At a circus, I once saw a chimpanzee on a tricycle. And on YouTube I’ve seen a dog on a skateboard and a squirrel on water skis. But those pale in comparison to what I saw last weekend while fishing. It was a deer in a kayak.
I often see deer when fishing on this particular stretch of river and I see a lot of kayaks on the river, too. But this was the first time I had seen them combined.
As I looked upriver, I could see the kayak come around the bend a hundred yards upstream. At that distance everything looked pretty normal. Just another yaker coming to disrupt my fishing. It was a common occurrence and the kayak didn’t seem to be in a hurry as it slowly floated downstream.
But as the kayak got closer, I noticed two things. First, the kayaker wasn’t holding a paddle. Second, the kayaker had the skinniest arms I had ever seen. And as it got still closer, I thought “that guy has the largest ears I have ever seen.” And as the kayak got even closer, I thought that guy looks like an Odocoileus virginianus—a white tail deer.
I rubbed my eyes and looked again. I was fishing for catfish in a few of the deeper holes in the river and thought the new bait I was testing might have clouded my brain. The bait was a large container of catfish dip that should have included a gas mask with every purchase. The instructions even said not to let the dip come in contact with your skin. When I opened the container and looked inside, I immediately knew that putting my nose directly over the dip was a colossal mistake. It was like being punched in the face with an angry skunk that just finished eating a dozen rotten eggs and rolling in cow manure.
As a kid, I’d heard of a practical joke where you put dog poop in a paper bag, place it on someone’s porch, light the bag on fire, ring the doorbell and run. When the homeowner sees the burning bag and stomps out the flames, their shoe gets covered with dog poop. I’m not saying this is a classy practical joke to pull on someone and I don’t even know if anyone actually ever tried it. It might have been one of those tales told by kids who always credit the story to their out-of-town cousin’s classmate’s older brother, or some other inaccessible person who can’t corroborate the story. But after getting a strong right uppercut of catfish dip in both nostrils, I realized the practical joke would have been much more effective if the dog poop was replaced with catfish dip. The only problem would be that the homeowners would have to throw away their shoes and possible tear down their porch to get rid of the smell.
But back to the deer in the kayak. What had fooled me at first was that the deer was sitting upright in the kayak seat—like a person—with its hind legs in the kayak, its head held high in the air and its front legs hanging in front of it.
I knew it was hunting season and often saw deer crossing the river and in the woods. As the kayak came close, I could also see that in the deer’s lap—if deer have laps—was a bow. The deer was clearly dead but its open eyes eerily stared straight ahead.
This opportunity was too good to be true. No, I wasn’t going to take the deer but where there’s a deer in a kayak, there’s likely to be a frantic hunter upstream trying to catch up with it, and I was going to enjoy our conversation as much as possible.
Knowing the river well, I could tell that the kayak would beach itself around the next bend, so I let it continue on its way and listened for sounds coming downstream. It wasn’t long before I heard someone crashing through the shallows at the edge of the river. I would say the hunter was cursing like a sailor but the cursing was much more like someone who had lost his kayak, deer and bow.
I casually continued fishing. When he got close, he stopped, caught his breath and asked, “Did you see a kayak come by here?”
“Yeah,” I said casually, “about a dozen kayaks have come by this morning.”
“This one had a deer in it,” he said expectantly.
“A deer?” I said, scratching my head.
“Yeah,” he said, “A deer.”
“What color was the kayak?” I asked.
“What color was the kayak!” he stammered. “What difference does the color of the kayak make?! It had a deer in it!”
“Well,” I said, “quite a few kayaks have come down the river today. Just trying to narrow it down. Did you know the deer?”
“What do you mean did I know the deer!” he said getting angry. “I shot it!”
“What did you shoot it with?” I asked.
“A bow,” he said getting exasperated with me.
“But you don’t have a bow,” I said.
His mouth opened wide and then closed for a second. “The deer has the bow in the kayak,” he said sheepishly.
“Why didn’t you say that at the beginning,” I said as if we were getting somewhere. “I did see a deer go by in a kayak with a bow. But I don’t think it’s the one you’re looking for.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“The deer that came by sitting in the kayak with the bow was dead and I think it was self-inflicted wound.”
“Self-inflicted!?” he asked.
“Deer don’t take hunting safety classes and my guess is he didn’t know how to handle the bow and shot himself. Poor guy.”
“I shot him! He didn’t shoot himself!” the hunter said defensively.
“There’s really no way to know for sure since there weren’t any witnesses.”
“I was a witness; I shot it,” he countered.
“It’s just your word against the word of the dead deer and I don’t think that’s going to hold up in a court of law.”
“Where’s my kayak now?” he asked.
“It went around the bend. It probably beached itself there.”
“Why didn’t you stop it from going downstream?” he asked in desperation.
“First, I don’t usually talk to the kayakers who go past here and I didn’t want to get into some big conversation with a deer while I was fishing. And second, when the game warden showed up, I’m not sure he’d believe that I found the deer—dead—sitting in the kayak with a bow and me with no hunting license.”
“You do have a point there,” he said.
“I’ve watched enough episodes of North Woods Law to know not to be caught with a dead deer in a kayak. What happened?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I used the kayak to get to that island upstream. That way I left no scent getting there. Within 15 minutes I saw the deer and shot it. My plan was to put the deer in the kayak and float it down to the next bridge to take it out. I tried tying the deer to the kayak but the deer kept falling over the edge, so I tied it into the seat. But while I was taking a leak, the kayak got away from me.”
“If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that story,” I said. “Well, you better go get your kayak and deer. And try to be more careful next time.”
I heard the phrase “try to be more careful next time” a lot growing up and found it coming out of my mouth without my knowledge. If I had been on the Titanic, I probably would have said it to the Captain as the ship was sinking. “Try to be more careful next time.”
I’d say seeing that deer in a kayak was even better than the squirrel on water skis. My only regret is that I forgot to tell the hunter that I’d left him a present in one of the dry storage compartments of his kayak. I knew he was having a bad day and wanted to cheer him up. Besides, I was done with using my catfish dip bait and thought he might like to try. I sure hope he finds it before next summer.