Trail Etiquette

By Mike Zusman

It’s gotta stop soon.

I watched the gut pile make its gelatinous roll down the sparsely wooded hillside, towards the gravel path favored by dog walkers, fly fisherman, and families out for a nature stroll.

Coming around the bend with impeccable timing was a young family with a child and a dog. The current trajectories of the people and guts indicated that an awkward encounter for all humans involved, and a surprise snack for the dog, were imminent.

Shifting from kneeling to prone, I monitored the situation from my position 70 feet uphill from the path. I dragged my buck down to this tiny hillside terrace to preserve the last 90 minutes of shooting light for another hunter who beat me to my spot higher up the mountain.

His presence was actually a gift, forcing me to sit elsewhere. I chose a comfortable rock outcropping on the border of a steep, thick bedding area and a wide bench of open hardwoods. I’d never hunted this area before, but there was a nice fresh rub that led me to believe an encounter with a mature buck was possible.

With plenty of daylight left, a big bodied eleven-pointer got up from his bed and grazed onto the open bench, well within range. I squeezed the trigger and my 20-gauge slug found the buck’s heart, while the gun’s report offered hope to my fellow hunter that deer were on their feet and he’d have his own chance at a stud that afternoon.

Not wanting to disturb him or the deer any further, I dragged my kill in its entirety down to my hiding spot to field dress him. Everything was fine until the guts were free, and I moved them too close to the edge. Like a redneck Isaac Newton, I watched as gravity took hold of the pile. It began as a gentle roll over the edge and accelerated into a careening biomass.

Sprawled on my tiny hillside perch, I watched the gut pile pick up steam as the grade increased and the ground fell away from beneath it. Knowing that the hillside ended with a 15-foot drop onto the trail, I imagined the blob flying off and landing at the feet of the young boy, while the mother spit out her Starbucks and the dad struggled to control their Goldendoodle.

To my relief, the gut pile finally hung up on a small evergreen sapling, itself gripping to the hillside as a matter of life and death. The family continued on blissfully unaware, and I took a knee next to my deer along with a deep breath. I sat until last light, listening for any shots from above, and waited until the trail was clear of pedestrians before heading down.

Once on the path, I began wrestling the buck onto my shoulders for the mile long march back to the truck. This is hard to do with a backpack on, but I was committed to making it out in one trip. After several minutes of rolling around on the gravel path with the disemboweled deer I was just about to stand up when I heard female voices approaching from around the bend. 

I froze. 

“I love this trail, Sofia. But honestly, I wish Matt could appreciate nature like we do. He’s always glued to his phone or –”

The conversation ended abruptly. We all locked eyes in the waning daylight as the young women became aware of me laying on the ground, cuddling with my deer carcass.

“What’s up, ladies?” I tried to break the tension. “Beautiful evening to appreciate nature, isn’t it?”

As smooth as I was, they did not respond verbally. Instead they hastily sidestepped around me, quickly and silently continuing down the path in their designer yoga pants, casting cautious looks over their shoulders every few seconds until they were out of sight.

Maybe it was my wedding ring, or maybe they don’t like dudes who wear camo, but it was rude of them to ignore a fellow trail user like that. Nonetheless, I wish them well, and hope things work out for the best with Matt.

From the FE Films Archive

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