When Chris Halsted took up deer hunting this year, he figured he’d get to spend some time in the woods, and might enjoy an adventure or two.
He probably didn’t think that he’d end up shooting a big buck, searching for it for two days, and put his considerable whitewater paddling skills to use while doing so.
But that’s exactly what happened.
Halsted, a 40-year-old who lives in Searsmont, explained recently that he married into a hunting family this year, and took a hunter safety course so that he could participate in his new family’s traditions.
“Ostensibly, it was just to be able to accompany my 13-year-old stepson,” Halsted wrote in an email. “But my father-in-law and my brother-in-law encouraged me to also give deer hunting a try. Their enthusiasm rubbed off and before I knew it, I was waking up in the wee hours and freezing my butt off in a tree stand. I had applied for a doe permit but didn’t get one, so of course I saw a couple dozen does. I had some great experiences with deer up close and really enjoyed watching them.”
Halsted’s luck turned on the final day of hunting season, and he got a shot at a nice buck.
“Remarkably, I dropped him right where he stood — on the edge of the St. George River in Searsmont just above the Ghent Road rapids,” he wrote. “My elation lasted about five second and then turned to panic as I realized the current had him and he was about to run the rapids. I tried to run down the shore but it was too thick and I couldn’t keep up with the deer in the current.”
So there Halsted stood, on the bank of the St. George, deerless … but determined.
“Long story short, the deer got away,” he wrote. “We searched all day Saturday, walking both shorelines, checking eddys and strainers.”
Strainers, trees that have fallen into the river, were plentiful, Halsted said. On Veterans Day, Halsted and his stepdaughter had paddled the river and had to portage their canoe around three sections, and work their way around, under and over two to three dozen trees that had fallen.
Still, he thought paddling the river might give him the best chance to find his deer, so he hopped in his canoe and headed downriver toward North Appleton.
“It was a beautiful, sunny morning but very cold, about 12 degrees,” Halsted wrote. “Any spray or splash of water was freezing to my paddle, the gunwales and inside the boat, making everything slippery and heavy.”
Still, no deer.
At that point, he and his crew decided to wade the river with canoe poles, checking behind rocks and on the bottom to see if the deer had sunk.
Again, no luck.
“Saturday night I was pretty dejected,” Halsted admitted. “I couldn’t believe that my first deer had been such a wonderful animal and that I had lost it.”
In hunter safety classes and deer camps around the state, experienced hunters preach hunting ethics to those who are new to the sport. Among the messages that are stressed: It’s incumbent upon all hunters to do all that they can to find every animal that they shoot.
Halsted apparently took that message to heart, and headed out the next day with help … and a plan.
“Sunday we decided that we had to start from where I shot it and cut out all the strainers in the river to see if he was tangled in one of them,” Halsted wrote. “Three guys with waders on and chainsaws in hand, in the middle of a Class II+ set of rapids was a pretty weird sight to see.”
For much of the day, the group had no luck. Then, just before dark, they began working on a large hemlock tree, which they cut at both ends, and moved with ropes.
“As the tree rolled over, the deer surfaced!” Halsted wrote. “We had to use a rescue throw rope to lasso the antlers and get him up on shore. Needless to say, there was a lot of celebrating.”
Halsted’s deer sported a handsome 9-point rack and weighed 174 pounds.
Best of all, Halsted said the meat was fine, even after spending more than a day submerged in the St. George River.
“It’s already cut up and in our freezer,” Halsted wrote. “It was likely submerged the whole time at right around freezing temperatures .. and surprisingly, the deer wasn’t too banged up from having bounced off rocks and over a couple ledge drops down through about a quarter mile of rapids.”
Halsted finished the season with a freezer full of meat, and quite a tale to tell.
“My father-in-law has been hunting this area for 60 years and has shot a lot of deer. He said this is by far one of the most unique stories he has ever experienced,” Halsted wrote. “Of course, now I have to have the deer mounted. My wife thought she married someone who didn’t want to have animals on display in the living room, but that might have changed!”