It was close to three A.M. My father and I were in his truck, driving to our new hunting spot. Right before the spot was a small creek. I was twelve years old, the year was 1977. We were poaching deer.
We lived in a National Forest. But on the outskirts of town was a theme park that featured nature and animals. You had to take boats or walk to see the park. Inside the park was a deer sanctuary. It was a fenced off section, one side of it bordered a state highway. You could feed and pet the deer. There were wooden, concrete, and dirt walkways snaking through the woods. It was full of bubble gum machines loaded with pellets for feeding the deer. They would walk up and eat right out of your hand.
It was quite cool and a lot of fun. But tonight we weren’t there to look at, pet, or feed the deer. Tonight were there to get meat for the house. We were saving money, being sneaky, and outlaw. My father’s element. Tonight we were killing deer without firing a shot.
We parked next to the creek, my father had fishing cane poles in the back of our truck. If someone happened to drive by they would think we were night fishing. The deer sanctuary ran parallel to the state highway for about 1000 feet. The only thing that kept the deer in was a four foot high fence. Regular, square wire. The deer could easily jump the fence, but most stayed in, as they were tame and knew they were safe inside the fence.
The fence was about 100 feet off the highway, and was overhung with trees. So you really had to pay attention or be shining the fence line to see anything at night. My father had had a bright idea. The sanctuary was full of deer, yet you could not shoot them because of security. But if you could kill them with no noise you could get plenty of meat with little effort.
There were more than enough deer in the forest at that time. You could easily ride the roads and shoot them out the window of the truck and never get caught. We did that all the time. But to get deer from the sanctuary; from the attractions, that would be quite a coup. Worthy of many fireside and bar room stories. Adding to the notorious outlaw status of my father and his family in the forest.
We had moved to the forest when I was two, 1967. My father had a growing concrete and block construction business in a large city, about 80 miles away. We went from a three bedroom, two bath house in a suburb to a wooden hunting cabin in a national forest with no indoor plumbing. In an area with very little construction work available.
My father was working at Cape Canaveral laying block on the buildings that would eventually house the space program. It was an Army Engineers job. If a piece of plywood or two by four got wet or had a nail in it, it wasn’t used, and was thrown away. All week my father would stockpile wood and materials while he was working. On Friday he would work a half day, go home and get his work trailer, and go back to the job after everyone had left. He would give the guard at the job gate a case of beer and a bottle of whiskey. The guard would let my father and older brother in and they would scavenge the job. In one month he had enough materials to build the cabin which became our house in the forest.
There were about two hundred people in the entire area in which we lived. Everyone knew each other. There were no blacks and very little law enforcement. Which suited my father’s outlaw wildness, ways, and prejudices.
I don’t know why we moved, though it was said that we moved because two black families had moved into our neighborhood in the suburbs. My father, mother, and older brother have all passed away now, so I guess I’ll never really know.
In 1970 we got a well and indoor plumbing. A friend of my father’s drilled the well using his pick-up truck. Which he backed up to the spot, jacked the back end of the truck up and put it on blocks. Then he took a tire off and hooked some kind of strap to the rim and then to a homemade drilling rig. They drilled the well by running the engine in drive. All of us kids got to watch. It was the coolest thing we’d ever seen. I never knew we were poor, everyone lived like that.
But back to the hunt. After parking and getting the cane poles out my father gave me bolt cutters and sent me to cut the fence. He wanted two holes cut in the fence. Between the two fence posts were we always saw the deer standing. I was to cut three rungs high, two rungs wide, and two rungs high off the ground. I had a plastic flashlight that I held between my legs while I cut. I cut the holes and went back to the truck. Then he gave me a half bag of sweet feed. He told me to pour a nice pile outside each of the holes. Then hand scatter some over the fence. When I had done that he gave me a ten pound sledgehammer. He told me to stand between the holes in the fence and call the deer. When they stuck their heads through the fence to eat I was to smash them in the head with the sledgehammer.
I was only twelve, but a master of the sledgehammer. I had worked weekends and summers with my father since I was nine. I snuck back up the fence line. I didn’t even have to call the deer, they were already there. I took my spot and waited. Pretty soon a doe stuck her head through the fence to eat. Smash! I laid her out! I turned around and there was a small spike buck at the other hole. Smash! I got him too! I called my father, he loaded the cane poles, checked for traffic, and then drove up the fence line with his lights off. By the time he got there I had already pulled the spike over the fence and smashed another doe. My father hopped out and helped me load the deer into the back of his truck. It took us about thirty minutes and we had three deer to eat with never firing a shot.
We drank beer on the way home and I didn’t get smacked around for at least a week or better. The story was a big hit with all my friends and my dad’s friends.
We went back there three or four more times before they discovered the holes in the fence and we had to stop. It was one of the closest moments my father and I ever had.