Join The Choir
Reflecting on today, plotting tomorrow.
Love the ride
Set Your Heading

The Hunter

Beware! He’s watching.

Author’s Note: This story appeared in The Adirondack Almanack’s Sunday October 31, 2021 on-line Halloween edition, making it my 1st published fiction short story.


“What was that noise I just heard? Was that just a squirrel or a chipmunk? Or is somebody watching me? Are we ever really alone in the woods?

In the mountains lurk predators that remain undiscovered.”


*A Brief Author’s Note*

Everything described in this story either really happened, or could have. I truly enjoyed writing it.


     It was mid November. I had just turned sixteen. Saranac Lake High School was out for  Thanksgiving.

      Dad and I were making plans for a deer hunt over on our usual stomping grounds, the Phelps Mountain basin of the Adirondack High Peaks.

     I’d been hunting with my Dad for as long as I could remember. Since I was nine years old at least. He’d carry his  lever action Winchester .32 Special.  I’d tag along. When I turned fourteen I was finally old enough to hunt small game.  I started carrying his old sixteen gauge Ithaca pump shotgun on our hunts, hoping for a shot at a snowshoe rabbit or partridge.

      Usually we walked all day hoping to cut a fresh track. Occasionally when it was sunny or warm we picked out a couple of big rocks on a hilltop or ridge and sat “on watch”, sharing a packed lunch.

    At  least once every deer hunting season, we camped. Dad would get out his topographical maps, study the trails and terrain, then pick some remote spot. Generally either up near Ampersand Mountain or somewhere in the afore mentioned Phelps Mountain basin.

     He taught me to read both a topo map and a compass. We’d plan a route. Sometimes we made a day trip first, familiarizing ourselves with the area, and doing some scouting.

     Our first “deer camps” consisted of sleeping bags, a good rope, two trees on high ground near a stream, a few rocks for a fire pit, two backpacks with food, flashlights, matches, a change of socks, and Dad’s old canvas tarp.

     Dad and I would spend three days meticulously planning and preparing our menu, packing list, and each day’s schedule. He always insisted we write it all out.

      Looking back now, it’s rather funny. The menu was forever the same. Breakfasts consisted of  instant oatmeal and Tang. Peanut butter and jelly, bologna, or potted meat sandwiches, 2 homemade cookies, and an apple were lunch. Two of  Mom’s foil wrapped “Hunter’s Stews” cooked in the fire would always constitute dinner.

     Mom’s Hunter’s Stews were pretty rustic; a ball of raw hamburger, half an onion, salt & pepper, a carrot or two, and a par boiled potato, all double foil wrapped. We buried them in the coals of a hot fire for an hour to cook. The outer part was always charred, the centers blood raw.

      They tasted pretty good though, after a long day’s hunt. As long as we remembered to pack a container of ketchup, and added more salt.

      Dad insisted that the Adirondack High Peaks wilderness was  home to some big  mountain bucks. Though in all the years we’d  hunted and camped together up to that point, I’d never seen any. In fact, hunting together with me, Dad had never even taken a shot at a deer. 

     When I turned sixteen, I was finally old enough to hunt big game myself. Dad bought me a new shotgun for my birthday, a twelve gauge Remington pump with a rifled slug barrel.

     So, there we were, early one fall morning.  We eased our olive green station wagon down the seasonal dirt road to the South Creek parking area, just before dawn. The lot was vacant. The air was “see your breath” brisk. There was a light dusting of fresh snow on the ground.

     We donned daypacks and guns, signed in at the register, and started up the old truck trail towards Marcy Dam together.

      About a mile and a half  up the trail, I peeled off the trail to my left, separately from my Dad. He was headed further up the trail to hunt along Phelps Brook towards  Phelps Mountain, looking down towards Marcy Dam. I had plotted out my own route in my head. I planned to hunt a long ridgeline below him. He’d always called it “Partridge Peak”. If there was no fresh deer sign there, I’d drop down into the lowland alder swamps on my way back down the trail later that afternoon and try to scare up a rabbit.

     It was still an era well before cell phones. We’d each hunt the day alone, then link back up again on the truck trail or back at the car after dark.

     I had a map, a compass, a lunch, a good watch, a whistle, First Aide Kit, some paraffin wax dipped waterproof matches, and my gun. I knew that terrain pretty well. As long as I didn’t cross over  Phelps Ridge onto the Klondike Brook side, I knew that if I got disoriented,  all I had to do was cut downhill until I hit the trail. 

    Even at that young age, I felt comfortable hunting alone in the wilderness.  I felt very much at home, day or night. We rarely encountered anyone else in those woods. I never gave it much thought.   

     We had cut a couple of fresh tracks on our way up the trail. They were easy to see in the frosty brown flakes blanketing the forest. Despite each careful step, the morning’s frozen leaves crunched as I walked, echoing my presence to anyone who might be listening.

    The rocky finger I followed dropped off steep on my right to a small fast flowing brook. The slope to my left was a big mixed hardwood bowl. I could see down through there for a good shot at a buck fairly well.

     As I worked my way higher, the balsams and cedars got thicker. From experience I knew, it would be nearly impossible to hunt the crest of that ridge. I also knew, from tracks I had seen in the past, that that was where the deer hid. Watching me, safely concealed in that thick cover. So that’s where I headed.     

     The sun appeared. The leaves softened. The snow began melting. I worked my way up Partridge Peak, my movements much quieter.  Near the crest, I cut a deer track. It was fresh, a big set. I followed it.

     The track headed to my left, paralleling the thick conifers near the top. I followed it along that line for a few hundred yards, then it turned downhill and  began looping back to the right towards the brook I had come up along.

     A few hundred yards later, it looped downhill again and headed back to the left, I sensed a pattern. I realized that deer knew I was following it.

      I decided to gamble. I was going to try to outsmart it. Instead of following the tracks to the left,  I dropped down myself, about the same amount that deer had the first two loops, leaned up against the trunk of a big maple, scanning the woods to my left while I waited, heartbeat racing in hopeful anticipation.

     It didn’t take long. I soon heard leaves rustling. Not long thereafter, I spotted  it. An eight point buck, walking right towards me. His head was turned.  He was looking for me behind him.

     I slowly raised my shotgun, clicked off the safety, and took aim. He crossed  a downed  log and kept coming.  He was inside fifty yards. He was coming straight for me. I fired. That buck kept right on coming. My shot missed!

      In rapid fire succession, as fast as I could pump that action, I blasted four more shots at that buck. He kept walking towards me, but I had emptied my gun! I was panicked. I didn’t know what to do. About fifteen yards in front of me, the buck finally dropped. Stone dead.  He was done.           

     I walked over to where he lay. I’d  fired five  slugs at close range. I expected  to find carnage. I did not. I quickly realized that I had hit that buck once in the chest, with my first shot. I chuckled. “Buck fever”. I’d just had it. No matter, I was hunting alone. There had been no witnesses, save for myself.

      I took a few steps back and breathed a deep sigh of relief. I admired my kill.  His glazed eyes were wide open. It was a bit unsettling. He stared back.

     “I wonder if Dad heard me shoot?” I scanned the steep rocky ridgeline behind me. It looked pretty thick up there. I doubted it.

      That was when I discovered it. To this day, I’m still not quite sure how, but  I suddenly realized I was standing on the roof of some sort of well hidden structure.    

   It was expertly concealed. I wasn’t certain at first. I had stepped backwards off the edge of a massively long, low granite boulder onto what at first seemed like a plateau of flat moss  and fallen leaf covered dirt. The ravine dropped off to the brook fairly steeply behind me.

     My boot must have shuffled through a thin spot in the camouflage to reveal the rough hewn log roof that had been carefully hidden beneath it.

     I stood for a moment. An eerie feeling came over me. My buck lay dead. I scrutinized the ridgeline above me once more. Nothing. I listened. Silence. The only sound I could hear was the brook.  It appeared as though the structure was at that moment unoccupied.

     Still, things just weren’t quite right. “Was someone watching me?” I reloaded my shotgun. 

     I climbed down off of what  had been made to resemble a big mound of  moss and leaf covered dirt that had washed up against the rock shoulder. It all looked very natural, even up close. There were even several small balsam seedlings growing on top. The brook restricted access along one side, one side was the rock. There were no windows. The other two sides, on the exterior, were dirt.

     I inspected it more closely. There! Crafted into the brook’s uphill side was a small door, well concealed.  I looked around and listened once more. Still nothing but the brook, and the sound of my own beating heart.  I took a deep breath, fingered the safety on my gun. The door consisted of several rough cut, thick split, bark on, pine logs. It had some sort of hinges and a simple wood hasp, but no lock. I slowly pried it open and stepped inside.

     I found myself standing in a small, low,  dark one room cabin.  I pulled out my flashlight and surveyed my surroundings.  One wall was the rock. The others were pine logs, as was the roof, which three log beams supported. The floor was dirt and leaves. It was all surprisingly dry inside.  It looked antiseptically clean.  It had no stove or furnishings of any sort. It appeared somewhat curiously devoid of much anything.      

     A voice in my head whispered;  “You should not be in here. You should leave right now.”  I ignored it. I continued shining my light.

     I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Something seemed familiar. I had the distinct feeling  I’d seen a structure like this one somewhere else, once before.  Then something caught my attention. I stepped over to more closely examine the rock wall.

     The center of the rock was black with soot above a small circle of stones. There were ashes from fire long since cold. That wasn’t what had caught my eye though. I’d seen something else, off to one side. I looked closer.

      There it was. Caught in a small crack in the rock. A tiny torn piece of patterned red flannel cloth. I pulled it from the crack in the rock to examine it more closely. It  had something stuck in it. A sudden chill coursed my spine. A single strand of long blonde hair was entangled in the fabric.

     Then my eye caught something else on the rock.  Down low.  A dark stain. I reached down to touch it. I quickly pulled my hand away and stepped back . That wasn’t dirt or soot. It was dried blood. I was quite sure of it.

     “Okay.  Now I’m leaving!” 

     I turned to leave. I gasped in surprise. A silhouette figure stood observing me from just outside the door. He had his hands on his hips. When I turned,  he spoke softly;  

     “Find anything interesting in there, young Mr. Monroe?”

     I immediately recognized his voice. It was Clark Lewis, one of the local Forest Rangers. He smiled at me as he spoke. He was in uniform. He was carrying a sidearm.

     It hit me.  I HAD seen a structure like this once before! At one of my Boy Scout meetings. In slide show photos at a presentation on survival techniques. Given by none other than present company, Forest Ranger Clark Lewis. 

      “N-N-No. Nothing, Ranger Lewis. I-I just stumbled on it.  I was just leaving.” I stammered.

      “I mean, I didn’t see anything, other than the cabin itself. It’s impressive. Somebody sure knew what they were doing. Who built it?” I paused.

Where did you come from anyways Sir? I never saw you.  I thought I was up here alone.”

     Ranger Lewis smiled again.

     “Oh, I moseyed in behind you and your father. I was up on that ridge above you all morning. I heard your shots. That’s a nice little buck you got there. Why don’t  you step on out of there. We’ve had our eye on this place quite awhile.” 

     I stepped out  of the cabin. Our eyes met. Standing there, in that brief moment, I suddenly suspected that each of us knew exactly what the other was thinking.

My eyes dropped. I shuffled nervously. I decided right then and there it was best for the moment not to mention the strand of blonde hair, the cloth fragment, or the bloodstain I was fairly certain I had just seen on the inside rock wall of that cabin.

Ranger Lewis spoke up again. His voice had the firm tone of authority.

     “Some dangerous folks lurk these woods. Folks who might not want other folks snooping around their cabin or wondering what they might be up to. Let your Dad know. I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt. For the time being, best you hunt elsewhere, ’til we’ve had some time to investigate and get things all sorted out.”    

     I nodded. Our eyes met again. He smiled.

    “Now, what say I give you a hand gutting that deer.”

     I breathed a quick sigh of relief and agreed.  At least I’d be outside in the open. Besides, I’d  never field dressed  a whitetail, and at that moment, I saw no other good option.

     I leaned my shotgun barrell up against the crotch of a tree. Ranger Lewis remarked; “You’d better unload it first. That buck’s dead. You’re done hunting. We wouldn’t want any unfortunate incidents.” I complied.

Ranger Lewis then helped me drag the buck to a good spot. The body had already started to stiffen.  I unsheathed my buck knife. He held the back legs and gave verbal instructions while I somewhat tentatively undertook the task of opening that deer up and gutting it.

“First Buck you ever gutted?” Ranger Lewis smiled knowingly as he watched. I felt his eyes studying me. I simply nodded.

There was a gaping entry wound where my slug had crushed through the ribs. A big bloody puddle had pooled on the ground on the exit wound side as the buck lay there dead. His whole underside was blood stained. I couldn’t avoid stepping in it.

Steam rose from the body cavity as I opened the deer up. Warm blood quickly stained my hands. Coarse white deer hair kept sticking to my black handled Buck knife as I cut. I wiped it off on my pantleg. In short order, blood was everywhere.

Ranger Lewis commented; “Your first shot hit the lungs. After that? Well…Let’s just say I’m glad I was up on that rock ledge above you.”

I slowly cut my way down to the genitals.The foul steaming stench of hot blood, bile and guts filled my lungs. Ranger Lewis came around and held the body cavity open by the front legs as he stradled the buck’s head.

I quickly discovered that gutting a deer was hot work. I was soon sweating. I removed my hunting jacket and hung it from the tree by my gun. I rolled up my sleeves and went back to work. My arms were soon blood stained to my elbows as I reached in and cut warm intestines and organs free from the chest cavity.

Once everything seemed free, we lay the carcass on it’s side. Blood continued to drain. I sliced through the wind pipe with my knife. Ranger Lewis told me to reach in with both hands and pull out the organs. I did so. Soon a steaming gut pile lay on the ground. Ranger Lewis smiled again. He didn’t have a drop of blood on him. I was covered.

Ranger Lewis reached down, dipping one finger in the small bloody pool that remained in the chest cavity. He reached over and quickly twice swiped his bloody finger on my forehead in the sign of the cross.

“There, now you’ve been properly christened. A hunter’s tradition.” He pulled his own knife from its stitched leather sheath. He held it out for me to admire.

“Made this one myself. The handle’s polished bone.”

He reached into the gut pile and quickly made a pair of deft cuts.

     “Mind if I take the heart?” Ranger Lewis again smiled.

     I nodded and shrugged.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small square red flannel kerchief.  He wrapped the heart in it and tucked it  back in his jacket pocket. Our eyes met again.

       “Dinner. We’ll leave the rest for the coyotes. Tell Your Dad What I said. You’d  better get on with dragging that buck to the trail while you’ve still got some light.”

     I  nodded again, and said “Thanks”.

He helped me drag the body free of the gut pile, then I trod down the slope to rinse my hands and my knife clean of blood in the brook. I rolled back down my shirt sleeves and retrieved my coat. Ranger Lewis then proceeded to help me properly complete my tag.

I retrieved a short drag rope from my day pack and tied it around the buck’s neck. We then propped the body cavity open with a stick. I donned my day pack and picked up my gun. I was ready to start dragging.

“Congratulations again on the buck. Tell your father I said “Hello.” Don’t forget to mention what I said about avoiding this area. I’d also strongly suggest you keep what you found here quiet. Might not be safe for you around these parts if word got out about what you found.”

Our eyes met once more. Ranger Lewis smiled again, reached out and shook my hand.

     The afternoon sun faded. Forest Ranger Clark Lewis disappeared quietly up the ridge. I dragged my eight point buck  back down the trail to our station wagon, where my Dad stood waiting.

      “Wow! Nice Buck Son! Congratulations! I was wondering how you’d make out if you ever had to field dress a big buck by yourself. Looks like you manged pretty well. Where’s the heart? Did you forget it? That’s the true hunter’s tradional first night meal! Is it still up there in the gutpile?”

     “No, I didn’t FORGET it. Ranger Lewis has it. I ran into him up there. He helped me gut my buck. He asked if he could have it for dinner. I couldn’t exactly say “No”. He said for me to tell you “Hello.”

“Clark Lewis. You saw him up there? Well, I guess that’s not too surprising. This is his territory. He handles all the search and rescue missions in this area. He’s been a Forest Ranger quite awhile. I wouldn’t mess with him much. He’s a different sort of guy.”

I related the story of how my hunt had unfolded as we tied my trophy to the roof of our station wagon. I explained how I’d stumbled onto the cabin, Ranger Lewis’s warning, and what he had said. I left out the the part about hair, blood and cloth. Fear and uncertainty governed my decison not to share my suspicions, even with my own father.

Dad nodded. “He’s probably right. No sense in us getting tangled up in that nonsense. There are all sorts of strange creatures afoot in these woods.”

“Now let’s get this buck home! We’ve still got work ahead of us. I want to get some good pictures. Then we’ll hang it.”

It was getting cold out. I shivered and nodded. I felt both exhaustion and pride.

We climbed into the car. “Fresh venison and onions for dinner tonight! I’m really proud of you, Son. Your first buck. A nice eight point. You’ve really turned out to be quite the hunter.”


A Word Of Warning For Anyone Who Thinks They Are In The Adirondack High Peaks Alone:

Not all missing hikers were lost.

Some were never meant to be found.

Some never will.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


One Comment