was Tiff’s college ride.

I got a call from her one early fall night, more than a little upset, from alongside Hwy 30. As details emerged, I came to be aware she had clobbered a young buck on her way back to UNK from Lexington, our family home at the time.

I thought it odd when she said, “The deputy is asking if you want a salvage permit.”

“What’s a salvage permit,” I asked.

“Do you want to keep the deer? If so, you need a salvage permit.”

I said something profound like, “I dunno. Guess so. Why not?”

Son Aaron and I grabbed my Buck knife, tossed one of those cheap, blue plastic tarps in the back of the ’86 Bronco and raced to Walmart to obtain a suitably hefty tow strap.

Upon arriving at the accident scene, we came to learn the buck had been in the ditch between Hwy 30 and the adjacent, parallel railroad tracks. Just as Tiff arrived at a rural crossing an approaching train laid on the blaring whistle. Our young buck, startled from his wits no doubt, launched himself in the opposite direction of the sound and fury of the locomotive … directly into the path of Tiff and the doomed Celica.

The outcome was predictable: one very deceased whitetail buck and a Celica with the front smashed in.
Aaron and I spread the tarp in the cargo hold of the Bronco, tossed in the deer, hooked the strap to what was left of the Celica and took a nearby gravel road a mile or so off the highway. A quick field dressing in the ditch (you’re welcome scavengers) and Aaron stomping the hood down enough to see over it, then on to Lex.

We processed the deer in the garage, making sure to cut away all hemorrhaged tissue at the point of impact, and tucked it away in the freezer.

I remember thinking at the time; “Damn deer. You cost me a perfectly reliable car, so in retaliation I’ll pass you through my lower digestive tract.” And that’s what I did. Roadkill. Tasty, but definitely roadkill.

That was Tiff’s first buck; the second was more complicated.

Oddly, for some reason taking a buck with a car piqued Tiff’s interest in the coming hunting season on the Platte very near the Darr interchange west of Lex. A friend, Tim Root, had a rustic (in other words ‘perfect’) guy cabin there he called the Drakes Nest. A loose group of Tim’s buddies, of which I was one, spent full weekends and weekdays alike hunting waterfowl and deer in an environment awash with testosterone.

Tiff knew vaguely what our all-male troupe was up to out there, and after the deer/Celica incident she began asking questions about things like tree stands and rifles, how it works and what it is like.

Eventually, the cramp in my brain loosened and I recognized these as not-so-subtle hints.

“Would you like to try deer hunting,” I finally asked? “Yes, I think I would” was her answer.

Whoa, didn’t see that one coming.

Mind you, this is a person who never killed a thing in her life – save of course the aforementioned Hwy 30 whitetail, by this time hard as a brick over there in yonder freezer.

Tim and I dutifully added to the platform of my tree stand, the better to accommodate father and daughter. I paced off 80 yards give or take and stapled small white squares of cardboard six or so feet high in all four directions.

Then, I sawed a small tree branch with a Y at the end to just the right length for a young lady, seated on an upside-down bucket, to comfortably steady her gun barrel.

The stand was ready, but what of my never-hunted-a-day-in-her-life daughter who had zero experience in these matters?

In the weeks before opening day we worked together near the cabin to get her shooting eye in fine fettle so she’d be ready in the unlikely event a deer wandered under our tree.

We learned how to mount a high-caliber rifle to our shoulder so the recoil would not roll us out of the tree and we became comfortable with the makeshift shooting stick. Tiff quickly proved herself a good natural shot behind my classic Marlin 30-30 lever action mounted with a Weaver K4 scope. It did not take long until I was convinced of her accuracy out to 100 yards.

Then, I trotted out all the outdoor magazines I could lay hands on. We looked at and learned from every deer photo in them all. If the deer is standing like this, here is your point of aim. But if it’s standing like this one here, you put the bullet there. If it happens to be standing like this one, we do not shoot at all.

(I see this is running way long. Please stay with me to the exciting conclusion if you can bear it.)

Opening morning in the pre-dawn darkness. I loaded daughter, firearm, beverages, snacks and miscellaneous gear into a tin decoy boat, donned my chest waders and floated the whole works across the freezing cold river. We tucked the boat upside down under some brush, then trekked in the dark to the tree. Our tree.

Up the ladder we went and by first light were settled in – Tiff on her her bucket, me on mine directly behind her to silently wait.

It did not take long.

The first few minutes of sunrise were hardly upon us when I spied a buck inching its way through the trees. I whispered that this one was quartering away from us and would not offer a shot but had her brace the rifle on the stick and follow the buck in the scope for practice.

As visibility improved in the growing light, I came to realize the deer was not moving away from us at all, but rather taking an angle that would actually bring it closer.

I let her know the game was on.

“When it gets between those two trees right there, I am going to grunt and it is going to stop broadside” I whispered inches from her ear. “If you feel good about the shot, take it.”

I loathe supposed ‘mentors’ who, when working with a neophyte hunter, deploy their urgent voice, “Shoot! Shoot now!”

So, I waited in silence. Tiff did not take the shot. She thought she had blown her chance, but I whispered we were fine, stay on the deer with the scope. I would grunt when it stepped into the next opening and it would stop again.
It stepped out. I grunted. Baa-whooom!

The deer lunged away and Tiff, now entirely traumatized, exclaimed, “Oh, I hurt it” and handed me the rifle to finish the job. I had seen the deer ‘hump up’ its back at impact and knew from experience this means a quickly lethal hit in the vitals. Sure enough, it didn’t go 20 feet before piling up.

I handed her my hunting knife and proceeded to coach her up on how to field dress it. She ruined the moment by taking the knife and bending to the task, leaving me to admit I was only kidding.

The daughter, deer and gear were floated back across the river after a good bit of work. I hooked the whole mess to a 4-wheeler and we repaired to the warm cabin. Shortly after, the duck hunters in the blind upstream, having heard the shot and watched us floating back across the river, came to check it out.

The boys were agog at Tiff’s deer. It wasn’t Boone and Crockett, but Tim declared it the classiest buck to come out of that stretch of river bottom in years.

The fellas were impressed with Tiffany, too, as you might expect young adult males in the presence of a blonde, knockout college girl to be.

“And you never hunted before in your life?” one asked in amazement. “Not even a rabbit?”

Tiff recoiled at the very thought of such an atrocity. “Oh, I could never kill a rabbit!”

To preserve our shared adventure, I had a shoulder mount made of Tiff’s first buck (technically her second as you now know).

I gave Tim a black and white, 8×10 print of Tiff, all bundled up and rosy-cheeked in the cold, posed with her deer in the brush and brown grass there alongside the Platte.

Next time visiting the Drakes Nest the photo was prominently posted on the wall, with Tim’s assessment written across the bottom in classic ‘Yooper’ deer camp lingo.

“This one’s a beauty, eh? And the deer ain’t bad, either.”

(If you made it to the end, congratulations. You just survived my longest column – by a far shot – in 30 years.)

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