Not the Buck You Wanted
I kind of had feelings for that deer.
I had watched him for several mornings from a tree stand when he had been a yearling. He would graze and dig through the forest floor looking for the last undiscovered acorn that would round out his needs for the winter. He grunted like a pig whenever he found one, not loud, just culinary contentment on a woodland level.
He stood out even then because the first rack that he ever grew was heavy and palmated. The main beams on most of his yearling kin were finger-thick and sprouted perhaps a salad fork if any points at all. Little Pig had four points coming off each main beam and they were twice as heavy.
By his second season I began to get worried.
Little Pig was a two-year old show stopper. From a distance he stood out from the other bucks who had to swing their heads for you to be certain they had racks. He threw shadows and made you catch your breath whenever he sky-lined. I was fortunate enough to have a good neighbor who listened to my suggestion to let him grow and somehow despite all of his wanderings through an area rich with hunters, he made it through.
Not only did he escape unscathed but he also came in on the morning that he happened to drop his antlers. The buck left both of them near the stack yard for my son to discovered during his morning chores. Lane still has them.
As a three-year-old, I couldn’t protect him any longer. He took a broadhead in the shoulder in October but limped away. Poachers tried to take him from the road at night and he took a twenty-two round in the neck. Finally, he got crossways with a neighbor and absorbed a lever action 30-30 round to his hindquarters that should have been fatal. But the next morning, he was still on his feet and attempting to chase a young doe through a buffalo-berry thicket. He wasn’t the buck I wanted, but I thought that he deserved better than to be eaten alive by a pack of coyotes. I discovered all of the other wounds and stories only when I skinned him out.
I remembered that story recently when handed a photo by a new student, Alana Hoven. Her very first buck hadn’t come quite the way she had imagined it either.
She and her dad had spent the day in pursuit but hadn’t been able to find the right situation for a clean shot. That first one can be so challenging and the size of the deer is so much less important in the minds of new hunters than the desire to make a clean kill that causes no suffering or shame. They were headed back home to Newell empty handed when they received a call from a close family friend in the Sherriff’s department.
During the rut, bucks will fight so hard over a doe that on occasion they will kill each other. If their antlers happen to lock together after one dies, the surviving champion is left victorious but doomed. Imagine a slow death by starvation or entertained by the sounds of predators eating the vanquished before they make their way to you.
Such was the choice offered to Alana. Did she wish to use her tag to end the suffering of a doomed deer locked to another. It wasn’t the buck she had wanted. Not the way she had imagined her hunt ending, but she decided that the buck deserved better.
Sometimes as hunters we have the chance to make a statement. We are given the opportunities to subvert our own desires and offer back a token.
Good call Alana.