Animals In Appalachia Appalachia

The Track

Today’s guest post was written by J. Wayne Fears


No one these days can appreciate an event that took place at the foot of Tater Knob Mountain in the late 1940’s unless they could have been there. One must remember that all the deer in the Cumberland Mountains of north Alabama and southern Tennessee, not unlike much of the eastern U.S., had been hunted to near extinction before the War Between the States. In the 1940’s and 50’s the only deer in our part of the country were a few in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Bankhead National Forest of Alabama. In between, there were no deer. If a hunter wanted to see a deer he had to buy a copy of one of the outdoor magazines and look at pictures of deer taken in the “far north” or “out west”. While all of us who loved hunting would have liked to have had deer to hunt, but there just wasn’t any, period. Deer hunting was just a remote dream of me and my pals, plus plenty of men.

It is with that knowledge that you can understand the uncontained excitement that spread throughout Tater Knob that November Friday afternoon when Buck Rivers came into the general store and announced that while scouting Hurricane Creek in preparation for the coming muskrat trapping season he had found the tracks of a deer. By the size of the tracks he surmised it was a buck, a big buck! The deer had crossed the creek adjacent to the wooden bridge near the Bales farm. It had come off Tater Knob Mountain, waded the creek at a muddy shallow cattle crossing and was headed towards Lewis Mountain. 

The store had its usual gathering of old men sitting around the pot-bellied stove swapping hunting tales and several farmers at the front counter settling up accounts with Mr. Miller after selling their cotton. When Buck came in telling his news quickly there were pickup trucks loaded with old men and farmers racing to the bridge. The fact a real live deer was in the valley was big news and everyone wanted to see the tracks for themselves.

About the time Buck arrived at the store with his big news, school let out and Chipmunk, Punky and I were walking home, a route that took us by the store. As we approached the store we saw the door fly open and men jumping into trucks with a sense of urgency. Why ‘ol man Purty hadn’t walked without his cane in years but he left his cane in the store and jumped up on a tailgate of a truck like a fine coon hound.

Not knowing what was going on, we reckoned that somebody’s barn must be on fire. We feared the worst.

Then a beat-up Model-A Ford emerged from all the dust and slid to a stop next to us. It was Bug Wilson and his dad. With his bug-eyes popping with excitement, Bug shouted that a deer had crossed Hurricane Creek at the bridge and for us to squeeze into the back seat to go see the tracks. Not wanting to miss seeing real deer tracks, we all tried to get in at the same time.

The short ride to the bridge was breath-taking, not because of speed, the old Model-A wouldn’t go fast, but because Punky was sitting on me and compressing my chest.

By the time we got to the bridge there was an excited crowd gathering. Buck was down in the mud at the edge of the creek showing the tracks and trying to protect them from the feet of eager onlookers at the same time. Someone produced a Kodak box camera and was down in the mud trying to take pictures, for this would be a day to remember. 

It was amazing just how quickly the word went up and down the valley and within an hour the viewing of the deer tracks had turned into a community event. Men, women and children were crowding each other on the bridge to see the tracks. This did not go un-noticed by Chipmunk and Bug. They saw it as an opportunity to make some fast money.

The next morning was bitter cold and Chipmunks dad had decided to kill hogs. Hog killings were a community affair and most of us arrived at his farm early that morning to help with the sizable chore. When my dad and I got there the hogs had been shot and the hair removing was taking place using scalding hot water.

I walked over to where my friends were working at the wood pile carrying wood to keep the fire under the scalding water kettle burning hot.  I could tell by the grin on Chipmunks and Bugs face something was up. Chipmunk spoke up as soon as I walked up, “JW, you ever look at the front foot of a hog”, he questioned. Not giving me time to answer he continued, “It looks just like the foot of a deer.” 

I saw it coming! Excitedly, he revealed his and Bug’s plan. “Bug and I are going to slip one of the front feet of my dad’s dead hogs just as soon as the feet are cut off, he won’t miss it. Then we are going to let it dry and place it on a stick. Then we are going to go down there next to the Elders Branch foot log on Bug’s dad’s place and make some tracks in the mud. In fact we are going to make it look like a whole herd of deer passed through. Next we are going to get Punky to run into the store and announce that he has found deer tracks in Mr. Wilson’s pasture. Bug and I will man the pasture gate at the road and charge a toll to get in, two-bits each. What do you think?” he asked breathlessly.

“I think you are going to get skinned for pulling such a prank. Look at the front foot of a pig, do you think these men have never seen one and it don’t look like them deer tracks”, I almost shouted at him with Bug standing there taking it all in. I continued, “Everybody here has tracked hogs that escaped the pen and these folks know a pig track don’t look like a deer track. You’re gonna make a fool out of yourself and get into big trouble!”

He and Bug didn’t listen to me and the only thing that saved their hide was that while the pig foot was drying, hid in some bushes behind Punky’s mother’s chicken house, something, probably a possum,  got it and, I guess, ate it. For months after that Chipmunk and Bug lamented about all the money they loss that cold November.

I hope you enjoyed J. Wayne’s post as much as I did. When I was growing up deer were very rare here too. I remember we saw one along Hedden Road on our way to Granny Gazzie’s after church one Sunday. We were so excited you would have thought we’d saw a zebra.

All these years later, deer are beyond common in my area. I can rarely drive to the Folk School without seeing a least a few. The other day The Deer Hunter and I saw a whole herd of deer in cow pasture down the road.


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  • Reply
    November 19, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    My husband would have been right there believe me. He loves to hunt, fish. He has already got us a deer and we made deer jerky out of it. He’s been trying to get a bear. I sure won’t be around for that one.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2020 at 8:05 pm

    When we lived here in the early 1970s there were no deer nor ground hogs. Now both are everywhere and into everything.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2020 at 6:32 pm

    Deer were unheard of in Prentiss County in Northeast Mississippi when i was a kid. The only time Daddy took us hunting i guess my older brother was in high school. On the backside of my grandfather’s place a gigantic buck jumped up & took off about 100 per. Looked like 10 or 12 points in my memory. Daddy warned us not to breathe a word to anybody. A few years back my Bud & i were talking & i mentioned that day. He said he never breathed a word about that for years. Now like some of the other posters we can’t grow peas for them. & if we grow corn the coons get it the night before we plan to pick it.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2020 at 10:38 am

    I enjoyed Mr Fear’s story, I can relate to the excitement as I too remember no deer in the woods here in East TN. Now I find them to be more of a nusiance, I’ve had to replace 7 apple trees in the last couple of years due to their damaging habits not to mention its been ten years since I’ve been able to raise beans in the garden. Never thought I’d welcome Coyotes like I do now.

  • Reply
    Annette Hensley
    November 18, 2020 at 9:53 am

    This is a fantastically written story!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    November 18, 2020 at 9:45 am

    There were practically no deer in when I was growing up in the 50’s. The only native deer I know of were seen by my Papaw Lewis in a more remote and unpopulated region of the county. Now deer are everywhere after being stocked by the fish and wildlife department. They have become a pest to many gardeners but I’m glad there was a little native blood to mix with the stocked deer.
    I only live a short ways out of town on a 2 acre tract but there are several tracts of woods close by and I have deer in my yard often. They tried to eat all my garden this past summer so I finally got a fence around my plot and looking forward to next spring.
    A young man who lives a short ways up the street used to hunt our family farm about 45 miles away. He plowed and sowed cover crops in the bottoms. Now he hunts almost out his front door. He is next to a 25 acre tract and killed his largest buck to date. A 12 point.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2020 at 9:13 am

    I love kid pranks.

  • Reply
    November 18, 2020 at 9:10 am

    Thank you, J. Wayne for the story. I too remember when a deer was nowhere to be seen. It seems to me it was mid seventies when they stocked my area with deer. The first one I saw was on the road at a friend’s house, and it was a dead Bambi. I remember fussing because folks had so many big dogs back then I did not think a baby deer would stand a chance of growing up. They did become so plentiful, however, that many areas you must drive slow and use caution to keep from hitting them. Many cannot have a garden unless they build high fences. They also have introduced elk, and I would imagine the cars will have bigger dents. Some stock their freezers with venison, so it has been a blessing to many. We were also told they turned many poisonous serpents loose, and now bear show up often. It sure is a different world in the woods where i once played. The old farmers almost rid the area of wildlife, and I remember my grandpa long ago grabbing his rifle when he saw a chicken hawk. Different world!

  • Reply
    November 18, 2020 at 9:10 am

    Loved the story! That could have been old John McCauley’s jot-em-down store in NE MS, but the deer had been gone from there till maybe about late 1960’s or mid 1970’s. Then they were everywhere and hunters were everywhere too! When I was a child I never thought of deer ever being around my Grandparents farm. Never saw them or heard about them, as all I knew was my Father and Grandfather hunted squirrel and quail. Mostly they were bird hunters with bird dogs they trained. My Father absolutely loved to train bird dogs and hunt quail and pheasant. Even when he retired and moved back to NE MS, he didn’t kill a deer. He was not one to sit still and wait for something to come to him. There were and are plenty of them on the old place now, but the Bob White’s and Quail of my Father’s growing up years are gone. Where I live now in SE PA, we have been over-run with deer. The state has a sign posted by road in front of our house stating watch for deer in the next mile. Actually, they come across the road staying close to our pine trees and following them back two acres and then they can have access to another section of woods. You really have to be careful going down our roads – especially at dusk.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 18, 2020 at 8:22 am

    Yep. I remember when a deer season actually began in the 1950’s in our neck of the woods. It was on the “game reserve” and the season was all of three days long and bucks only. And I still remember the very first deer I ever saw in the wild back in the 1960’s. What a thrill!

    Now there have been two killed in the road in front of our house. They have a trail they walk every night along my east boundary, across in front of the house over to the west boundary then across the road to a patch of woods on the farm across the road. Along the way they eat anything of ours that comes handy so I cage the azaleas out front. They don’t really like them that much. They just eat them because they are green and handy. Then sometimes they stand at the end of the porch and eat the violets. The thrill is long gone. I couldn’t have any kind of garden if I hadn’t fenced them out.

    I’m glad they have made a comeback. But I would be more glad if it were someplace else. I’m like the fellow whose apple tree got cut down by a beaver. As he stood looking at it, he said, *I like beaver. I like knowing there are beaver in the creeks. But, ” he pointed at his downed apple tree, ” I don’t like THAT beaver. “

  • Reply
    November 18, 2020 at 8:02 am

    Even up to the 70’s and early 80’s deer were few and far between in my area of Greenville county SC and then the wildlife department begin to stock them. Now it is dangerous to drive from sunset to sunup. Unlike a lot of people, I have never had a desire to sit up in a tree and hope one walks by. I loved my bird and rabbit hunting because of watching my dogs. A lot of us here have talked about how important a garden was to our families when growing up, ours was about 2 acres and this does not count the corn field. I just do not think the adult people of my childhood would have put up with the damage a deer does. A garden was the difference between having food for the family and going hungry.

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    November 18, 2020 at 8:01 am

    I loved the story which was funny. Here too in southern WV after the wars, there were NO deer left here either much. Thanks to DNR and folks help, thank God white tail deer have made a great comeback! God can ALWAYS restore and only HE can give LIFE TO ANYTHING!!! He saved this she devil, didn’t He???

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    November 18, 2020 at 7:30 am

    I love watching the deer. We have 5 coming thru our property every day. We also have lots of turkeys and an occasional bear. Nature is a wonderful thing to see.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 18, 2020 at 7:18 am

    Tipper–J. Wayne and I are pretty close to the same age and while I grew up in the Smokies, the deer situation during my boyhood was more or less comparable. There were a few–very few–deer in WNC but the nearest place they could be hunted to my Swain County home was in portions of Pisgah National Forest. Despite being in the woods constantly, I know exactly how many deer I had seen by the time I went off to college in 1960. That number was ten–two of them while squirrel hunting and eight while rabbit hunting. All were in the general area of Brush Creek and Needmore in Swain County, so there was evidently a small resident population there.

    Today, although I live in an area which could almost be styled suburban, although most lots are 2 to 10 acres, whitetails are an absolute pest and they give me fits with my gardening every year. I reckon revenge is sweet though, because just yesterday I made a huge pot of venison spaghetti sauce and I already have two deer in the freezer in the form of cubed steaks, ground meat, and sausage.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 18, 2020 at 6:40 am

    Now, that is straight up boy children, I just love the way they think and plan! Yes, Tipper, I can’t believe how many deer we have here now. I find deer tracks in my yard! This is deer season and I’m hoping no one gets hit with a stray bullet!
    Thanks for the story, J Wayne!

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