In Pursuit Of An Ancient Pursuit

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Back in 1978 Michael Baughman wrote about trying to run down a deer Indian-style for Sports Illustrated:

A large stone in each hand, I trotted down to it through the star thistle. Breathing deeply, I stood in the warm shade on the uphill side. The thicket was even denser than I remembered, much too thick to see into. I tossed the first stone, shook the slender trunk of a willow and yelled. There was a heavy thrashing deep within the thicket, then a whirring of wings. A covey of 30 or 40 valley quail burst out in all directions. A pheasant came behind them, a cock this time, and then the deer. I heard the deer before I saw it, crashing out of the bottom end. I circled around the top to avoid the swampy area. It was a young buck.

I dropped the second stone and started after him. He had a 40- or 50-yard head start, going south, parallel with the ditch above us, and his head was turned to watch me as he picked up speed. I held my pace and angled back to the firmer footing along the ditch.

He was 200 yards ahead and gaining ground. I maintained my pace. As long as I stayed within a quarter mile of him I would have a chance of running him down.

The springy, almost jumping gait of the buck was beautiful to see. His raised tail and rump were startlingly white in the dusty heat, and small clouds of powdery dust rose like smoke behind him.

I kept my pace. I’d covered better than a quarter mile by now without tiring. He stayed below the ditch, heading, as I had hoped he would, for the next thicket along the way.

By then I was sweating hard, but my legs were fine. As he entered the thicket, I was little more than 300 yards behind. I could see him in the willows, see the white rump, and then even closer, the turned head with its brown, glassy eyes staring back at me in fright.

A hundred yards away I yelled, and this time he broke out from the top end, raced straight up the hill and cleared the irrigation ditch with one incredibly graceful bound. This was lucky for me. By coming up the hill, he had actually shortened the distance between us.

Once across the ditch, he picked up speed again. The next mile or two, I knew, would be the hardest. But after that his fright would work to my advantage.

He started up the slope on the other side of the ditch, stopped, turned again to look, then headed straight for the nearest thicket. I had to step up my pace. My legs hadn’t begun to tire, but my breath was coming so hard that my side ached. Two hundred yards above me, and twice that far ahead, the buck reached the sparse thicket near the long-deserted ranch house with the rusted Model T in the yard.

Twenty minutes later the buck was exhausted:

I was only 10 yards away from him. He took a tentative step, but his head sank. He could go no further. I stopped where I was and talked to him soothingly.

Flies circled over his back, at least a couple of dozen of them, but he was trembling so severely that they couldn’t light. His wide brown eyes never blinked or left my own the whole time I was talking to him.

When a full minute had passed that way, he had rested enough to raise his head. The trembling eased. The flies alighted.

I walked up slowly and touched his sweaty flank. He started away, jerkily and graceless for the first few steps, then with increasing confidence, and all the way his head was turned to watch me.

Catch-and-release persistence hunting never caught on.


  1. Kevin M. says:

    I don’t buy the persistence hunting mythology.

    I was 10 once, and rabbits are far easier.

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