Why I love venison

It's hunting season, and good luck

I'm frugal. Just once have I tried buying the house a round.

It happened about 15 years ago. I was a few miles south of Bend, heading north and trying to make up for a late departure from Vegas. It was a beautiful autumn night, the moon nearly full, the two-lane highway empty, the eastern Oregon desert sprawled around me and lasting forever. Normally, I would've been in my sleeping bag, given the hour, but I wanted to make time, and what, really, was the harm. I'd hole up once I hit town. Until then, it was just me and my bike, zipping along at 70 mph or so.

There is a certain zen that can descend on a long-distance motorcycle rider, especially late in the day, assuming good roads and dry weather. I was, at once, thinking about all kinds of things and nothing at all, relaxed as could be. Cars, as well as towns, gas stations and most everything else save sagebrush and stars, had been rare for the last 200 miles. Presently, I saw headlights.

As the distance between us closed, the driver flashed his lights. We were a football field apart when he started pulling off the road. What's this, I wondered, taking my left hand from the handlebars so I could turn my body and take a gander.

At this point, everything slowed down.

I remember it was a white van, a Ford Econoline, if I had to bet. Nothing remarkable. I turned my attention back to the road and saw a buck, no more than 50 feet in front of me. And I was going too fast to do anything about it.

The beast was already dead, on its side, with hooves pointed straight at me. I did not have time to brake or swerve or count points, but the rack was substantial. I was headed for the underbelly with just one thought: I wonder what this is going to feel like.

I figured the bike would flip when the front wheel made contact, but that did not happen. Instead, a hellish racket came from beneath upon impact. A 1996 Honda ST1100A weighs 632 pounds, plus me, plus as much gear as I could cram into the bags and bungee down, but everything was weightless in an instant as the bike went airborne. A buck's belly, it turns out, makes a dandy launch ramp.

I do not know how far I soared, but far enough. Upon landing, the bike began tank slapping, motorcycle-ese for a front-end wobble with one cure. I hit the throttle, the bike straightened up and away we went. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the van's taillights, still roadside, the driver no doubt having seen a great show. I considered turning around, but saw no point. Let him think I do this all the time, I reasoned.

I decided to reward God by buying drinks for everyone present at the first beer parlor I encountered. It was late, 11 p.m. or so, when I reached town and parked at an essence-of-nondescript pub that offered two versions of Budweiser, canned or bottled. Upon dismounting, I crouched down to assess the damage, which amounted to a busted-up wind fairing, with hair and blood stuck to jagged edges of doomed plastic.

God really was on my side, as the tavern was deserted save for the barkeep – the only beer I'd have to buy would be my own. "Is there a problem with your bike?" asked the bartender, who'd seen me outside. "I just hit a deer," I told him. "Expletive," he retorted. "Go look," I said.

Upon examination, the bartender proclaimed my money no good, and we went back inside. A free cold one in hand, I went to the telephone booth – this was a long time ago – and called home to announce that I was still alive.

Some hunters decorate walls with stuffed heads. My fireplace mantle is graced by a broken piece of motorcycle fairing that, to me, is priceless. I don't hunt but am fortunate to know folks who do, and so each year, I am gifted a deer that, invariably, is the best-tasting meat ever.

Starting today and ending Sunday, hunters who prefer shotguns to arrows or muzzleloader guns circa Daniel Boone can legally shoot deer in Illinois, and I wish them well. So far as I'm concerned, hunting season doesn't last nearly long enough, and bag limits are too low. My freezer, already, is stocked, thanks to a friend who's handy with a crossbow. Which is better than getting lucky on a Honda.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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