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Jim Kershner: I credit my dog Jack for helping solve an eerie deer mystery

I believe, to this day, that “The Blair Witch Project” was a documentary.

Or, to put it another way, I am ridiculously easy to spook, especially in the woods, especially at dusk.

I have previously written about the time I was walking in the woods at dusk – not long after seeing “The Blair Witch Project” – when I saw a dark, hideous shape, hanging from a tree limb, swinging gently in the breeze like an evil gnome.

It turned out to be a portable Smokey Joe barbecue kettle, which, when you think about it, is even more eerie than an evil gnome.

Yet this was child’s play compared to another utterly unexplainable vision that confronted me during a twilight hike several years ago. I was trudging along, trying not to think about “The Blair Witch Project,” when I looked up … and there it was.

The leg of a deer, hanging from a tree limb, 10 feet up a ponderosa pine.

This bloody hank of bone and hair had been chewed on by some kind of predator, which set my mind racing.

Clearly, a coyote or something had lunched on it, but …

Can coyotes climb trees? Of course not. No more than my dog Jack can scamper about in the treetops.

It must have been something that can climb trees.

A raccoon?

I knew that raccoons can climb trees, since I once looked up and saw a raccoon evilly grinning at me, like a particularly snide Cheshire cat.

But can a raccoon kill and dismember a deer? Raccoons are tough little dudes, and I was pretty sure they are predators. But I couldn’t picture one tearing a deer apart and hauling it up a tree. It didn’t seem raccoon style.

A porcupine?

They definitely climb trees. In fact, climbing seems to be the porcupine’s sole talent. Yet I was almost certain that porcupines were not deer-eaters. I tried to conjure up a vision of a porcupine waddling after a deer, and then, in an astonishing burst of waddle-speed, taking one down like a cheetah.

Couldn’t see it.

I was staring at this deer leg, getting increasingly irrational. Did a deer jump into the tree and get tangled? Did the wind blow it up there? Was the deer leg on the ground and did the tree just sort of grow up around it?

So I was left with only two explanations, each equally terrifying. One, a cougar was lurking in the vicinity, probably stretched along a tree branch right now, waiting to pounce on me and leave my own femur hanging from a limb. Two, an evil “Blair Witch”-like spirit, possibly shaped like a Smokey Joe barbecue kettle, was performing animal sacrifices in the woods, picking its teeth and waiting for its next victim.

And there the matter hung for the next several years. Until last week.

I was walking my dog Jack in the same woods when I looked back and noticed him engrossed in some intense chewing activity. He had come across a nice, fresh deer leg. I let him chomp on it for a while and then I made him move along.

But he didn’t want to leave his deer leg. He loved that deer leg. He came trotting along, with 16 inches of deer leg sticking out both sides of his mouth. I considered letting him bring it home, but I didn’t savor the thought of my dog prancing through my neighborhood with a quarter of a deer in his teeth.

After some tense negotiations, I took it away from him. But I couldn’t just toss it away, or the dog would just run over and grab it again.

So I looked around. Then I found the perfect solution. I could hang it high on a tree limb where he couldn’t get it.

SMACK! That was the sound of my palm hitting my forehead (a dangerous maneuver while holding a deer leg). I realized the obvious explanation for that long-ago deer leg incident.

Most people would have figured this out much earlier. But then they wouldn’t have had the delicious thrill of being freaked out, in the woods, at twilight. Nothing makes you feel more alive.

Reach Jim Kershner at jimk@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5493.

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