Not in the Face
As kids, we would posture and throw punches. Pretending to be in real life altercations in preparation for heroic moments in our future when we would have our Karate Kid moment; defending the virtue of a lady, or repelling the attack of the schoolyard bully.
Of course there were elaborate rules, unwritten, that governed these fights. You could punch someone in the gut, but only with warning and an exaggerated windup so they could tighten their stomachs. Shoulder punches were good at any time and often without warning or provocation. A type of toughening up for the real thing. If seated, an acquaintance could punch another in the meaty part of the thigh. It was incredibly painful, though not for long and allowed.
Faces and necks were off limits and reserved for actual fights, the kind we only saw in the movies. Anything below the belt would get you banned from the gang for as long as it took us all to stop laughing. It was considered truly bad form. Threats of violence that induced a flinch could be administered at any time if a teacher wasn’t looking. If the teacher was a coach and the kids was a yutz who was lowering the team’s batting average they would look away.
The rules were for playgrounds, but they served a purpose.
I spent Saturday morning chasing a young antelope buck that had managed to peel away a single doe from a group of thirty. I waited until they stepped over a ridge, misjudged the rate at which they would feed by as I peeked over and ended up getting busted at about seventy yards. The pair bolted showing their truly remarkable speed.
It made me think of the laws of physics and the unwritten rules that antelope and other antlered species must follow to establish dominance without killing each other and threatening the species.
If force equals mass times acceleration, then the antelope could administer fatal blows if they chose to ram each other at full speed.
Two bucks traveling at 65 miles per hour, each carrying 120 pounds of mass, … carry the three. Such a collision would yield a pile of broken hide and bloodied bones that would leave few sires available for duty. Instead, they square off, engage each other below the knees, and attempt to twist each other’s legs in directions in which they were not assembled. Broken limbs are common, but eventually heal. The antler sheaths fall off come winter and the herd males have each other’s backs for the next nine months.
Whitetail bucks square off too, but agree to only play “made you flinch,” until the velvet comes off. No contact is allowed while the delicate skin still covers the growing antlers, any strike can cause permanent damage and would be considered, “below the belt.”
Sheep have their own rules and they seem to read, “Hit me in the face only.” Humans standing at a distance and listening to the volume of the concussion created when two rams line up and smash heads together have created in tribute entire lines of trucks carrying their symbol of stubborn toughness.
While these rules protect the species, occasionally road rage takes over. Twice in my many years of guiding I have seen animals take revenge on a dominant herd bull or buck. Each time the animal had sustained an initial injury from one of my hunters.
The first was an antelope that had taken a bullet too far back to prove immediately fatal and it had run over a ridgeline and out of sight. On follow up, a second buck had notice the lead antelope’s wound and taken advantage. It was following none of the rules and was instead intent on killing the older buck himself. My hunter ended the one-sided attack and retrieved his trophy.
The second was a bull elk that had taken an arrow. There is a prescribed period in which an archery hunter leaves his prey at peace to expire from loss of blood and to prevent adrenaline from carrying him farther away should he feel chased. After waiting an appropriate time, we followed the blood trail and discovered another elk savaging the body of the much larger bull. He did not want to give it up and followed me for a half mile through the dark timber after I cleaned the fallen animal and was covered in the smell of its blood. I carried no weapon and it was the only time I have ever felt threatened by an elk.
These rules only apply to the horned and antlered herd animals. Bears and lions eat their own, and don’t even get me started on the evil a gobbler visits on recently injured brethren.