The last buck

On the opening day of deer season, a buck deer chased a doe out into an opening in front of my deer stand. His antlers were unimpressive; at 100 yards no one can tell how many points are on a moving animal. The doe was obviously aggravated with him. Reminded me of me when I was 14 years old, trying to get Sharon Bennett to notice me.

I was about to make life better for that doe, as the buck appeared to be fat and healthy enough to provide steaks, hamburger and stew meat for months. I leveled the rifle, waited until he slowed down and pulled the trigger. Nothing! I pulled harder. Still nothing.

Well, to make a sad story brief, I found out that the action on the rifle had not closed properly and for all I know that mediocre buck is still trying to get some doe to stop long enough to develop a romance. It was frustrating, but I corrected the problem and asked the Great Creator if he was enjoying watching me goof up so much. Surely God laughs at me, if he is watching. It must amuse Him when my boat floats out in the middle of the stream while I am stranded on the bank, or when I shoot at a drake mallard over my head and a branch comes crashing down at my feet and the duck flies on. He has surely smiled when my bird dog comes down on staunch point and my heartbeat soars in anticipation of a rooster pheasant and it turns out to be a groundhog which smells just like a bird.

I have accepted that. As long as I know God is out there with me, I don’t mind providing a little enter tainment. In overseeing this country we live in, there isn’t much to make God smile today! But as I thought about that, another doe stepped out into that opening, crossing the little road, which goes up into big timber. Was that the same doe? I prepared to whack that buck behind her if he showed up again. And as I figured, there was a buck behind her, but this one wasn’t like Larry the teenager all starry eyed with a pretty classmate. This buck was the Sean Connery of the woods, the Tom Selleck of deerdom. His antlers were wide and thick and heavy, and he was big, built like John Wayne. And the doe wasn’t running, she was happy about being there. She walked down toward my stand and he followed. Then he stopped and angled off to the woods like Sam Elliott would have done, suspicious of Indians.

Through a tree-top or two, he was a good 120 yards away and I put my sights on his heart and pulled the trigger at what was my very last chance to make a clean shot. But it wouldn’t work, I knew. I am not so good with a rifle I don’t miss, and this was a better chance to miss than I have had in a while. The rifle roared, the doe ran up under me and stopped and her leading man dropped in his tracks and did not move. He didn’t even kick. I had done better than I expected. The bullet went only a foot or so from where I aimed, and the way I figure it, it must have ricocheted off a small branch and hit him right in front of his eye an inch or so. But I never saw a deer drop that dead in my life. He never twitched.

The whole story reminds me of the time many years ago when I shot and killed a fat little fork-horned buck at a distance of 40 yards and before I could climb down from my stand a huge old gray buck with antlers likely supporting 10 or 12 points from heavy high beams stepped out of the cedars and stood there for a good minute, trying to figure out what had happened. Other hunters told me they would have shot that big buck, but I really had no interest in big antlers. Still don’t. I have plenty, scattered in sheds and around the basement. Never could justify spending $500 for taxidermy work when Gloria Jean wanted a dishwasher.

You can see the pictures of my big buck on my website, larrydablemontout-doors, and when you do, you should know that he is the last one to fall to my rifle, muzzle-loader or crossbow. He is the last buck I will ever kill, unless I hit one with my pickup! I say that not with any guilt from being a hunter, or sympathy for the deer. I may indeed take a doe in future hunting seasons, with my crossbow or muzzle-loader, if this deer disease doesn’t make it too risky to do so. but never another buck. But otherwise I have had enough. The deer season falls during that time that I would love so much to be walking the Sandhills of Nebraska or South Dakota hunting prairie grouse, or following a bird-dog in Iowa, hoping to get a couple of ring-necked pheasants to jump within range.

The fishing, when deer season opens, is often really good, especially the farther south you go. And over on Truman Lake, my Labrador and I can hide back up in the tip of some cove and almost certainly drop a mallard or two in the decoys, if we wait long enough and I’m not napping when they fly past.

The best time of the year is October and November, and I always feel like I am missing something when I hunt deer. In this day and time, when preparation for bagging a big buck entails game cameras and corn feeders, and walking the woods in blaze orange clothing with doe pee squirted on your boots, I don’t fit. I may hunt for deer with my camera, but not with a modern rifle. I am not suited to be decked out in bright colors, mixing with the crowds from the city suburbs who come once a year to the woods in pursuit of trophies.

I came to that conclusion the day I killed that big buck, working for hours to gut him and skin and properly take care of the meat without cutting any bones or lymph nodes or internal organs. No more! In future winters, I may walk the woods, hoping for a skiff of snow, hunting a young deer for the freezer with my muzzle-loader.

You may call my office to order one of my outdoor books or a subscription to my outdoor magazine for yourself or as a Christmas gift. The number is 417777-5227. Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. Our email address is changing this week; don’t use the old one.

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