A HERO, A HUNTER, A FRIEND
A HERO, A HUNTER, A FRIEND
A Hero, A Hunter, A Friend
By Frank Somma
The world and I both lost a great friend on September 11th 2001. Lieutenant Charles “Chuck” Margiotta. Chuck is sorely missed by literally hundreds of people but during hunting season, none more than me.
In 1985 Chuck introduced me to New Jersey deer hunting at “Old Man Hoffman’s” farm. Mr. Hoffman, living alone, was well into his eighties and one of the first rules about the farm Chuck taught me was that we should make it a point to visit Mr. Hoffman for a cup of coffee and some stories about New York in the early 1900’s. After every single hunt, regardless of whether or not we had the time we let ourselves in through the garage and sat for an hour or so while “Old Man Hoffman” regaled us with tales of horse drawn fire trucks and Bronx boys skinny dipping in the east river. For people who knew Chuck the reverence, respect and time he afforded Mr. Hoffman was not surprising.
Hoffman’s was a small farm but offered some excellent hunting in the woods surrounding the crop fields. There were a few wooden stands scattered about in various stages of disrepair left over from hunters who used to frequent the farm. Early on Chuck and I would use climbing stands but Chuck, a huge muscular guy, would usually only climb up a few feet. Just enough “get his scent off the ground”. When it became apparent that this strategy was not the best Chuck decided to rebuild one of the old wooden platform stands. It was nothing more than a 3 X 3 platform supported by three skinny trees and, as though it were placed with Chuck in mind, it was only about 8’ off the ground. Chuck, his 5 year old son Charlie and I met one Saturday morning to repair the steps and the platform. We braced it well anticipating Chuck’s 240lb frame, added a piece of old carpet and some hooks for his gear and officially proclaimed this to be “Chuck’s Stand.”
He hunted that stand for years, never deviating as it was on a few good runs and more importantly, I think, it fit him perfectly. No confining railings, no big climb, no little spikes in the tree to negotiate, and no seat to get too comfortable on and nod out. Chuck was a big believer that you had to become a part of the woods. To that end, he insisted we be in our stands at least one hour before it began to get light.
Chuck killed a few deer from that low stand but never a major buck. Still, when we went to Hoffman’s that was the only stand he took. Most mornings he would spend the first two hours or so after first light on the stand and then he would make the short climb down and try to push something to me or whomever we were hunting with. That was his way, no one ever pushed to him. He always pushed to you. He was only a year older than me but he was so in charge I always felt like a kid being taken into the woods by my big, old Italian uncle. When we planned to meet in the morning and no matter what time we set, he was there first. I swear I tried to beat him to the spot but it was like he slept there or something. I’d arrive to find him fiddling with his gear in the back of his truck. It could be 5 below zero but he would never let me catch him in his car with the heat on taking a snooze. He was always preparing. Involved in what he referred to as “the never ending process of collation”. As I pulled up he would walk to my truck and the greeting was always the same. He’d grab me in a big bear hug and roughly kiss my cheek. Then he’d smile a smile of supreme confidence that said “You will never get here earlier than me. I am always one step ahead of the world”. As I grabbed my gear he would put a big paw on my shoulder and whisper in that gravely voice telling me what time we were heading in, what stand I should hunt, when and by what route he would push a deer to me and as often as not rub some “buck in rut” gel on my face or clothes with a crude comment about what might happen to me if I wandered out of my stand. I would sit half the day with a smile on my face and that foul smell in my nostrils waiting for him to decide when the hunt was over and I would not have had it any other way.
On September 11, 2001 Chuck was headed home from his night shift as a Lieutenant with the new Your City Fire Department. As he crossed the Verrazanno bridge and headed toward home in Staten Island, he heard the report of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Anyone who knew Chuck could have anticipated his next move. After working all night, he bee-lined for the Clove Road firehouse which was only a minute or two away. He climbed aboard their rig and headed back to work. He knew what he was getting into, he had a sense of how big it was. He called his Mom on the way to the towers. He said, “Mom I wanted someone to know where I was going in case something happens. This looks really big.” That was the last anyone ever heard from Chuck.
When hunting season came that fall, I spent very little time at Hoffman’s. Going there felt hollow. I almost felt as though I were cheating, showing up there without Chuck. I had some great stands on that property, lock-ons twenty feet up over looking three and four converging trails. I had stands at the edge of the crop fields great for an early evening hunt when the wind was right. I had stands on the edge of the swamp for when the pressure was on and along some late season travel routes for when the crop fields were barren and the patterns changed. Still, I frequented other hunting areas around my home and largely ignored Hoffman’s.
Then on January 6th I had a notion that I had to go to the farm. Not only did I want to hunt Hoffman’s, but I wanted to hunt it from Chuck’s stand. A few months before I had stuck a button with Chuck’s picture on it to the carpet of his stand, somehow feeling better that Chuck was back in the woods. On January 7th I took out a tee shirt with Chuck’s face on the front, a gift from his brother Mike. I put the shirt on under my hunting clothes and really felt as though I was taking Chuck into the woods with me. When I got to the farm I ignored the “smart hunter” voice in my head that implored me to climb into one of my high stands. The voice was telling me that with all the trees totally barren, climbing only 8 feet up into Chuck’s stand would be like advertising my position to every deer in the woods. It was an hour before first light and I walked through the woods, directly to his stand as though it were noon. I climbed the couple of steps up to that silly platform, hung my bow and let the woods wash over me.
As dawn broke I looked down to see Chucks face, a little rusty around the edges, looking up at me and a tear spilled down my cheek. It was then that I felt his presence. It was weird but I was sure he was there with me. As I stood in that rickety, low stand, completely exposed for a hundred yards around I saw a deer walking past some briars on my left. He was a small buck, I could just make out his little spike horns at about 70 yards away. Then I noticed movement behind the same briars. It was another deer, and unbelievably, another buck. This one was a small four pointer. I smiled to myself thinking, Chuck’s here doing his little drive and sending these deer my way. As I contemplated how cold it was and how late in the season I thought about taking that four but I didn’t have to think for long. Behind him was a six pointer, with only one side still intact. He had already shed half his rack but he was leading a truly beautiful buck; the fourth in this incredible line. He was a huge 7 point with dark fur and a wide rack. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was January 7th. There was snow on the ground, I was totally exposed on all sides, practically on the ground and I had 4 bucks near me, the largest of which had not yet shed his rack. The trail the little spike was taking would lead him directly past my tree but at only 20 yards with absolutely no cover between us. There was a big briar he would have to pass at about thirty yards. He would be hidden for a moment as he cleared that briar but then totally open. He took that route. The four pointer followed him, the half six behind him and the big guy brought up the rear. I thought “with three deer at 20 yards, broadside with no cover I will definitely get busted before the deer I want gets anywhere near me!” I was at a total loss. I stood stock still watching the parade as Chuck pushed those deer before me and miraculously, as they took that trail right next to me, not one of them saw or smelled me! I had been in shooting position since just before the little spike approached the big briar bush and I held tight. I slowly drew back while the lead deer were focused on chewing the braches of a lone juniper. As soon as the big buck put one hoof in front of that briar bush, I put my green pin behind his shoulder and released. The arrow was true and I was blessed with a double lung. He kicked up and ran. I heard him crash no more than 50 yards away.
As the small bucks took off I watched them gracefully leap in all directions disappearing in an instant. Suddenly everything was quiet and still. I could feel the tension begin to drain from my body and felt my knees and my teeth start to rattle. I suddenly realized how cold it was and I was anxious to climb down and begin what promised to be an easy track. I looked down to begin my short dissent and saw Chuck’s picture looking back at me. I thanked him for bringing me that buck and for all of the great memories I will always have of hunting that farm. Our chat lasted for only a few minutes but for me, they were euphoric. I had no doubt of his presence, no doubt that he heard every word and no doubt that he had served up that buck. I let the feeling wash over me and I knew that for the rest of my hunting life, as long as I preserved that moment in my heart, Chuck would forever greet me in the cold morning darkness and I would feel that familiar bear hug and unshaven cheek and hear that gravely voice advise me as to what stand I should hunt, what time to head in, and by what route he would push the deer to me.
Bowhunter Big Game Special 2007 By Frank Somma