Jaywalking: Tales from the hunt

Monday, November 27, 2017

One celebration quickly turned into two for David Lowell and his daughter Kylie Lowell Monday morning.

David Lowell had just dropped a 204-pound, 9-point buck just hours into Opening Day of the 2017 Massachusetts shotgun deer hunting season. It was a bit of a surprise for the father-daughter duo, as they ran into the large buck on their walk to their tree stand. After shooting the buck, David and Kylie got on Kylie’s phone to Facetime wife and mother Tammy Lowell, who was back at the family’s home in Buckland getting ready to leave for work. As they spoke, David heard something moving in the distance, so they hung up with Tammy and soon a second buck emerged. David handed his gun to his 13-year-old daughter and she took aim and fired on the deer some 55 to 60 yards away, dropping it with one shot.

“I was nervous,” the Mohawk Trail Regional Middle School eighth-grader said. “But after I shot, that went away.”

What she had was a 152-pound, 10-point buck that had managed to avoid hunters for all 4½ years of its life before running into Kylie, who was excited to shoot her first-ever deer, especially since it did not go how she thought it might.

“I was expecting to shoot a spike horn,” she joked.

The family arrived at Gould’s Sugarhouse in Shelburne just before 11 a.m. on Monday morning to “check” both of their bucks. Gould’s is one of five checking stations in Franklin County, and is only open to checking deer during the first week of shotgun season.

Gould’s is actually the oldest checking station in the state, having opened in the 1960s according to Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife biologist Dave Fuller, who has been checking deer for the state department at Gould’s for over a decade. Fuller said he also used to check deer at the second-oldest checking station in the state, the Town Common in Barre, which was a popular place for hunters due to its close proximity to the Quabbin Reservoir.

Fuller said it was not uncommon to have 120 deer checked on opening day of shotgun season. That led to co-worker Jeff Lajoie, who tagged along to chat with hunters as well, trying to imagine what the response might be if a checking station was set up on the Greenfield Town Common.

“That would be quite the scene,” Jeff said as we pictured the prospective setting.

It has become a yearly tradition for me to go to one of the local checking stations on opening day of shotgun season. The last couple years, I’ve made my way out to Grrr Gear in Orange, but this season I headed up the Mohawk Trail to Gould’s. Jeff and I arrived just before 11 a.m., not wanting to get there too early because even if a hunter shoots a deer in the wee hours of the day, gutting the deer and getting it out of the woods takes time. Five people had checked in to the station before we arrived, but over the next two-plus hours 16 deer rolled in.

The Lowell’s were the first people we spoke to upon arriving. Kylie said she has been hunting since she could hardly remember, going along with her father even though she could not shoot a gun until she was 12. Massachusetts regulations state that children must be 15 before they can carry their own gun on hunts, but children ages 12 & up can use a gun carried by a parent. Any child under the age of 12 is not allowed to use a gun.

Kylie is passionate about hunting but almost skipped opening day because she not only did not want to miss school, but also did not want to miss the first day of basketball practice. She was leaning on going to school before going to sleep on Sunday night, but when her father woke her to check one final time on Monday morning, Kylie decided to go.

It’s a good thing she did as she not only got the kind of education they can’t teach in school, but she now has a story to tell for the rest of her life.

The 4½-year-old deer was one of the oldest deer checked while we were at Gould’s on Monday. Many of the deer checked range from 1½ to 2½ years in age, which is pretty common in this state, although Fuller did say that there would likely be several deer in the 10 to 12-year-old range checked during the two weeks of shotgun season, which concludes on Dec. 9. Something new to shotgun season this fall is that during the second week of the season, hunters can actually check deer online. In the past, all deer killed during shotgun season had to be checked at a checking station. This was done in order to ensure that biologists could gather data. In the past, 80 percent of all deer killed in one year was done during the two weeks of shotgun season. That number has now dropped to between 40 to 50 percent, and the number of checks always drops way off during the second week.

Shortly after the Lowells departed, Jeff King pulled into the parking lot at Gould’s and backed his vehicle up to the scale. The Colrain resident unloaded his deer, a beautiful looking 173-pound, 8-point buck. King said he had just returned from a 10-day hunting trip to his camp just over the Mass. border in Stephentown, N.Y., where he has been going for 30 years. Usually, it’s a productive trip, but not this season. Undeterred by the lack of success in the Empire State, King headed into the woods on Monday and shot the largest deer he has ever bagged in this state.

“I shot high, almost missed, even though he was 20 to 22 yards away,” King joked.

King is also going to mount the head himself, as taxidermy has been a hobby of his for 42 years, which has developed into his business, Mohawk Taxidermy. 

He was followed by another local media person, WHAI general manager Dan Guin, who toted his 105-pound deer into Gould’s. Guin, of Greenfield, had been out hunting with his son on Monday. He joked that he was fortunate to see a buck, as the only deer he usually sees are located in the fields posted for no hunting near his house when he is driving by in his car. Almost as if the deer could perhaps read the signs and knew that the area they were in was a “safe” place.

As Guin’s deer was weighed, Kevin Werner of Bernardston and his son Greg Werner of Greenfield pulled in with a pair of deer. Both men went into the woods on Monday morning and were about 300 yards apart when Kevin saw a buck just after 7 a.m., when he dropped his 93-pound, 4-point buck. The two continued to hunt the area and Greg, who has been hunting for two years, spooked a buck, but still managed to shoot it cleanly and his first-ever buck went into the books at 109-pounds, two points.

Kevin’s deer was still on the scale when another truck pulled in and backed up. Fuller was still collecting the information from both Werner men (such as where the deer was shot and how old it was) when Rodney McBride and his son Chris McBride, both of Shelburne, hopped out of their truck. Chris had been the first person to arrive at the checking station right when it opened at 9 a.m. as he brought in his 175-pound, 9-pointer. Nearly four hours later, the men were checking in another large buck.

“We had been seeing them bow hunting but hadn’t gotten them,” Chris said of the two impressive deer.

Rodney said he jumped three deer that morning and took a shot at one but missed. When he tracked them down, he spotted a much larger buck, so he shot that one, which wound up weighing 178 pounds and had 10 points. Most deer weigh an additional 25 percent before being gutted, but nearly every hunter (including every one we spoke to on Monday) guts the deer in the woods, both to lighten the load when dragging it out, but also so they don’t have the mess to deal with down the road.

When Chris had shot his deer earlier in the day, he was fortunate enough to drop the buck in an open field that he was able to drive his truck right up next to and load on. Not everyone is so lucky. Much of the time, after shooting a deer, a hunter guts the animal and then must extract it from the woods. That’s no easy task when you’re talking about a 150 to 200 pound animal. As luck turned out, Rodney was able to contact his neighbor Jim Bragdon, who drove his 4-wheeler into the woods to help haul the animal out. 

The big deer continued to roll in. Craig Hammer of Jacksonville Vt. was the next one in after spending the morning hunting with his friend Sean Dupuis. Hammer said that as they were walking he saw a hemlock grove that looked like the perfect spot for a deer to bed down. As he approached, a 171-pound, 8-point buck strolled toward him, and Hammer dropped the 3½-year old buck. After gutting it, the two men had to drag it a mile and a half out of the woods, which took a couple hours.

Steven Richard was the next one in just after 1 p.m. Steven is the son-in-law of Leonard Gould, one of the owners of the sugarhouse that bears his last name.

“I sent my daughter (Nikki) off to college and she came home with this guy,” Leonard joked of his son-in-law, who met Nikki Gould when they were at the University of Maine.

The two now live in West Enfield, Maine with their family but make the trip to Shelburne for shotgun season each year. Steven shot a 136-pound, 7-point buck.

The final person to arrive during our time there came driving in with his “Marney Builders” work truck. When asked if his boss knew he was going hunting in the work truck instead of working, Craig Marney replied, “I’m the boss.”

The Williamsburg resident has had quite a stretch recently in the woods. On Nov. 4, Marney and his 12-year-old son Heath went hunting on Youth Day in Vermont and his son shot a 6-point buck for his first-ever deer. Marney said that Heath had been going into the woods hunting with him since the boy was very young, and Marney had even built his son a little wooden gun that he carried through the woods. To see his son get his first deer, after bagging four pheasants earlier this fall, and carry on a long tradition in his family made Marney very proud.

“I think I was 19 or 20 when I got my first,” Marney said. 

The following week, Marney was back in Vermont for the start of shotgun season in that state and on Nov. 11 he shot a 197-pound, 10-point buck. Just over two weeks later, Marney was checking in his 99-pound, 5-point buck.

“It was a lot easier dragging it out of the woods,” Marney joked about the 102-pound difference in bucks. “Our freezer is going to be full this year.”

With so many large deer harvested on the first day, a lot of local hunters will be saying the same thing.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.