Hunting for a Belly Dragger
The mulie buck was built like a pony. Its belly so filled with alfalfa that it’s bulge made his hind quarters and shoulders look shrunken by comparison. His antlers were thick and white yet free of the points and spread that hunters find so appealing. They lifted heavily from his forehead then only forked briefly some two feet later. The does knew why he was there after ignoring them all summer, but they shrugged off his advances.
Not a trophy by most standards, but a scarred veteran of many previous hunting seasons. He was just what I was looking for, but the season is not yet open here on the prairie, so I took my rifle to the hills in pursuit of whitetail.
It was one of those magical mornings when nature was showing off all her assets. A young golden eagle strafed a flock of mallards on the pond. The migration is on, so the greenheads were not alone. A few gaudy wood ducks and a single pintail wearing its formal white shirt and dark hat kept them company.
Above, the skies were filled with the calls of wave after wave of geese, and for the first time in my memory, flock after flock of snow geese traveled with the Canadians. While thickly populated on the eastern side of the state and the river, snow geese have not been common here over the hills.
The turkeys were unimpressed by their chatter and tried to drown them out with their own noise from the oaks.
The ground was covered with a graceful, early blanket of snow; not enough to fill a shovel, but it artfully highlighted the shadows and pines.
While the rut should still be a week off, the young bucks were feeling their oats and hunting to discover a receptive doe. There was no such luck as far as I could tell, with much fighting and posturing in the fields, but no does showing an inclination.
Last season I had to wait two weeks into November for such a snow, yet this year the weather was perfect and the deer ready to put on a show.
Buck number one was a contender; a four-year old with all the symmetry, height, and width that give the appearance of wings. Yet his mass and brow tines were weak and it gave away his immaturity, like a soldier too young for a beard.
Buck number two was older. A thick veteran with only four points per side on a narrow set of antlers that lost none of their mass from burl to the tip of his tines. I doubt that he will get much bigger nor avoid lions and the weather for too many more seasons, but I had shot his kind before. This trophy would be better harvested by a younger hunter.
The third buck was a gift.
I took grainy pictures of the first two from a distance, close enough for a rifle shot, but out of bow range. I had gathered up my gear and was departing the forest as quietly as I could. I wanted to leave such a magical morning as undisturbed as my tired feet and lack of grace would allow. It had been a successful hunt in all aspects and I simply wanted to slip away and relish the slow walk off the mountain. But the third buck had slipped in unnoticed below me.
He kept his head hidden behind a thicket for several minutes while I tried to determine his age. I finally lost patience and grunted to gather his attention, pretending that I was one of the others tending to a doe.
He gracefully lifted over a fence and pranced up the hill. This buck would do. He showed his age in his body and antlers. Not a monster, but a veteran. The white line of his belly, was bulged slightly by gravity and age. His back gently dipped in recognition of the burden.
The shots I took were with my camera. This season has too many blessings in store to end it so early.