Originally Posted by seethelight
...I think it would be more mystical if the animal you were hunting was looking at you just as you were looking at it...
Gale, Jim, and I had driven down from Oklahoma City to Jim’s home town of Talco, Texas, to hunt deer. Talco was in the northeast part of Texas between Paris and Mountain View. There were lots of pine woods and a huge deer population, and there was the pervasive and overwhelming stench of rotten eggs.
It wasn’t really rotten eggs, it was the smell of Sulphur coming from the oil fields. Or, maybe it had something to do with the Sulphur River that flowed through town on it’s way east through Louisiana to the Gulf. Whatever it was, it was very unpleasant and I thought to myself that’s probably what Hell smells like.
We were looking forward to a good time. Jim’s older brother, U.Jene, was coming up from New Orleans. I always thought his name was Eugene, and that was what it was supposed to be. But, whoever registered his birth, wrote down U.Jene, so that’s who he was.
U.Jene had promised to bring “a real Loosyana treat” for us. We had a hunch what it might be. He was always talking about how he loved Gator Steaks. Grandma Stockton said that no matter what he brought, she would cook it for us. She was already peeling a pile of potatoes to make “Irish Fries” to go with it. Jim’s Uncle Elmer was coming over and bringing a “Couple of Good Friends”. Uncle Elmer was a recluse who lived by himself in the woods. “A Couple of Good Friends” was code that meant he was bringing two jugs of his finest “squeezins”. Gale and I were going to get our bucks, then drive back to the city to spend Thanksgiving with our own families. Jim’s wife and kids were coming down and he would spend Thanksgiving with them at his Grandma’s house.
Jim stopped the truck at the old church grounds. Gale was going to hunt there. I chose the abandoned farm across the street, and Jim had a favorite spot a bit farther down the road. It wasn’t more than forty-five minutes when I heard two shots from Gale’s direction. About ten minutes later, there was one shot from down the road where Jim was. I knew they both had gotten their bucks and would be waiting for me so we could take them down to the oil field supply where Jim’s cousin Robert worked. There was a scaffold in the pipe yard with a winch. We could hang the deer up there, have them skinned and quartered in a matter of minutes and be back at Grandma’s, meeting Uncle Elmer’s “Friends” while we waited for U.Jene and the Loosyana treat. I heard a rustle in the leaves in front and a little to the left of me.
This was going to be too easy.
I hadn’t been deer hunting for two or three years because the last time I went, something strange had happened to me that I didn’t know what to make of, so I gave hunting a rest for a while. I had lost concentration and my mind blanked out when I pulled the trigger. The deer was right in front of me and I had a clear shot. I don’t know if he bounded off or if I hit him. If he bounded off I would have heard him, but If I hit him, I couldn’t find him. The other guys laughed and said I had caught “Buck Fever”. But I knew that was not it. Buck fever afflicted greenhorns. I had hunted most of my life, and besides, the symptoms of Buck fever were freezing before the shot, not going blank after the shot. I thought it was probably because had a lot on my mind. I had just gotten a transfer and I was due to report to my new assignment in Oklahoma City the next month.
But, whatever it was, was all in the past. My mind was clear and focused as I concentrated on the brush waiting for the deer to come into range. There were two of them. A large six point buck and a smaller doe. They were both beautiful animals. I loved watching Whitetails. They are much more graceful than their cousins the Mule deer. And I always thought they were smarter.
They disappeared behind a large clump of brush. I could see them moving. I raised my rifle to be ready when they came out the other side. They still hadn’t noticed my presence. I had a clear shoulder shot when the buck turned towards me and his tail started to twitch. I squeezed the trigger.
This time I kept my eyes wide open. I saw everything. I saw the impact, I saw him fall, and I saw the other one’s flag as she turned and leapt off into the pines. I was elated. All that “Buck Fever” nonsense was far in the past. I was a hunter again and I could take my turn telling my buddies about “the shot”.
Gale and Jim must have been waiting for me at the old farmhouse, because as soon as I shot I heard them blowing the steel whistles that we used for signalling. I blew a little “shave and a haircut”. Somebody answered with “two bits”. I walked over to begin field dressing my trophy. My elation suddenly turned to horror. The horror turned to panic. I sank to my knees.
I had killed the doe.
For a poacher or a pot hunter, the sex of the deer make little difference. It all fried in the same grease. For a sportsman, besides the fact that it was against the law, shooting a doe was taboo. We all understood “hunting accidents” though. The buck and doe went behind the thicket, the buck came out, I shot, the doe jumped in front of the buck and I hit her instead. Even though I knew that was not what happened, it would be my defense.
Gale wasn’t buying it. He was too nice a guy to say anything, but I could tell by the way he would glance at me that I had lost his respect. Jim understood about hunting accidents. When the temperature went below freezing, U.Jene walked with a slight limp because Jim had shot him in the foot with a .22 when they were hunting armadillos as kids.
We field dressed the doe, hid her in an old feed shed, and took the other two deer over to Robert’s shop. Jim would tell Uncle Elmer where it was and he would come that night, take it to his place and butcher it. He could use the meat and at least it wouldn’t go to waste. I felt bad about the whole situation, but my regret was wearing off. I was starting to believe my own story. Accidents happen. I still hadn’t gotten my buck and I didn’t want to go back to the city empty handed.
I planned to go hunting again in the morning.
I drove Jim’s truck back to the old farm. Uncle Elmer had come and gotten the doe. As far as I was concerned, the episode was closed. I set off down the trail, confident that this time I would get my buck. As I approached the thicket, the location of yesterdays events, I heard the leaves rustle. I saw movement through the leaves and I stood stark still. Deer have keen senses. They can catch your scent a mile away. They can hear you breathing across a five acre meadow. If you blink your eyes, they will see it and bolt. But, if you stand completely still, you are invisible to them.
He looked straight me. It was the same buck as yesterday. I didn’t expect to see him there. I wasn’t even planning to hunt there, I was just on my way by. But there he was. He lowered his head and gave a snort, expelling a little puff of steam from his nostrils. Then, he raised his head up as if he was scanning the clouds for some sort of communication. I had a head-on chest shot. I fired.
He went down on his knees, then his back legs folded and he just sat there. His eyes followed my every move as I approached. I tried to take another shot to finish him off, but my rifle jammed. I stood there about five feet in front of him. Our eyes were locked and I felt my face growing hot. His eyes were like glistening pools of black onyx and they were drawing me in. I felt our souls merging. I could feel his labored breathing in my chest and my heartbeat was growing weak.
All of a sudden I felt like Alice with the bottle of “Drink Me”. My head shot skyward and I was looking down at a distorted image of my feet. I lurched sideways. I was dizzy and off balance. I had to sit down. Sweat was running down face. It may have been tears.
I looked over at the buck. He hadn’t moved or tried to get up. He was still staring at me, but his gaze was now soft and resigned. As I sat there trying to regain my breath, I could feel his breathing slowing down. He slowly lowered his head. His nose touched the ground and he died. I loaded him in the truck. The collar of my shirt was soaking wet and I knew now that it was not sweat
I wished I had stayed home. Over the last twenty four hours I had killed two innocent creatures. For what? I didn’t need the meat. Did I do it just for the sport? What sport was there in killing these beautiful animals with whom I now seemed to share some kind of soul-space with?
I didn’t want to see or talk to anybody right then, so I drove down to the river and sat on the bank trying to figure out what had happened. As I sat there, I could see several deer off in the distance on the other side of the river. I didn’t see them as potential targets like I used to. I saw them as brothers and sisters. I wanted to run over there and say “I’m sorry”.
When I got back to the house Jim ran out waving his arms. “Where the Hell have you been? He said. “Something has happened. We have to go back right now.” Gale came out. His usual friendly smile was gone. His lips were tight and his face had a pink tinge. “Our leave is cancelled” he said. “The base is under full alert”.
Grandma Stockton was standing in the doorway twisting her hands in her apron. “They shot the President” she said. Her hands and her voice shook with emotion. “I been praying that we don’t have a war over it”.
I left the deer hanging on the side of the garage. I didn’t want it. Uncle Elmer could have it. We were silent on the way back. There was nothing on the radio except talk of the assassination, and for the time being it had taken over our lives.
A few months later I heard that U.Jene never made it up from New Orleans. He got drunk and drove off the road outside of Baton Rouge. He wasn’t hurt too badly, but he broke his foot - the same foot that Jim shot years ago. Uncle Elmer’s still blew up, burned down his cabin and about 60 acres of woods. He was staying at Grandma Stockton’s and taking care of her after her stroke. Robert had gotten fired from the oil field supply for punching the new foreman, who was black. Several years ago he had been kicked out of the army for punching his Lieutenant, who was black. He was planning to move his family to Idaho.
As I heard all this, I could smell the sulphur and I remembered my first impression of Talco, Texas. I was truly blessed. I had found God in the eyes of a dying deer right in the middle of Hell.
I never hunted again.