The Deer Stealers is a short story written by Geoffry Vickers and published in 1968. It’s “a tale of Old England” about the time when men used to kill the King’s deer and sell the meat to provide for their families. It carried great risk because if they got caught, they were hanged.
The story is set in the 19th century and is about the illegal trade in e meat. The forest in Shaston is the domain of the forester, who is the one allowed to hunt deer and sell the meat. When anyone else does just that, they are breaking the law and they will be hanged.
The main character Hugh goes to the forest to pick mushrooms and stumbles upon an old strange man whose face is covered in bees. Hugh helps the man, who introduces himself as Pat, and they meet several times more later on. Pat teaches Hugh to fight and get to know his way around the forest. One night, they encounter a man who is being chased by bloodhounds and they discuss how to get away.
Right after his sixteenth birthday, he accompanies his dad’s colleague to Shaston in a covered wagon full of firewood. When they come to the city, a wheel breaks and the load falls off the cart. Hugh is left to guard the cart while Perron, his dad’s colleague, goes to get help. The inhabitants of the city gather closer and closer in order to steal some of the firewood from the rich Perron. Hugh manages to fight them off, but as he does so he sees something in the firewood bushels.
A while later, Perron comes back with a new cart. Afterwards, they talk and Hugh finds out about the fact that Pat has been shooting deer and his father’s been selling them through Perron. Hugh gets offered a job in a timber mill and then hurries back home to warn his dad that the lawmen might be on to them smuggling venison. But, running home to warn his dad, he gets caught by foresters.
They try to get him to admit the truth about his father’s smuggling and get ready to torture him for information. However, Hugh manages to fight his way free and starts running. His jacket gets ripped off while running away, and the foresters use it to send bloodhounds after him. So he takes Pat’s advice and runs to Wainfleet Bottom, where Pat shows up and helps him escape and find the way home. He gets home to warn his dad, who says he is actually rich and then tells Hugh to take the job with Perron because he wants his son to not be involved in the illegal smuggling business.
What I really liked about this book is the fact that it’s set in a very specific time and place. A very interesting time in English history and a lot has been written about it. I love that the book doesn’t spend paragraphs and paragraphs explaining the setting of the book, it just dives right into the story. Of course, it is a short story, so not a lot of room for setting the scene, but I still appreciated it. The story has a clear moral to it, which the father is teaching to his son. All in all, a short but interesting story about venison smuggling (never thought I’d write that sentence, to be honest).
The version I read was adapted for beginning readers, so it’s perfect for young children, as well as students learning English. Difficult words wore explained throughout, and pictures (by Oskar Jorgensen) finish the story off. A recommended read for beginning readers and especially young boys because of the subject matter.
Have you read The Deer Stealers? If so, what did you think? Be sure to let me know in the comments.