LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
If we could compile a list of hunters who have died while hauling deer from the woods in recent seasons, I’m sure it would exceed those who died from gunshots or tree-stand tumbles.
Trouble is, no one keeps a long-term tally of terminal ticker malfunctions during deer seasons nationwide. We worry more about shooting accidents, even though a casual scan of the ATV drivers, tree-stand sitters and ground-blind squatters in our deer hunting armies suggests we’re well-staffed with heart-attack candidates.
Patrick Durkin, center, and his friends Tom Heberlein, left, and Chris White use a rickshaw to help haul out a doe in Ashland County in November 2009. (Patrick Durkin photo)
Please don’t blame that focus on the media. They report, we distort. It’s what we opine about whiling hanging out by tailgates and woodstoves, and it’s what we train everyone to avoid in our excellent hunter education programs.
Don’t believe it? When’s the last time a state wildlife agency followed one of its feel-good deer-season previews by suggesting you ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough to hunt?
Meanwhile, the wildlife agencies are duty-bound to track, investigate and record every shooting accident and its outcome during our firearms deer seasons. Heart attacks aren’t so easily verified, documented and tabulated statewide.
The most common way to haul out deer is to simply tie on a rope and pull them out with brute strength. (Patrick Durkin photo)
And besides, how do you teach hunters to haul deer safely from the woods? It’s not as easy as reminding everyone to treat all firearms as if they’re loaded, or to put your arrow back into the quiver while walking out of the woods.
Getting deer out of the woods varies by hunter, habitat, terrain, distance, ground cover and hauling aids. You can’t control many such factors, so it’s difficult to break the job into easy how-to training steps for low-sweat hauling.
Besides, no matter how hard we work to make the job easier, deer don’t always cooperate. Just when you choose stands based on their accessibility to a truck, boat, tractor or ATV, the deer doesn’t drop within sight. Instead, it plunges down a bottomless gorge or splashes deep into a flooded, boot-sucking cedar swamp. When that happens, of course, you’re either alone or you’re cursing the fact your hunting partners are in worse shape than you.
Even so, I admit that hauling out deer has been my guilty-pleasure chore since killing my first doe in 1973. I enjoy the challenge, and somehow feel cheated if we can drive up to the kill site and load the carcass with all the effort and thought of valet parking.
A hunting camp in New York’s Catskill Mountains used a suspended cable to haul deer across a river during the 1950s. (Larry Koller photos)
That doesn’t mean I don’t try to make the job easier. I keep trying but I seldom succeed, maybe because no two deer drags are ever the same.
For instance, years ago I cut apart a garage-sale bicycle and welded it back together to create a rickshaw for hauling deer. It worked all right, but I built its carrier atop the wheels instead of above its axle. Once I lashed down the deer, my rickshaw became top-heavy and easily tipped over, often slamming me into the ground when I got trapped between its handles.
Next I got a commercially made rickshaw, which works better. Even so, the cotter pins that hold its wheels to the axle pull out when snagging brush along overgrown trails, causing its wheels to fall off. I now wrap the pins’ ends with electrician’s tape when taking it off-road.
More recently I’ve used The Game Sled from Hunting’s A Drag, with or without snow. Its manufacturer guaranteed me its fabric was so tough that I’d never tear it on rocks or the jagged base of broken branches. He’s right. I haven’t torn it, but a friend somehow punctured it. That didn’t surprise me. He breaks everything.
One of the easiest methods I’ve used in deep-woods extractions is floating out deer by wading streams or small rivers. Gutted deer float like corks, but their hides soak up their weight in water and mud, and transfer much of it to you when lifting it alone to the tailgate.
Speaking of rivers, while hunting in New York’s Catskill Mountains in mid-November 2014, I saw perhaps the coolest rig a hunter has ever devised for getting bucks across a treacherous river. Unfortunately, it was just in a photo. The rig is no longer there, because it was part of a handmade hunter’s bridge that the Department of Environmental Conservation tore down after acquiring the surrounding property 30 years ago.
The bridge itself was built across the Neversink River during the 1950s by Larry Koller and his friends in the Eden Falls Hunting and Fishing Club. If you’ve read Koller’s book, “Shots at Whitetails,” you somehow knew this jack-of-all-trades was involved.
Anyway, when these hunters killed a buck on the river’s far side, they dragged it to their bridge and then hung it on a hook that slid along a cable stretched between the banks. The hunter then tugged the deer along the cable with a rope while crossing.
Maybe every deer camp needs a zip line from their tree stands to the cabin.