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The Meat Wagon by Stephen Ward

Stephen Ward

Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I had the privilege of volunteering with the Virginia Game Wardens, taking up some slack where the former Governor Wilder had “borrowed/appropriated” about $600,000 from the Game Warden fund and spent it on social programs elsewhere, leaving the Warden’s Col. Simmons’ department short of manpower and equipment for several years, at one point 44 men short of the “adequate” level of Wardens to function properly across the state of Virginia, to be able to provide backup when going after poachers, to be able to man deer check stations in multiple locations across the counties, able to provide enough manpower at game events and outdoor sporting goods shows, able to ride “shotgun” with wildlife biologists as they reviewed their WMA’s.  For volunteering to help; I was rewarded with certain “perks” of meeting people, learning hunting areas and even being invited on a few hunts where typically the average “Joe” just doesn’t get to play.


On one particular event, I was invited to hunt a piece of land in the Warrenton, Virginia area where a dairy farmer had Deer Map Permits to hunt the excess deer off the land he had that was supposed to be producing corn and feed for his cattle, but the population of deer was more than he could handle himself.  I was allowed to have a guest when I wanted. The rules were simple, before you could hunt for a buck; you HAD to take out a doe.   I hunted the farm during Archery Season and landed a nice big doe that was over 150 lbs, making for some great venison chili gumbo.  (Go ahead, ask me for my recipe.) So with that task out of the way, I was welcomed to come back for rifle season.


The opening day of rifle season on the property I arrived by myself, before sunrise at the gate, there were a few others there and we introduced ourselves, most were law enforcement from the Sheriffs’ office, State Troopers and even a few FBI agents.  We were required to “claim” a sector on the map of the property, and I placed my disk on a section of field down by the river near where I had gotten my doe during Archery Season. The others seemed happy that I had placed myself there instead of at the cornfield areas. No, there were no corn fields in my section; it was river lowland with two huge open fields and thick woods between the river and those fields. But something told me that in order for the majority of deer to get to those corn fields, they were going to have to cut through my sector FIRST.  There was much deer sign on this section, some rubs and scrapes in the brush/woods along the river and some muddy clay dips/drainage ditches coming out of the river that were absolutely filled with deer tracks, like a deer highway.  I set up into a big oak that had some branches that would give my treestand some cover, and sat and waited throughout what was to be a slow, dismal and rather wet morning.

I hiked back out to the gate at lunch time and dried off, got a bite to eat, talked with the others who had likewise come out for a reprieve from their uneventful morning.  I got ready for the afternoon as the skies cleared and the barometric pressure rose.  With Blaze orange vest and hat on as required, I headed back to my sector at about 1 pm to take a little bit more of a scouting walk around my area; to get a feel for where I was to place my hunting partner Kirk Wells the next day.  He had to work on opening day but would be driving up from Carolina to join me that evening in Northern Virginia. To the southeast of my treestand location was another field in my sector and I found a trail that looked extremely promising that came from out of one of those drainage ditches, through a bit of woods and across that field to where the cornfields started. I picked out a tree for his stand and marked it with reflective tape as we would be coming in early morning in the dark exactly at ½ hour before sunrise.  With that accomplished, I headed back to my stand at around 2 pm to sit.  Before I got into my stand I hung an old used brown plastic vitamin jar with a lanyard around its top and an old rag soaked of buck tarsal deer scent at the edge of the field on a low hanging limb of a tree that hung into the field that was part of the divider woods/thicket between the river and the field at a location where it looked like a deer was making use of a small trail through the thicket, about 50 yards in front of my stand, and I squirted some doe pee about 10 feet away from that right in the field itself on the ground where the sun would have a chance to warm it; then I climbed up into my tree.

The sun felt good as it went across the sky above me, warming me to the point of taking off my jacket and down to my camo coveralls and a camo T-shirt, but I knew that would be changing as the sun started to go down, there was colder weather moving in. I watched for hours for any sign of movement along the river, around my field edges and the adjacent corn fields. At one point I did see a doe and her youngster doe cut a path out of the cornfields to my north and out to the far west end of my field.  Sunset approached and things livened up, I started hearing noises across the river in the adjacent woods that was filled with low riverland brush, saw some movement in some of that brush and decided to give a call on my Knight and Hale original Buck Grunt call that I had bought back in the early 1980’s when they were first being sold.  (That day is another whole story!)  A few minutes later out from the direction where that brush had moved a buck came out toward the river, looked at it as it stood on the river bank; so I gave another call on the grunt tube.  That was enough to convince him he wanted to see who was over there and he dove into the river and swam across.  He came out of the river and I had a shot there, but didn’t want to run the risk of taking a shot and having him fall back in the river, so I waited and watched as a pair of horns moved through the thickets below me, waiting for him to step into a hole where I could place a perfect unobstructed shot.  That moment arrived soon enough as he made his way to the edge of the field, focusing his sense of smell on that deer scent, and stretched his head and shoulders out of the woods stepping into the field to get just that little bit closer to the smell coming from that branch overhanging the field, which is why I hung it out there; to give myself a shot. I got a look at that sweet spot right behind his elbow thru my scope and pulled the trigger, he bounced crazily for about 10 feet then nose-dived into the field, keeling over.  One 6 pointer down.  We were allowed to take our vehicles to our locations IF and WHEN we got a deer, so I tagged and gutted the deer and went to get my vehicle, loaded him in and headed out for home where I processed the deer and was finishing up just as my hunting partner pulled in the driveway.  “Hey BuddyRo; way to Go!” exclaimed Kirk as he got out of his Pepsi van.  Kirk was a salesman for Pepsi at the time, but who really knows what his background before that was, yes?  I do.


The next morning found us up bright and early to drive the 45 minutes to Warrenton from my home, we stopped at Bo Jangle’s to pick up egg and sausage biscuits for what we approximated would be waiting to hunt and headed out to the farm.  As we got to the gate there was the crew of law enforcement specialists waiting, they turned and laughed as we hopped out of the Pepsi van and said something like “What is THAT doing here?” as if to imply that my hunting partner was out of place or something, but they didn’t know Kirk. Kirk just shrugged it off as he politely handed each of them a sausage biscuit and a Mountain Dew in his Southern style of doing things… and he said “Oh That; that’s the MEAT WAGON!” to which there was quite a chuckle in response, “Yeah, the meat wagon, that’s a good one!” one of the law enforcement guys exclaimed.  Kirk took all the chiding in stride with a big old smile.  I could see the wheels turning in his head, that knowing grin spreading across his face… this is my hunting partner since 1982; my best trusted friend; we have a history of dropping deer and other things together; they just don’t know…


“Everyone know where they are going?  Signed in & got your peg up on the board?” The farmer arrived to open the gate exactly ½ hour before sunrise, “Know the rules? They are posted there, read ‘em and follow ‘em, tag your deer immediately and come see me to check them in, you can drive into your own sectors to get ‘em out, no walking, hunting or driving into other hunters sectors; I want as many of these tags filled out as possible, and drop me some does! Good luck!” and with that he swung open the gate as the hunters hiked their way up the gravel road that led out to the fields and different areas.


Kirk followed me blindly thru the darkness as he had done a hundred times before, knowing that where ever it was I was going to put him, was going to be “sufficient”.  He sometimes laughingly calls me his “dog” for all the scouting I do that gets him in the right spot or for driving animals to him during mid-day quiet periods when nothing is moving.  I walked him to the reflective tape in the darkness and pointed, “There!”  “Yeah Boss!” he replied and set up his climbing treestand.  “Good luck Bud!” I whispered back in return.  I had already briefed him on what his location looked like, where the river and drainage ditches were in relation to his position, the direction of sunrise and other data about what I had found on the drive in.  I left him and headed for my treestand.


It was a crisp cold morning, could see my breath as sunrise started, the field in front of me covered in frost; I had barely gotten any sleep by the time I had finished processing my deer last night, showered and finally gotten to sleep and it was time to get up again.  Thank God for that caffeine in the Mountain Dew.  I was watching the shadows stretch across the field as the sun rose behind me from where Kirk was sitting in his stand about 150 yards east of me at the wooded breakline between the two fields, I was in the shadow of the big oak I was sitting in, the birds were just starting to chirp & the nip of frost stinging my nose when the morning was broken with the sound of Kirk’s Remington Model 700 7mm Mag reported at 7:05 am.  “OK! I thought to myself, placed him in the right spot!”  Then to my amazement his rifle sounded a second time, and then… a third time.  (For those of you who have read my story entitled “Follow ME”, you will be saying, “What, again?”) And for me, that same thought ran through my head.  I waited about 5 minutes, then climbed out of my tree stand. I walked the 150 yards through the frost covered field between us, whistled as I came to the divider woods that separated the two fields, looked out into Kirk’s field and there were three deer laid out in the middle of the field in knee high grasses and brush, each about 25 yards apart from one another in a line on a trail heading toward the corn fields.  A big doe was the one in the lead, closest to me, then a nice buck, then another even nicer buck.  There is a voice with a bit of a Carolina twang that comes from one of the trees above me, “Son! Boy did you put me in the right dang spot! Like a damn highway out from that drainage ditch coming from the river and into this field, that doe is in heat and it didn’t matter what the heck I did those boys were coming to get her; they just kept coming!” He finished his sentence as he commenced dropping down to ground level in his stand, shook off the cover he had on, and stepped onto solid ground. A smile spread across his face and he said “Well BuddyRo, we have some cleaning to do! I’ll let you take the doe for starters!  Hahaaa.”


As we were tagging and cleaning deer and then loading them into the Pepsi van which Kirk had headed off to get, one of the FBI agents came to the edge of his sector and yelled across the field “Yeah Baby, MEAT WAGON!  Damn Nice shooting!” and gave us the thumbs up.


Respect, it’s EARNED.


Have a great hunting season.


Stephen Ward


Kevin Paulson

Kevin Paulson is the Founder and CEO of His passion for Hunting began at the age of 5 hunting alongside of his father. Kevin has followed his dreams through outfitting, conservation work, videography and hunting trips around the world.

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