Sunday, July 29, 2012


In the autumn of 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I embarked on a two-week whitetail safari in the Southeast. My hunts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia went smoothly thanks to the help and generosity of people we hadn’t met before this trip.
Here’s the story of my deer hunt near Wilmington, NC:

A Pair in Pender County
I got to know Mike Marsh, a freelance outdoor writer, when I edited several articles he submitted to Sport Fishing magazine. While emailing back and forth during the editing process, we learned of our mutual interest in hunting. “Let me know when you’ll be in Wilmington and I’ll set something up,” he wrote.
He only had to say it once. Mike’s invitation spurred me to call on several other contacts and plan a three-state safari (because it wouldn’t make much sense to travel all the way from Brazil just to hunt two or three days). A business trip dictated the timing: I had to be in the States to attend the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show in late October 2006; after that, Ligia and I would rent a car and begin our whitetail marathon. First stop, Wilmington!
In the weeks prior to the trip, Mike and I intensified our correspondence. He knew of my condition, and we discussed details such as how far I could walk to reach a blind. He had a very good understanding of what I was facing because his father-in-law had succumbed to ALS after a seven-year battle. “I own a chunk of land in Pender County that I manage for hunting, and I placed some easily accessible stands for my father-in-law,” Mike told me. “You’ll do fine.”
When Ligia and I arrived the evening of October 29, Mike and his wife, Carol, welcomed us into their home like old friends. Over a fine dinner of teal and wood duck breasts, Mike explained the next day’s plan. “I have a blind set up on a clover field where two young deer have been coming to feed every morning. The daily limit is two, with a season limit of six, so I want you to take both of them. I figure you should use Carol’s .243 because it’s dead-on at 100 yards and doesn’t kick hard.”
Then he told me the blind was made from an old Port-a-John. After sanitizing the unit, Mike had cut off the top to leave an open, waist-high cubicle. He put in a plywood floor, added a shooting rail made of 2x4 lumber, and painted the dull green exterior with streaks of brown and black.
At 6:30 the next morning Mike stopped his pickup by the blind. I got out and, using my four-legged walker, ambled to the tailgate where Mike was uncasing the rifle. “The shells are up front,” he said, walking toward the cab.
At that moment I lost my balance and toppled over backward. The clover and my hunting coat cushioned the impact, so I sustained no damage. Mike returned a minute later and rushed to my side when he saw me lying there in the tail lights’ glow.
“You OK?”
“Yeah. I was just admiring the starry sky. Can you help me up?”
Minutes later I was in the blind, seated on a metal folding chair. Mike handed me the .243 (a Remington bolt-action) and said, “There’s one in the chamber and two in the clip. I want you to shoot two deer. I’ll be in another blind 500 yards from here.”
The half hour before dawn passed quickly because I had a lot to think about. Although I’d hunted red stag in Argentina in 2005, I hadn’t hunted whitetails since moving to Brazil in 1990. Thirsty after that 16-year drought, I drank in the sights, sounds and smells of daybreak on a deer stand.
I heard the whistle of wood ducks winging through the trees to my right, and I watched a squirrel foraging in the first few minutes of faint daylight. But my optimism waned as the minutes stretched into an hour and the surroundings brightened with direct sunlight.
The clover field measured about 30 by 150 yards, bordered by woods on one side and dog fennel on the other; the blind was tucked against the fennel near the south end of the field. Mike had said the deer should emerge from a gap in the trees 100 yards downfield. By 8 o’clock I’d written them off as no-shows.
At 8:05 I noticed movement at the edge of the woods. My heart pounded as a small doe cautiously stepped into the open and stood broadside to me, exactly where Mike had predicted. The Port-a-John blind left my head and shoulders exposed, so I slowly eased the rifle onto the shooting rail when the deer lowered its head to feed. The adrenaline surge set my legs to trembling and I had trouble holding the rifle steady. When the crosshairs seemed to settle on the doe’s vitals, I squeezed the trigger. And…

Taking Aim from the Port-a-John blind

The bullet sailed harmlessly over her back and thwacked a tree.
Luckily, the errant shot flustered the doe much more than it shook me. The confused critter ran 20 yards in my direction while I chambered another round. When she stopped, I froze.
She stood there for a few minutes, and then slowly walked straight away from me, waving her tail nervously the whole time. She stopped 90 yards from me and resumed feeding. I watched through the scope, waiting for the deer to turn broadside—which also gave me time to take deep breaths and stop the trembling in my legs.
When the deer finally turned, my tremors had subsided and I locked the crosshairs behind its front leg. The doe dropped at the rifle’s report, twitched its tail once and lay still. I felt thrilled with this second-chance success. I had begun hunting at age 15 and moved to Brazil when I was 28, and had only killed two deer in that time span (one each in my last two seasons in Pennsylvania).
Mike pulled up at 8:30 and walked over to me. “I see one,” he said with a grin.
I told him the story and then handed him the .243. “The safety’s on and the spent shell is still in the chamber,” I said.
Mike unloaded the rifle while we conversed in the hushed tone that hunters use in the woods. Suddenly movement caught my eye. The flick of an ear betrayed a deer standing just inside the woods about 100 yards away. “The second doe!” I whispered hoarsely.
We watched the deer, seemingly oblivious of our presence, come out and begin munching clover near its fallen comrade. I glanced sideways at Mike, who was slowly sliding a cartridge back in the rifle. He then managed to set the rifle on the shooting rail in front of me without alarming our quarry. “It’s ready to fire,” he said.
By now the doe was standing broadside at 120 yards. My legs started shaking, so I took a deep breath and tried to relax. Two breaths later, the crosshairs quit dancing and found the deer’s shoulder. “Good shot!” Mike cheered when the deer dropped.
“This morning I doubled my career total on whitetails. Thanks for making it possible,” I said.
Back at the house, Mike skinned and quartered the deer for me. “They’re young does,” he said. “Nothing to hang on the wall, but it’ll be the best venison you’ve ever eaten.”
He was right.

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