The Race Is On

Daryl Gay | December 1, 2023

Familiar with the term, “skinnin’ it back?”

If not, thing for you to do is—as my little Ma used to say—“Pay ‘tainchun!”

In my home county of Dodge, there’s a certain strip of highway—which shall remain uncharted for our purposes here. One tops a hill, then motors in a dead straight line to the top of a second. Between, there is a bridge; exactly 3/8 of a mile from the second hilltop. A few decades ago, smack dab in the heart of the muscle car era, a  group of postpubescent but up-and-coming lunatics would gather at Hilltop No. 2. Somehow or other, and we could never seem to figure it out, a Mustang or a Chevelle or possibly the rare Olds or Pontiac would miraculously find itself in the road BESIDE my Mopar. I mean SOMEBODY’S Mopar.

And—believe it or not—the two rides would be facing the same direction, then launch themselves out of the hole back toward that bridge.


How it always seemed to happen  out of nowhere every Friday or Saturday night remains a mystery. As well as the fact that anyone from that era holds a valid driver’s license…

(And if you REALLY wanted to see launching, wait until the triple headlight flashes came from the lookouts atop the hills, warning of approaching traffic…)

THAT was some sho ‘nuff skinning it back; I truly thought I knew all there was to know about the term.

But that was before last weekend. Yeah. When the pack of hounds jumped a yearling doe out of her bed. The 12-gauge was useless; what I needed was a stopwatch! Horsepower ain’t got nothing on doepower!

I’ve been in on running deer with dogs for over 30 years now, mostly along the coast and always in areas thick and swampy—hence the need for hounds.

But this was my first look at what a whitetail can do in a 47-million-acre clearcut.

Or thereabouts.

Turns out it’s more fun than Slip ’n Slide with Dolly Parton.

This particular specimen wasn’t the first deer I’d watched. And that was the thing; I could actually SEE them from down in the bowl of this clearcut, as opposed to swamp hunting—when they’re on you and gone before it can be mentally registered.

Oh, we had plenty of nearby swamp, and I’d get into it later; but not on this opening race of the day.

Less than two minutes after the hounds hit the dirt on the other side of the block, a doe came trotting my way. She was shadowed by a buck.

I think.

Dude had a little too much prance to him. Like maybe he was a little light in the loafers. She ambled; he sashayed. As he passed on promenade at 40 yards, I could have sworn he winked.

Four-pointer, maybe 90 pounds; looking back, thinking about that wink, I should’ve blasted him…

That’s my problem in this game: I think too much. So accustomed to sizing up the target before pulling the trigger…

And another thing: looking around.

Over across the clearcut and up on its rim, a couple of states away, I can see fellow hunters. Actually SEE them. It’s weird. As is the fact that they’re traipsing back and forth, silhouetted against the morning sky. I want to tell them to find some cover; anybody got a telegraph?

Then it hits me for about the 10th time that this ain’t still-hunting. Today, deer ain’t out for a Sunday stroll; not with the pounding pack behind them.

So—out of habit too strong to break—I kneel back behind my dead excuse for a bush.

Skinnin’ it back? She came out of the trees bordering this clearcut skedaddling like a .243 round.

I’ve seen startled deer take off in the woods, dodging trees and jumping over logs or creeks for a hundred yards; crossing a pasture or field, stiff-legged hopping with that white flag waving, plenty quick enough to escape whatever it was that spooked them.

But not on a flat-out, dead run for a quarter-mile.

She might only have been a yearling, but I have witnessed up close and personal the world record for out-hustling hounds! Thing was, shooting never crossed my mind; naw, what I wanted to do was ROPE her.

(Now THERE would have been a Back Page episode…)

She never knew I was on the planet—until I stood up 50 feet dead in front of her.

Not only can she run, but I’d like to know the brand of those brakes she’s using. They’d sho’ come in handy on a Mopar.

I really thought she was going to go heels over head as she pulled up—totally dumbfounded and no more than 10 feet away.

So here’s her dilemma: hounds behind and orange-bedecked Sasquatch looming within leaping range.

My shotgun is propped against the bush; I had no intention of using it and was so helplessly tickled at her reaction that I probably couldn’t have hefted it anyhow.

So I used my best Marine DI voice: “RUN!!!”

Elevates well, too.

As she streaked up toward the top, it was clear that she saw the same movement I did, and adjusted course accordingly. If any of my fellow hunters saw her, they either thought her too small or too fast for buckshot to catch up. I figger she’s still going. Only question is whether she turned left or right at the Pacific.

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