My pickup truck, at 2 AM. was blocked in the alley behind the Union Gospel Mission by cop cars. Facing four police officers, I stood at attention, arms out stretched, butt against the driver’s door of the truck. One officer held a six-battery flashlight to my face as he peered through my eyes to scan my brain’s interior.
His other hand held the leash of a K-9 German shepherd, its nose muzzled up against my crotch, awaiting further orders. Disheveled, boots unlaced, just as I’d slid into them, knees exposed by ragged holes in the old Levi’s, I’d pulled on without a belt, my old army coat, soaked with blood and reeking whiskey, I looked a mess.
In the truck’s cab, a loaded 30-30 rifle was stretched out on the bench seat, its barrel against a spotlight.
My friend Jack, laid on the floor among discarded debris.
A wrong answer to staccato questions by the officer in charge or a false move would make it a long night, or a very short one. I had to think fast and move slow
My predicament started a week earlier, at the farm.
It’s 100 acres, not big by Midwest standards but respectable for Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I’d purchased it in 1985 during one of Oregon’s periodic bust cycles, when Oregon’s number one industry, California equity, turns south. I’d never owned a farm or been a farmer. Buying it meant I’d touched a tar baby. I had to learn farming. The more I learned, the deeper I got stuck.
My most recent lesson was, farming’s not about growing, it’s about killing.
I’d planted forty acres with cherry trees,in 1988; an orchard. Cherry trees have many fruit varieties but all start with a Mazzard root stock, tough enough to avoid root disease in Oregon’s wet soil. The trees were planted on a twenty by twenty-foot grid, about 5,000 of them. The next year, after their roots had taken hold, their heads were loped off and fruit stock was grafted on at table height. It was done by a person with the knack to graft, a talent few possess. In spring, the grafts tapped into the Mazzard’s awakening epidermis veins and took control.
On an April morning, coffee finished, I strolled in the orchard to observe the miracle of grafted trees blooming. The fruit grafts had already turned into mini branches as they raced to meet the sky. Their vibrant, pale green leaves, were up about four inches, beautiful to behold. Row by row they stood, each attempting to outgrow the others. My spirit soared to match their enthusiasm, everything was going my way.
Then I saw it. Not right in front but three trees down the row. A little tree with no head!
My coffee spilled as I fast paced to determine what was wrong. There it stood before me, its fruit graft head gone, chewed up gone. Only the Mazzard stump stared back. What or who would do such a thing? Then I looked down the row, another, and another and another, gone. The finally tally, over two-hundred. It was deer munch.
Enraged, my day ruined, I stomped back to the house. They were going to pay for this travesty!
Instead, as night came, I sat in the house in fear. With darkness’s return, I drove out and chased them away with my pickup. I wanted to run them down but they nonchalantly pranced out of my way. By morning, another twenty trees were munched.
Panicked, I called the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. A green clad officer came and observed the damage. He held the power to help farmers, kill to grow. He suggested a spotlight, 30-30 rifle or shot gun with double ought buck shot to avoid a shell traveling too far. He then signed an official Oregon, “Kill And Harass Permit”, a license to kill a deer, out of season, at night with a spotlight, any gender, even a fawn.
It came with a caveat. He explained it was a “win win” situation, I had to immediately gut the deerand take the carcass downtown and donate it to the Union Gospel Mission. There a butcher would carve it up and feed the down and out. I was not allowed to keep one morsel, even the liver part of the entrails.
I’d never killed or gutted deer. New to farming, I was now new to killing, not ants or mice but something as big as me.
I bought a lever action Winchester 30-30, shells for it, a Buck knife and a spotlight to wreak retribution.
The deer, of course, sensed the tables had shifted and failed to return. For a week, every night, every two hours, I slipped into un-laced boots, old Levi’s and an old army coat to do my orchard rounds. With the driver’s window down, my spotlight hanging from my left hand, the light’s beam scanned the rows as my truck traversed bumpy ground. Only the eye glows of racoons and a stray cat shown back. At the house, my cat naps between patrols were interrupted by nightmares of gnashing deer teeth munching. By mornings, I was zombie tired.
Then it happened. Down a row, the dull green glow of deer eyes reflected back, munchers! This time there would be no chase and prance to tease me. It was, get even time.
Keeping the beam on a reflected eye with one hand, the other reached over and grabbed the 30-30. I creeped closer as I steered the truck with knees. The deer remined alert but motionless, fixated out of curiosity, at the spotlights’ glare. Close in, I turned the truck a bit to the left for a broadside shot. With the barrel protruding out the window, the spotlight held in the left hand, the right thumb eased the rifle’s hammer back. My right index finger Slid into the trigger guard, I aimed at the closest spotlighted deer silhouette and pulled. The retort was deafening in the truck cab. The rifle’s kick jolted me.
Recovered, I pulled the gun back in and set it in on the truck’s seat, pointing toward the passenger door. I re- oriented the spotlight and scanned where I’d fired. The munchers had fled but one was still there, limping. I drove up next to it, a doe, a big one. Her doe eyes stared back accusingly in the truck’s high beam lights. I got out, reached back got my gun, pulled its lever to re-chamber a shell and did the coup de grace, a shot through the head. With the gun back in the truck, I prepared for part two, gutting a deer.
I membered the game warden’s instructions.
“Never killed or gutted a deer eh, well it’s easy, just spotlight it, shoot it and cut it from the neck down to the anus and it’ll all fall out.”
I unfolded the Buck knife for the gutting surgery. The truck’s high beam lights, however, didn’t illuminate the neck to anus path. I need a flashlight for up-close work.
I kept one in the truck and got but soon realized, I couldn’t hold it and cut with the Buck knife at the same time. I opened wide, put the flashlight’s butt in my mouth and started operating at the throat. The knife was sharp. It was working like the warden said, just keep going to the end, no?
No, soon my incision was zig zagging, cut too deep here and not deep enough there. I made a mess of it. My jaw ached holding the flashlight, my mouth drooled at the edges. In a hurried frenzy, I hewed, hacked, sliced and cut away.
Then it kicked. The doe was pregnant. The fawn fetus, near time of birth, kicked again. In a renewed frenzy I cut, grabbed and pulled, until at last even the lungs lay splayed on the ground. The fetus, stabbed and stomped to death in my panic, lay next to the bloody mass.
As I folded the Buck knife, I knew it was all bad karma but it wasn’t over. I had to lift the dead deer into the back of the truck and take it to The Union Gospel Mission.
I dragged, lifted and heaved until the hind legs and some of the rump were in the truck bed. With a back lift I raised the front legs in. A little extra effort for the head and viola, it was all in.
Exhausted, I was elated, the bad karma forgotten. I’d done it, killed a deer and gutted it! Despite misgivings about the fawn, a sense of accomplishment swept me. I closed the truck bed gate with a slam, threw the flashlight in the cab and hopped in. When I started the truck and grasped the steering wheel, I felt it. Everything was sticky, blood sticky.
Getting up every two hours during the night to light beam scour an orchard is a lonely experience. I’d brought a friend for company, not a close one but close enough, Jack, Jack Daniels. My friend lay on the floor board of the truck, half full. As a good friend he helped out in my bloody pinch, washed my hands, the keys and the steering wheel. After cleanup and a little personal chat, we were off to the Union Gospel Mission. I was happy. It felt like going off to see the Wizard of OZ happy.
The Union Gospel Mission is a large, half block complex for the down and out. It fronts a major street, a side street and has a back ally. It was a little before two-AM when I arrived.
I didn’t know where the “volunteer deer” entrance was. I drove around the building and stopped at the main street entrance, tapped the door but there was no reply. I drove to the rear ally and tried again but no answer. Frustrated, after a night of blood, I used the hilt of my Buck knife to rap on the main entrance door.
Finally, the night watchman came. He glared at me as I stood under a street lamp. He didn’t like what he saw.
“What the fuck do you want!”
“I came to donate a deer.”
It looks like you just killed someone.”
“I have a permit and was told to gut it and bring it here as soon as I could to give to your butcher.”
He looked in the back of the truck, parked at the street curb and then into the cab.
“Is the gun loaded?”
“Go to the ally and park on the loading dock.”
I drove the truck around, entered the ally and eased on the street level loading dock. Out of the truck, I stood alone in the dark waiting. It took him a long to join me. When he finally came, I asked.
“Who’s going to help take the deer out.”
“They’ll be here soon.”
I leaned up against the truck cab to await events and lit a cigarette. Then I saw them, cop cars, alight like Christmas trees, coming up both ends of the ally. It was apparent, “they” were the police. Their cars were used to box my truck from movement. Four cops and a K-9 German Shepard emerged to greet me.
Having a close friend in police work, I knew two things, the worse crime on the street is disrespect of cop and a cop shoots first if threatened. I figured the night watchman had already told them about the loaded gun in the truck.
To put them at ease, I stood open before them, arms outstretched, palms clear to see. None drew a weapon but a couple held back, a hand on their hip next to their gun holster in case things changed. I ensured they didn’t.
The Sargent in charge was a woman officer. Arms open before her, I asked,
She informed me she was asking the questions, not me. She asked me to explain what was “up” while another officer held his six-battery flashlight to my face to see through my eyes and into the synapses and blood vessels in the back of my skull. The German Shepard stood at attention, mouth in from of my private parts, at the ready, in case needed.
I explained I was a new farmer, I’d just gotten a “Kill and Harass” permit from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, they gave the permit on the requirement I gut the deer and immediately bring it to the Union Gospel Mission. I’d brought the deer to donate, as required, it was my first time and I had my papers in the inside coat pocket.
“Retrieve your permit in slow movements.”
As my hand slowly retrieved my permit, I explained I’d used my friend to wash my hands and steering wheel to clean up blood. I also explained I had to get to work in the morn but couldn’t leave until the deer was unloaded and the car blocking my exit was moved.
While I talked, other officers scanned the truck cab, saw the gun but my friend was partially hidden among the debris on the floor board.
The Gospel Mission butcher finally came out. He and the night watchman dragged the deer out, loaded it on a little cart and wheeled it into the building cooler. The K-9 was retrieved to his cop car roost.
The sergeant asked quick questions as she scanned my papers. I knew enough to reply unhurriedly, clearly and without evasion. A sure sign of intoxication is to attempt to joke with or be buddies with a police officer when questioned. The only response I made, other than answering her questions, was to point out the deer had a head shot. I didn’t mention it was the coup d grace shot or the leg shot. I awaited with trepidation the question if I’d talked to my friend but she appeared satisfied with my responses.
When she paused from her inquisition and was mulling things in her mind, I again broached the need to move the car blocking my departure. She looked at me squarely, hesitated and then told an officer to move the car blocking my exit. He looked askance at her command but obeyed.
Technically, on the loading area I was off the ally and not on public property. With the blocking car moved, I got in the truck cab. I knew to act unconcerned and confidently. I also knew if I tried to move my friend, I was going to have a much longer night than the few hours remaining before sunrise. With seat belt buckled, which I rarely did, I backed onto the ally.
I figured they were going to interrupt my departure once off the loading dock but they didn’t. When I got to the public street, I expected again an intervention but they didn’t. As I drove home, I fumed and raged against the night watchman. At my farm’s driveway, knees shaking, still raging against the night watchman, I had a long talk with my friend. It was noon when I left for work.
At work, I called the city police dispatch to complain about wasting taxpayer dollars using four cops to check out a possible drunk. The dispatch officer looked up the call and responded.
“Sir, it was a report about a guy who reeked alcohol, covered in blood with a loaded gun. I’m amazed they didn’t call swat.”
I returned many times to the Union Gospel Mission but without my friend Jack.
Eventually, I learned what other farmers knew, S, S, S, See, Shoot and Shovel.
Author Notes: I shot of whiskey is a good friend in the night.