By Dean D. Ranalli
I have wanted to be an outdoorsman since I was a boy growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley. No one in my family hunted or fished, so my adventures came from daydreaming while reading the stack of outdoor magazines in my room.
It was not until about nine years ago, while on a job assignment in Michigan, that a coworker took me under his wing, helped me get outfitted, sponsored me into his archery club and put me in one of his favorite stands, where I harvested my first deer — a hefty non-typical 7-pointer.
My dream when moving back to the Hudson Valley was to find a home with enough acreage to plant a small food plot and hang a stand. Real estate had skyrocketed in the area, however. No affordable place that could double as a hunting lodge could be found.
My loving and supportive wife, Margie, was “going over to the dark side” because, although at least a dozen homes got her seal of approval, none had “Hunter’s Paradise” on the welcome mat. She laid down the law when I rolled in after weekend hunting with her cousins in Pennsylvania. “We are going to see three houses again,” she said. You will pick one, or there will be no more hunting this year.”
As fall approached, I consistently saw deer crossing my neighbor’s yard, going to and from the woodlot behind it. I just “happened” to intercept the neighbor at the mailbox one evening and dropped a not-so-subtle hint about hanging a stand in the little patch of woods. He gave me the thumbs up, so I visited other neighbors and politely asked them not to call the county SWAT team if they saw a guy in camo walking through the woods.
I hunted every morning and evening my job would allow. Finally, on the evening before Halloween, I heard that spine-tingling “crunch, crunch” behind my stand. A large doe walked underneath my stand and kept going. I mouthed a bleat, and she stopped. With no hope of getting a quartering shot, I took a spine shot that put her down.
I took 15 minutes to reflect, and then climbed down and tied a rope to drag the deer to a better spot for field-dressing. To my embarrassment, I could not move the doe to save my life. Darkness had fallen, so I called the only person I thought might help — my lovely wife. The phone rang a few times and, with the help of Caller ID, she decided to have some fun.
“What do you want?”
“I got a doe.”
“(Sarcastic) That’s nice. What do you want?”
I need you to help me drag it out. I can’t mo — Click.
I called again. “Ask Grandma to watch Meaghan, and then come meet me.”
I was deep into field-dressing when the lights of Grandma’s car pulled into the driveway. Margie came out to meet her and, after some animated chitchat, I saw a flashlight bobbing across my neighbor’s yard. At edge of the woods, Margie called for me to come get her. Straddling the doe, both hands full of entrails and a flashlight in my mouth, I mumbled that I was “a little busy” and to just follow the light.
She did so, muffling curses at me the whole way. I was greeted with an “Oh, gross!” instead of the hoped “Congratulations, Honey!” but I was not shaken. When it was time to drag, she chose the back end. After putting on my gloves, she grabbed the hind legs. We dragged the doe to the base of a steep hill that led up to our driveway. It took every lug on my boots and vision of backstraps to pull the deer all the way up.
I sprawled onto the driveway, flat on my back. When the stars stopped swirling, I realized my wife was looking down at me, laughing.
“What so funny?”
“I didn’t do a thing! You pulled the deer and I held on like a plow the whole way. And oh, by the way, don’t ever ask me to do this again.”
“Thanks, sweetheart” I said as she walked off. My daughter bolted out of the garage followed by Grandma in her muumuu screaming, “Don’t let her see that — she’ll be scarred for life!” I stood up in time for “Hey Dad, nice buck! What’s that big hole in its belly?”
I thanked her, gave her the kindergarten version of sex identification, and made an analogy to how we clean the bluegills she is so great at catching. She gave me a soul-warming hug followed by “Cool . . . hamburgers!” as I smirked at Grandma.
Grandma then got into the act and offered to call a friend from church who butchered deer. Unfortunately, he had a death in the family and suggested I hang it. Not a tree was to be found in our new home development, so our deck was my port in the storm.
I could not lift and tie the doe myself. A peek into our kitchen window found Grandma and wife. It was the night before Halloween, so I crept below the window and did my best interpretation of a bellowing ghost. My wife came to the window and, as I told her I needed help hanging the deer, the window slammed shut.
It was time to man up. I yanked the door open and, with my best “I mean business” look, I told them to get some garden gloves and get outside. Wide-eyed, Grandma and wife heaved-ho, and soon my harvest was hanging off the back deck for all the neighbors to see.
My wife has always been supportive of my passion for hunting and fishing. Special occasions are remembered with a gift card that allows me to dog ear the pages of my favorite sporting goods catalog. She vacuum seals our venison and gets creative with the venison cookbook I gave her for Christmas.
Margie enthusiastically agreed to go lake trout and salmon fishing for the first time. She bought me a johnboat for our anniversary and is now the first to say “Let’s go!” when I want to take the family fishing. Most of all, she listens to the details of each of my days in the outdoors and my dreams of being a complete outdoorsman.
I’ve noticed that she has been looking over my shoulder more often when I watch outdoor shows. We’ve talked about hiring an outfitter in the midst of stunning wilderness. She offered to join me on my first outfitted hunt and said if it happens, she’d be interested in hunting, especially bear. I took advantage of the moment and gave her the list of hunter safety courses in our area. She signed up for one.
Climbing a treestand might be too much for her first year, so I’ll find a nice spot for a ground blind for the two of us.