The End Of The Hunt

The End Of The Hunt

Posted 2002-09-04T07:00:00Z  by  Thomas King

The End Of The Hunt

WAIT! I whispered loudly.

What is it? Matt responded.

Just wait a second and don't shoot yet, I calmly said.

I had said it before I thought, and it was out of reflex more than anything. I immediately regretted it and I had a very deep sinking feeling in my stomach. I had seen movement in the far left corner of the field. Yep, big as life, in the last spot I ever thought of seeing him, there he was. Old Mule Head was standing 175 yards away slightly quartering toward me in the wide open a little over an hour past daylight. I felt ill and overjoyed all at the same time. He was standing still, not moving an inch and had his eyes trained on the two does standing less than 100 yards away from us. His rack looked even bigger than the last time I had seen him, darker too.

Same wide rack, same thick mass, same tall tines. There was only one problem, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. If I were bowhunting, at least I had a chance, but now, today, I was useless. Then it occurred to me for a split second, take the gun and shoot him. Now.

There was no way I could do that to Hank, myself, Matt, or least of all Old Mule Head, he deserved better than that. Then I remembered that I had a little boy sitting there 'bout ready to pull the trigger on a trophy deer himself. Well, Matt didn't know the buck was there and I could've told him I saw another doe in the RIGHT edge of the field and to just go ahead and shoot the doe he had picked out. He would never have known the difference. Old Mule Head would vanish without a trace at the shot, the doe would drop and I would be a hero. Matt would go home with an amazing story to tell all his friends, I could hear him tell the story again and again, and Old Mule Head would still be here uninjured and ready to play the game again in two days. These thoughts were racing through my mind.

More thoughts to myself "I could hear him tell the story again and again. Crap! There is no way I could sit and listen to him tell of his doe with all the excitement in his voice and know the truth, especially if I did manage to get lucky enough to kill Old Mule Head. Nobody else would do this though, nobody would throw away all the time, effort, planning and dreams of a buck like Mule Head just so a little boy could fire blindly at him, probably wounding him, only to have him die and rot deep in the bottom never to be seen or enjoyed. It just ain't fair. I owe Mule Head a well-placed shot by a hunter who could appreciate him to the fullest. There is no way Matt could know what he was, or how special that deer was to me as well as Hank, no way. Hank, Hank, what would Hank do? Heck, I know what he would do, but what would he think if he knew how I was feeling, and what I was considering doing. I fully know the answer to that one as well. As bad as I hate to admit it right now, I do know what he would think, and that is the very reason I have to do what I have to do.

There is another deer out there, a buck, I finally whispered to the boy.

Really, where? he asked.

He is at the far end of the field on the left side. Put your safety back on and ease your rifle over to the corner and look for him, I calmly told Matt.

I don't see him, he said after looking for a moment or two.

He is there, just to the right of the big oak tree in the corner. The one that is sticking up over everything else, I assured him with my eyes placed firmly on the buck.

I don't see him, the boy said again.

Take your binoculars and look, quit using your scope, I started. Find him in your binoculars, then put your scope back up there.

Ok, I see him, there he is, Matt said with excitement. I can see his antlers from here.

Matt, he is a long ways off, but you can take him, I coached.

I don't think I can hit him from here, the boy nervously said.

Matt, I know this ain't easy, I began, but son, you have the chance of a lifetime right here, but the does are fixing to run like the wind, and if they do, he will be gone and won't come back. If you are not SURE you can hit him, don't shoot. We don't want to wound him, but if you think you can, shoot him.

Do you think I can hit him? he asked me.

Yes, Matt, I do, I assured him.

I don't know, I think I will just shoot the doe, she is closer, the boy said. Always take the closer shot, ain't that what you said?

Yes, that is what I said, I said with a nod.

So, should I just shoot the doe? he questioned some more.

MATTHEW, can you see the buck? I started.

Yes, but... Matt tried to speak.

Matthew, can you see where his shoulder is? I asked.

Yes, but-, he tried again.

Matthew, the does are fixing to run...Drill the buck... I whispered loudly.

The report of the rifle scared me worse than I had expected and I jumped like he had shot ME. The next few seconds were like frozen in time as the bullet left the end of the barrel and rocketed towards the other end of the field and the proposed target 175 long yards away. Just like that it was over. Old Mule Head dropped in his tracks, and never moved a muscle that I saw.

Did I get him? I can't see him. Did he run off? Did I miss? Matt questioned rapidly.

I was choked up and couldn't find the words to speak. My mouth felt as if it was full of sand. I reached for and took a huge gulp from my water bottle before speaking. My emotions were running wild, and I had tears in my darn eyes. I couldn't even be excited for him knowing that my year had just ended. He was excited sure, but he had NO idea what he had just done. I felt so ashamed for thinking all the thoughts I had before he shot. I knew that I did the right thing by stopping him and telling him to shoot though, if I hadn't of done that, well, I wouldn't be a man in my own eyes. I was happy for him though, he will be famous in a lot of people's eyes, that was for sure.

Come on boy, let's go see what you got, I said while patting him on the back.

Is he a nice one? he asked.

Yep, he is a dandy Matthew, he is indeed a dandy, I assured him.

We got to the buck and the first thing I noticed was that his eyes were indeed open. I told Matt to get his gun ready just in case. I walked up and touched his eyeball with a stick. It was over.

Good job Matthew, give me five big guy, I cheered.

Man, his antlers are big! the boy exclaimed.

Yes, they are aren't they? was my reply.

I found the entry hole. It was right above the shoulder, went in dead center of the spine and basically exploded. I didn't even see an exit wound. Not too bad I thought, just about 12 inches from where he was aiming. I picked up the deer's antlers and twisted his head around to get a better look.

My gosh, he is huge, no doubt. The biggest buck I have ever touched in person, I told the boy. His bases were at least 6 inches around, and those G-2's were amazing. Gotta be 12 inches at least, I told Matt as I counted all the kickers, stickers, and trash he did indeed have 14 points.

I am guessing that he will go 160 easy, I said as I just sat there holding him, looking at him, wondering if he knew how very special an animal he was. Thank you Mule Head, for all the thoughts, and dreams you have let me live through you. I hope you got to pass on one more generation of genes before meeting that little bitty bullet that ended your life. I will hunt you again my friend, for many years I will hunt you over and over again, I said to myself inside.

Get over here and let me get some pictures of you boy! I barked. Your daddy is gonna crap, you know that don't you?

Yeah, I guess he is isn't he? the boy replied.

I would say so. Congratulations man, that is wonderful, I said. Have you ever field dressed a deer?

No, daddy always does it for me, Matt said with a smile.

Well, I will do this one for you too, or you can do it, or you can do it while I show you how, I told him.

I don't know what to do, he bashfully said.

Come here, I will show you what to do, I said.

"After a mighty big hug our eyes met, and I still don't know whose were filled up the most, his or mine."

It took us almost an hour and I did have to help him a little, but he did enough that I would have no problem saying he did it by himself. I figured he would remember it all a lot better that way. I know I remember my first deer, and a lot of the reason I remember it is because I did it myself. I just hoped this memory sticks to him like I know it will.

We got him tagged and everything packed back up and I told him to come over and sit down. We turned the buck to where his rack was facing us, took out a couple of cokes and some sausage and biscuits and both of us ate and drank in silence. I knew the boy's mind was racing and I knew my mind was full of thoughts and feelings that are just too hard to explain to anyone who hasn't been there. Finally we started talking and reliving the hunt and that was when I realized that I did in fact do the right thing and I could now call myself a hunter.

Thank you for taking me this morning, Matt said with a huge smile. I will never forget this day. Can I give you a hug?

Well sure big guy, you go right ahead, I told him.

After a mighty big hug our eyes met, and I still don't know whose were filled up the most, his or mine. It was truly a wonderful day.

Well, come on then, we need to get this big rascal up to the house. We will go get the four wheeler and come back after him, I told the boy.

Nobody will get him will they? he nervously asked.

No, I don't think you will have to worry about that, I started. Especially since you can almost see him from the shed.

I might ought to stay here with him, he said.

No, come on boy, he will be okay, I assured him once more.

I heard the shot. Did you get one son? the old man asked.

Yes sir, I sure did, and a BUCK too, Matt replied.

A buck huh? Is he a good one? Hank pressed on.

Yes sir, his antlers are big, Matt assured him.

Yep, he got Old Mule Head this morning, I chimed in.

What!!? Hank asked bewildered.

Yep, sure did, big as life. He came out down by the oak and stood there quartering towards us, I told him.

How close did he get? was Hank's next question.

Well, actually he dropped him where he stood, I proudly said.

That is like 175 yards to that corner, Hank said.

Yeah, I know. We had two does 'bout a hundred yards in front of us when he came out, I replied.

I could feel the pain building again so I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

Well, we are gonna go get him on the four wheeler, I said.

Ok, I will wait here, I want to see the ole boy again myself, Hank said.

"This will hook the boy for life, and you may not think so right now, but you have indeed changed a life today by sharing one of the greatest passions that there ever was on this earth, and I want you to know just one thing...I am proud of you."

Those will make a nice set of rattling horns won't they? I said to Hank.

Yeah I reckon they will, Hank agreed.

Let me get that saw and we will cut them off real quick, I teased some more.

NO!! the boy shouted, I want to get him mounted!

The old man and I busted out laughing at the shock in Matt's eyes as the old man walked closer to the deer with a saw in his hands.

Do you think my dad will get him mounted for me? Matt questioned.

Oh yeah, for sure big guy, for sure, I started. Would you like to call him now?

YEAH!! the boy exclaimed as I pulled my cell phone out and dialed up Kenny's number and handed it to Matt. I could just see him standing there with a half-tied tie around his neck in front of a hotel mirror grinning like a possum eating peanut butter. I am sure he was proud, but he would have no idea what Matt has done till he gets home. I decided then and there that I would withhold any details of the hunt or deer until after he and Matt have shared seeing it together for the first time. That is a moment that they will cherish for the rest of their lives.

As he started from the point where he went to bed the night before and continued on to his dad, Hank and I went over and sat down on the porch. I recounted the entire story to him, leaving out nothing and he just sat there quietly, intently listening with little to no emotion. I was actually surprised still by the flow of emotions that involve me telling that story. I will admit it still hurts but it was all worth it to see that boy's face and feel him hug me. Hank sat there for a couple of minutes without speaking as I refused Kenny any details and hung the phone up. I watched as Matt went to admire his buck some more.

Well boy, I will tell you, as you know I have lived a long time in this old world and I have spent quite a few hours in the woods chasing deer just like that one over there, Hank started to tell me. If there is one thing that I have indeed learned that is there are many many things that make up the hunt. Sure killing a deer of any kind is special, but to be out there and to know what it is REALLY all about is something different. Don't be too hard on yourself for thinkin' like you did. Heck I would have too. The important thing is you did the right thing. You did what a deer hunter would do, what a man would do. You have shared in something very special this morning, and I am actually jealous. I am jealous of that, not the deer, and you will be grateful for this later too. True, this boy may not fully appreciate or even know what he has done this morning, but after many many years of chasing deer like Old Mule Head trust me, he will know one day and he will never forget the man that took him the day he killed 'that big buck'. That my boy, is worth more than a hundred deer just like that one. To know that after you are dead and gone, and maybe even forgotten by a lot of people, there will be one man in this world that will never ever forget you and what you did for him. This will hook the boy for life, and you may not think so right now, but you have indeed changed a life today by sharing one of the greatest passions that there ever was on this earth, and I want you to know just one thing...I am proud of you.

The tears came easily this time, as I knew in that instant that I loved that old man and everything he stood for. I hoped that I could be half the man he was if I lived to be twice his age.

Thank you Hank. That means a lot, I said while wiping a tear.

"Aahhhh," he said as he got up and gave me that trademark wave of the arm as if to dismiss all the feelings and emotions and get on with the every day things in life. Let's get this ole deer loaded up and get ya'll on the way to the checking station.

Ok, that sounds good. We will have to run by and show Christie, I know she will be excited too, I said.

Yeah, I bet she will be, the old man replied with a smile.

I am going to carry it to the processor's, 'cause I don't know how Kenny will want it cut up, I told him.

Well, alrighty then, congratulations there Matthew, and you make sure the wind don't blow that ole deer out of that truck on the way, you hear? Hank warned the boy.

Yes sir, Matt replied.

Boy, I will see you early Monday morning, Hank said to me with a wave.

Yeah, right, Monday, I shot back as the boy and I made our way to the truck.