By James P. Kinlan III
-- I am 35 years old and have been hunting white-tailed deer in New Jersey since 1981, when I turned 10. At that age, I was eligible to obtain my New Jersey firearms license. Before this all happened my dad, Robert Kinlan, whom everyone calls Bobby K., took me out to sit with him on the opening day of the fall bow season the same year.
The season opened on the last Saturday of September. We were 30 yards apart in two separate trees. This was the first time I had gone out in a true hunting environment. My dad was shooting an old Hoyt recurve bow and was a crack shot. There was no such thing as a compound bow, a site or a bow release. It was cedar shaft arrows and the tan bear heads.
I remember my dad walking me to my tree; then I watched my dad walk away from me, climb his tree, pull up his bow and knock the arrow. I was really excited.
We sat for about 5 minutes before I heard this noise coming from behind me. My chest started to pound, and I didn't move. At this point in my life I didn't know what a deer sounded like walking through the woods, and I really thought I had another hunter walking up behind me.
As the noise got closer and closer, I turned my head slightly to the left to see a really nice velvet 6-point buck standing under me. This deer, without breaking stride, walked right under my dad's treestand and stopped. He leaned over, drew back the awesome recurve, and let one fly. It was a clean miss and something unheard of back then from my dad. At that moment, I was hooked on hunting and couldn't wait to take my firearm test in November that year.
This is where the story takes off.
I took my firearms test and passed. I had gone out in the woods scouting with my dad where he hunted with a shotgun. He was showed me scrapes and rubs and explained what they meant. He called rubs hook trees and still calls them hook trees. If I tell him I have a good rub by my stand, he does not know what I'm talking about, I have to tell him I have some good hook trees. His spot is a place he still hunts to this day - a sacred land that he calls Magic Mountain. He built me a treestand out of cedar plank, and it was about 20 feet off the ground in an old Jersey pine.
On Dec. 5, 1981, two days before the opening day of the New Jersey 6-day firearm season, we bounced around from hunting camp to hunting camp. It was fun. I got lots of soda and candy from the older hunters. We stopped by the Highlands Rod and Gun Club located on Jones Road in Waretown, N.J.
I was a small fellow, so I was nicknamed "Little Guy" by our shore buck club members. While we were at the Highlands, another veteran hunted asked my dad what I was doing at the camp. My dad replied, "Deer hunting." This guy nearly fell off the log he was using as a seat next to the fireplace.
My dad pulled 10 $100 bills and stated, "I'll put up a $1,000, that he will kill a buck opening morning." Everyone shut up and the veteran hunter didn't take the bet - but he also didn't say another word.
When opening day arrived, we loaded the 1969 Ford Bronco and headed for Magic Mountain. We drove a mile down the road and the Bronco broke down. This happened every time with this truck. Tom Bellucci, another Club member pulled up, and they got the old Bronco running again. We made it to our stand. I climbed up into my stand and Dad tied my single barrel 12-gauge shotgun to my gun rope. As I sat in the stand I looked down, he looked up at me and tugged the rope. Then he whispered good luck and walked to his stand 30 yards away.
I pulled up my gun and untied the rope. I opened the shotgun and put in one old Winchester paper wrapped 00 buck super X shell. I placed my head down against the tree, and after 30 seconds, I looked right out in front of me and there was a small doe. I thought that was quick.
Thirty minutes passed, and I saw another deer about 35 yards away to my left. The scrub oak was high and thick. I looked real hard and I didn't see any horns, so I knew it was another big doe. I watched this deer for a few minutes and it didn't move so much as an ear. The little doe walked up to it, turned and started to walk away from the stands.
It was at this point that I realized the large doe was really a big buck. I saw long spikes. The deer took one step into an opening and presented a clear broadside shot. I clicked back my hammer on the gun, aimed and pulled the trigger. The buck dropped in its tracks.
The downed deer attempted to get up and stood up on his front legs. I tried to drop another shell in the shotgun. I was trembling and could not manage to get another shell into the barrell. At this point, I yelled to my dad for him to shoot. But my one shot was all it took to bring down this buck.
I was down out of that tree in a flash. I ran over to my dad, and he hugged and congratulated me. We walked over to this monster buck. We took several pictures with an old 110 camera, but, sadly, none of the pictures were worth using. I remember and regret to this day telling my dad that it was easy taking this buck.
The next day, Dec. 8, we headed out to the same area. Twenty minutes passed and I saw something in the brush. Out stepped something I'll never forget. I saw this fire orange head that was about 3 feet long with long bright white teeth. I was horrified. I didn't know what to make of it, but I was really scared. I quickly looked away and turned back to see it again, but it was gone. A few more hours passed and my dad walked over to me. He looked up at me and asked what was wrong.
I informed him that I saw something. He gave me a concerned look and asked me what it was that I saw. I told him I didn't know, and I was ready to leave the woods. I wanted to get out of that tree and run home.
When we get back to camp it was lunch time and my dad starts telling the guys that I saw something in the woods. I told my story again to the guys in the camp. Some of the hunters smiled and laughed. Another hunter said I saw the Jersey Devil. My heart stopped. At this point, everyone got into the story and informed me about the folklore of the Jersey Devil.
I wanted nothing to do with this Jersey Devil.
The following day, I told my dad that I did not want to go hunting. He reassured me that there was nothing out there. He told me if I saw that thing again to just shoot it. We neared the end of the hunting day, and I saw it again. It was no more than 20 yards behind my dad's stand. This thing had a fiery glow to its head, two giant fire colored eyes and a glowing nose.
I didn't want to shoot because I would have been shooting toward my dad. The fire head was moving slowly. My dad started to lower his gun and this thing was close to him. As he started to get down, this head looked up at him and watched him climb down. I watched the scene and started to get goose bumps. I was scared beyond belief.
My dad walked up to me and asked if I saw this beast. I told him it was behind the tree. My dad turned around, walked over to the tree and loaded his gun. He walked to where it was, but by this time, I didn't see it anymore. He looked for a few minutes, came back to my stand and I climbed down. I was clinging to his leg and wanted to go home. Later that night, I had to tell the story to everyone at the dinner table.
Years have passed, and I have to come to accept that there is no Jersey Devil. I hunt and fish like a madman. I love the Jersey pines and will never leave them. If I ever meet the Jersey Devil, we will either shake hands and talk about the old days on Magic Mountain or I'll boot it out of my hunting woods.
One thing is certain, I saw something and no one can tell me different. I never heard of the Jersey Devil prior to hunting and never thought of monsters in the woods. I have passed this story down to my kids and friends. I still hunt with the same group of guys every year and they always ask about the Jersey Devil. I tell the story the same way every time.
Not too long ago, my dad and I were talking about what happened. He told me that he had chills running up his spine after my brush with the Jersey Devil.
James P. Kinlan III