Hunters dread this day.
The last day of the season is an emotional one, especially if a hunter hasn’t bagged anything yet. As to the whitetail, I’m not sure how they feel but I have a sneaky feeling they sense that freedom is nigh.
Unlike the beginning of season, when everything seems possible, the last day can see many different endings – a memorable buck, succulent meat for the table the rest of the year. Or a cold, wet and barren day, frozen triggers, cramps and just the sound of scampering hooves, getting away unscathed.
Either way, it is a day to wrap up all those hunting tales baking within – to be told and retold and embellished as the years go by.
But sometimes – just sometimes – the last day of the hunt brings with it the urge within a hunter to turn over a new leaf and be a better man….
Hunters are a breed of men steeped in hypocrisy. They try ta hide a natural blood lust under the guise of necessity.
I remember one time, a friend – an avid hunter who came alive only when the season began – actually knelt and touched the still warm body of the game and with his head bowed in faux gratitude, spoke directly to it, ‘Thank you for the nourishment you have provided me. I promise to eat it and distribute it among my friends and family and all those who feel the need for it……’
The words were so hollow that I was amazed he actually believed them. To him, killing the whitetail had been necessary, as if he couldn’t have gotten his so-called ‘nourishment’ from other sources and had no other alternative but to kill an innocent animal who didn’t want ta end up as somebody’s nourishment and instead had the same desires as us – to go on living, to frolic, to have sex and to care for it’s own. Besides, thanks are usually given to providers who willingly provide, not to a living being who just walked into a well-aimed projectile that was coming at him at 3000 feet every second.
I have never ventured into the ridiculous – eulogizing over the carcass of a dead prey. However, as long as I hunted, I was still a part of that same circle of hypocrisy.
But there are lots of phonies in the hunting world, each having his own way ta rationalize the act of killing an innocent living being. Here are a few samples….
“I do not hunt for the joy of killing but for the joy of living, and the inexpressible pleasure of mingling my life however briefly, with that of a wild creature that I respect, admire and value.”
– Clint Eastwood
“It has always seemed to me that any man is a better man for being a hunter. This sport confers a certain constant alertness, and develops a certain ruggedness of character….Moreover, it allies us to the pioneer past. In a deep sense, this great land of ours was won for us by hunters.”
– Charlton Heston
That morning I had arrived at the tree stand early, almost an hour before regulation time. It was still pitch dark and all I could hear was the rustle of the undergrowth. My heart pounding in anticipation and my senses already working overtime in the dark-dark, I had picked my way through the brush, the only light – the glow from my GPS. Cardinal rule of the wild – it hates flashlights.
That was four hours ago and now here I was, staring down at a scene that could only be described as every hunter’s wet dream. The massive whitetail buck that I had named ‘Zorba’ had finally managed to mount the doe and the curve of his richard was beginning ta straighten and grow rigid.
I had forgotten to put my cellphone on vibrate and suddenly the ‘jingle bells’ ringtone went off. I glanced at the screen – it was Cedric, probably wanting ta know if I had scored. I hastily switched off the phone, but I knew I was busted – no way they hadn’t heard that. But Zorba was now inside the doe, his eyes crazed and his breath coming out in grunts. The air was so electrified that nothing else seemed ta matter to them.
For a hunter, the set-up couldn’t have been more perfect. It was doe season and I had my lucky draw buck coupon. At that moment, I could have taken them both down and I wouldn’t be breaking any rules. I picked up the Lapua from the tree stand floor and cocked it. The noise of the bolt action would have been enough ta scare them away, they were so close. But they were oblivious. Perhaps this is why hunting season coincides with mating season. This is the only time a whitetail buck lets it’s guard down.
I settled down with the butt of the rifle against my shoulder and my finger inside the trigger guard. And I waited. I was going to let them satisfy their desires one last time. I owed them that much.
Now completely resigned and passive, the doe swayed back and forth with each thrust as she stared into the distance. Suddenly she let out a hoarse warble and began feverishly trying ta wriggle away from under Zorba. That’s when I followed her gaze and saw three bucks walking into the clearing – a mid-sized fork horn with a torn earlobe, a smaller 6-pointer with funny antlers, his hooves a bit unsteady, and a large tall-tined, chocolate horned 10-pointer with a grey-white rack and a really mean face.
The fork horn and the 6-pointer immediately backed away and ceded the floor to the chocolate-horned brute, who laid his ears back, bristled and stiff-legged it into the middle of the clearing. Occurred to me he was definitely smaller than Zorba, but just a wee bit smaller, maybe around 300lbs. He could even be younger and therefore more agile than Zorba.
The chocolate horn came to a halt right over the pee stain and I chuckled to myself, ‘here we go again.’ Sure enough, he let loose with a long stream of pee on that very spot.
Most fights – man, dog, or deer – start with some preliminary bluster. Not this one. The chocolate-horn lowered his head and crashed into Zorba’s antlers so hard it sounded like a two by four cracking against a telephone pole. The impact drove the massive white-racked buck back, his hooves scrambling over the snow-dusted oak leaves. With a growl, he dug his hind feet in and pushed back. Meanwhile, on one side of the clearing, the doe stood still, her ears perked up and her eyes alert but otherwise seemingly unconcerned. It didn’t matter to her who fucked her, as long as someone did.
For nearly ten minutes, the bucks smashed antlers, pushing at each other with a force that looked like it could roll a small car. Twice they stepped back in a seeming stalemate, their flanks exposed and heaving, just 20 yards from the muzzle of the Lapua but by then I had lost count of the number of cues I had let slip. Besides, I was in no mood ta end the spectacle right then.
Physics won the day. One side of the clearing sloped up at a 30 degree angle and whether by design or by just chance, the chocolate horn back up until it was at top of the slope. ‘Watch out!’ I screamed silently to Zorba but he must have thought the chocolate horn was leaving, for he just turned and began walking over to the doe, with a ‘Let’s see now, sweetie, where were we?’
Momentum (mass multiplied by velocity) defeated blissful unconcern. The chocolate-horn backed up and came hurtling down the slope, plunging his tines into Zorba’s ribs. Zorba lost his footing and went sprawling in the dirt. The doe sprang to her feet and raced out of the clearing with long springy, panicked leaps.
When it is down on its side, a deer finds it difficult to get on its feet, even when it is not under attack. Zorba’s hooves flailed about as he tried to raise himself, a crimson stain spreading slowly across his chest. The chocolate horn kept coming at him, backing up and driving his tines into Zorba repeatedly, once even flipping the massive buck over on his side with the force of his lunge.
The last lunge decided the fight. With Zorba still trying ta get up on his feet, the chocolate horn drove his antlers into his neck, the very spot that my Lapua would have aimed at – his jugular. The immediate spurt of blood made me shut my eyes in reflex and I knew it was over. So did the chocolate horn, because he backed off and just stood there, half his right antler tines missing, his head and flank bloodied. Zorba had stopped trying ta scramble to his feet and just lay back on his side as the growing crimson stain on the ground spread and soon engulfed the pee stain.
The chocolate horn took a few tentative steps and stopped by the still heaving chest of the huge whitetail. He then lowered his head until his snout touched Zorba’s shoulder blades very gently. ‘Sorry, dude. Shit happens, y’know,’ the chocolate horn seemed ta say. He sniffed some more, until a soft cooing sound seemed ta distract him. His head jerked up.
Barely visible in the ragweed fifty yards to the side was the doe, standing still. The moment she knew she had the chocolate horn’s attention, she turned and began slowly picking her way toward the oaks on the far side, certain that he would follow.
I understood the doe’s single-minded zeal ta be fucked. The rut (as mating season is called in North Amerca) is a small window of just a few weeks in October. Because we live in a region of the planet that has severe winters, a short and precisely-timed breeding season is key to the survival of the fawn. A doe’s gestation period being 200 days, if she gives birth too early, the still fragile fawn will be exposed to freezing temperatures of early spring and the doe may not have sufficient nourishment in the form of green leaves with which to stimulate her milk. And if she gives birth too late, the fawn may still be fragile when it faces its first winter. To address this, come October the doe’s built-in ‘breeding alarm clock’ screams, ‘go get shtupped, honey, it’s time.’
The chocolate horn left the clearing in a trot and made a beeline for the doe. Soon they were out of my line of sight. I never realized when the two smaller bucks had melted away into the thickets – they were nowhere in sight.
The woods once again fell silent. I shoved against the guardrail to give my aching muscles some purchase and I rose and climbed down the ladder and walked unsteadily toward the middle of the clearing.
He was still alive, his breathing now slowed, eyes blazing and yet completely understanding, devoid of any regrets, simply staring sideways, expressionless, at the distance. Besides the puncture on his neck, Zorba was riddled with gashes and lacerations, a particularly gruesome one on his forehead where it seemed to have cracked open his skull. I reached down and touched his hide somewhere below his shoulders. Immediately one ear flicked around in acknowledgement and an eye rolled around, in an attempt ta see who was touching him so gently.
It didn’t seem ludicrous at all when I spoke. ‘I’m sorry it had ta end this way, buddy,’ I whispered, my voice quivering, emotion clogging my throat.
The sudden yelps made me jerk out of my reverie. The saplings rustled and there they were – wolves. I counted five but there must have been more (wolves usually hunt in packs of upto twennie). It is truly the law of the jungle – the cycle of life that said the moment I left Zorba alone, they would tear him apart. They wouldn’t even bother ta wait till he died. It would be a painful death and I was determined not ta let him go that way.
I could frighten them away with a shot but wolves are relentless predators. Shoot at ‘em – you might get three or four, but they’ll keep coming at you. I had been in the midst of wolf packs before and I knew how ta handle myself. If push came ta shove, I would use the flare. I noted that they weren’t even looking toward me, their undivided attention on the banquet – Zorba. Wolves usually didn’t like the taste of human meat, so they would let me be but they’d get Zorba without a doubt.
It was at this instant that I realized that my life as a hunter was over and I felt strangely relieved. I slid my hand into my hoody and pulled out the Glock – against the rules, but at that moment I didn’t give a fuck. I wasn’t going ta let them tear him apart while he was still alive.
The Glock had quite a kick, so I clasped the butt firmly in both hands and placed the tip of the muzzle between Zorba’s eyes and said,’ Goodbye, old friend, see you on the other side’. I was about to pull the trigger when there was a perceptible sigh. I reached forward and place my fingers flat on the side of his neck. There was no pulse. He was gone.
The Glock was unnaturally loud when I fired it into the air. Perhaps this pack hadn’t heard a gunshot before, because they cowered back, startled. Melancholy engulfed me and I felt no need ta put a few rounds into the wolves. I just didn’t have the heart ta harm anything any longer. In a slow and deliberate pace, the Glock still dangling from my right hand (just in case), I strode over to my backpack, slung it across my shoulders and picked up the Lapua. You don’t run, or even hurry, when wolves are staring at you from twennie yards.
I could have claimed this as a legitimate kill and taken him away. Zorba would easily be a year’s supply of venison and that magnificent head with the giant 15-point antlers would have been a taxidermist’s wet dream. But that would be showing him disrespect, defiling his memory. I didn’t have the will for it and besides, I hated trophy hunting.
I was near the truck when I turned ta look at Zorba one last time. The wolves were now inside the clearing, just a few feet from his motionless body. Somehow, I felt relieved. Nature – stoic and inexorable – was taking it’s course.
I got in, slammed the truck savagely into gear and took my foot off the brake pedal. Even with their massive one and half inch treads, the Nokian Hakkepelliita tyres struggled ta find a grip on the matting of red maple leaves and freezing slush , as the F150 leapt forward into the sunlight. The dashboard clock said 1:30pm.
Suddenly I felt like a Triple Big Mac and a large order of fries and decided ta stop at the MacDonalds I had noticed by the Exit-44, at Hawkesbury.
Hunger – it’s universal – just nature, taking it’s course.