By Phillip Frankford
I’ve heard it said that the mark of a good story teller is the ability to take the listener or reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions. He or she will abruptly lead the way from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a way that leaves us hanging on every word. We rush quickly down the story’s trail to reach the next horizon where we will stand and behold the picturesque landscape of the next chapter for but a moment, and then once again we find ourselves rushing off toward the next horizon. We hasten our way to the journey’s end and then joy at the end of the journey and the story’s conflict is resolved. Yet we are also sad that our trail has reached its destination so soon. Maybe that’s why we love the outdoors. Every adventure is another story and we have to know the ending, and when it ends we are sad that it is over. As with stories the ones that we seem to remember the best and enjoy the most are the ones that take us on a wild ride of highs and lows.
The gentle southerly breeze on the right side of my face was unusually warm for Dec. 14. As I walked in for what would be my final hunt of the 2013 shotgun season I reflected on the fall. I had killed a doe with my bow and arrow. I’m new enough to archery hunting that any deer is still a trophy to me. Shotgun season was something of a disappointment. I missed two shots, the only real shot opportunities that I’d had in several days of hunting. Yet I had still enjoyed my time afield, some with family and friends, and some with just the companionship of a firearm that comes easily to my shoulder. My expectations for this hunt were low as I was going to a stand for an evening sit, and natural deer movement during daylight hours was practically non-existent here at the end of the second shotgun season.
It was about two o’clock when I crossed the barbed wire fence skirting the west edge of the hardwood timber where I had a stand. I had entered the timber and began to sneak as quietly as possible to the south towards a ladder stand near a small pond in some open timber. As I crossed the last rise before reaching the stand I flushed several deer. I put the gun to my shoulder, but had no good shots and chose not to take a marginal one and spook them even worse. Hopefully one might come back as they didn’t scent me, and were alerted by sound only.
A few minutes later I was seated in the stand south wind in my face enjoying the smell of the forest on an unseasonably warm day watching a squirrel in his never ending effort to store up acorns for the winter. The otherwise natural sounds of the forest were interrupted regularly by some farm activity taking place off to the south that involved a lot of banging metal. Lost in a world of reflection I was interrupted by movement caught by my peripheral vision off to the east. Closer inspection revealed part of an antler sticking out of from beside a giant oak tree. My pulse began immediately to increase and I was launched into what would be a brief roller coaster ride that would become the story of this buck.
I could only get a good look at him by leaning forward or back, and felt there was no way he could get out from behind the tree without my seeing him, so I waited at the ready for him to step out, but couldn’t really see him. After a few minutes I leaned forward again to make sure he was still there and he was gone. I didn’t imagine him, he had really been there. I gave a few blasts on my deer call, and in an instant he was back. Off to the north east, moving my direction head up at attention.
Years of training and instinct took over as my heart was beating so loud I was sure the deer would hear it. I twisted silently around in the stand taking a rest on the tree and lined up the sights on an opening that the buck would soon pass through. Approximately 70 yards away, easily within the range of my rifled 12 gauge loaded with sabot slugs. As the deer stepped into the opening I settled the Iron sights on his vitals and gently took up the slack on the trigger. It’s difficult to believe the range of emotion that I experienced in what would be the next few seconds. I was surprised and devastated by the click that happened when there should have been a loud bang. I had never loaded the chamber of the gun after climbing into the stand. Without thinking I worked the bolt on the gun and brought it back to my shoulder expecting to see the white tail of the disappearing buck, but I found myself looking down the barrel at what appeared to be an empty timber.
For what seemed like an eternity but could have been only a moment I waited at the ready, asking myself how the deer could have gotten away so quickly and how I could insert the clip and not load the chamber. Then he started moving. The buck hadn’t gotten away or even spooked, just stopped in a place that he blended in particularly well when not moving, but now was easily visible again. I can only guess that the noise of the farm activity masked the click and the working of the bolt. As the deer entered the new opening in the forest that I had chosen, I once again took up slack on the trigger and this time was rewarded with the loud report that said the gun had fired. The deer tucked his tail and lifted favored his left front leg as he turned north at a run and disappeared over a ridge.
I marked the spot in my mind where the deer was standing when I shot. Waiting a short half hour I walked right to the spot. I found where he had been standing with no problem, turned up leaves marked the place where his hooves had launched him into his escape. Search ever so hard I could find no evidence on the ground of a hit, not a drop of blood or a single hair. As panic once again began bringing me back down from the clouds I was in, I searched in ever widening circles for some sign of a hit. After a few minutes of fruitless search for some reason I stopped searching for blood and moved down the deer’s trail to a ridge and systematically began to visually search the timber for my buck. I saw him lying there about 70 yards away, and was launched once again from the deepest of depths into an emotional high that would leave me smiling for days straight and still brings a smile every time I remember. He was a fully mature, perfectly symmetrical; snow white 8 point that would score slightly over 100 inches. No record book winner but a priceless trophy to me.
A gentle snow began to fall as I field dressed and dragged out my buck, bringing a picturesque ending to the perfect day. What a ride, what a story I had just lived through. Maybe that’s why I’ll never get enough. I can’t wait for my next trip afield. With any luck it will be an adventure filled with lows and highs, feeding the flame of my passion for the outdoors like “Another Log on the Fire”.