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by Dick Yatzeck | Jun 18, 2020 | BIG GAME, HUNTING, Slider
The Knobbly Buck


The magnificent old buck was a once-in-a-lifetime prize…and now it stood only 25 yards from his son’s stand.
I’m hanging in a large, crooked maple, feeling like a blaze orange pumpkin, balancing the unfamiliar Ithaca across a cold thigh. Two hundred yards southwest I can see my son David’s hunting cap. He’s in the box we shared until this, his first armed and legal deer season. He’s clutching the Browning in 12-year-old hands that are probably sweaty even in this knife-edged nor’easter. He’s praying for the knobbly buck to come.

I know these things as you do, because we’ve all been in that box of David’s. We’ve all been rousted out at 4:45 a.m., watched Dad fill the thermos with hot cocoa—when he’d rather take coffee—helped load the gear piled in the kitchen the night before, taken special care with the gun cases, then rode out slowly on slippery roads. We’ve all rejoiced in the tracking snow that so seldom falls for opening morning. And, of course, we’ve all prayed for the knobbly buck.

When I turned the van’s radio to a rock station—David’s latest passion—he firmly swung the dial back to country western. The Gambler, Folsom Prison Blues and Country Bumpkin brought us to Lorraine’s for the Hunters’ Breakfast. Lorraine’s is gone now, replaced by a faceless Shell station, but like the music, Lorraine’s was our tradition. David, who would not have used that word, would have said instead, “But we always…” He knew perfectly well, at 12, how very much of a ritual hunting is. And, of course, the high holiday of our particular faith is the opening dawn of deer season.
We ate too many buckwheat pancakes with too much butter and syrup. David drank three glasses of fresh orange juice. I had four cups of coffee. There were more than a few wishes of “Good Hunting” for the greenhorn.

Traditionally, again, a virgin hunter is expected to shoot the biggest buck. Then we drove the seven miles to the Dennis farm (he’s our absolute best buddy), parked on the hill by an abandoned barn and walked the quarter-mile to our stands. Slipping in the wet snow, gasping at the edge of a sharp nor’easter, we split up 200 yards from our hunting box. I tramped north to this wide‑crotched maple. David, meanwhile, had level going across the graveled culvert of an icy ditch, then a straight shot to our box on its three‑foot stilts.

I’d decided that for this, his first armed hunt, he needed to be on stand by himself. Still, it’s lonely in this maple.

As the light comes I think as always of the black swamp buck bearing heavy, knobbly based antlers—the granddaddy deer, the prize. As David’s blaze orange cap materializes in the early light, I’m not surprised to find myself wishing him that buck. Against all the odds, I want David to bring down that fabulous creature.

At sunrise, when the first karaw of a crow signals good shooting light, I stop dreaming and begin to keep close watch. I scan the fallow 80, grown up with swamp grass and covered with light snow, that lies to the south. I swing the binoculars southwest toward White Lake and the best resting cover, and become all eyes and ears.

Sitting there all alone, I find that I miss David’s fidgeting. I miss sharing the Baker’s bitter-sweet hocolate that his mom always provides. Though it’s time for him to hunt on his own, I’m not sure that I’m quite ready.

Then it comes: the triple ka‑blams! of a semi-auto 80 yards away, followed by two single reports. I center my glasses on a dark, fast shape, low and intent, not curvetting as a doe sometimes will. The buck is coming north, running the gauntlet of the two high boxes that divide the 80 acres on the neighbor’s land. I hear five more shots as he comes in range, then silence as he starts across the 300 yards between our two stands.
whitetail buck on snowy hill

Mesmerized by the buck’s shiny black‑brown coat, I am surprised to pick up David’s blaze orange at the edge of my binoculars. Cripes, that knobbly buck is heading straight for David.

Oh, Lord,
I think, send David the buck! Give ’em that deer. Please!

Swinging his heavy horns, the buck pauses at the ditch and fence only 25 yards from David’s box. I bite my tongue, but chant in my head, Get ’em, get ’em.

Crack! goes the 20 over-and-under, but the buck, still untouched as far as I can tell, leaps into the tall grass and disappears behind the comer of a dense stand of popple.

Missed.

I’ve missed a few sure things myself, and each time I wanted to be left alone. Figuring that David’s like me that way, I decide to let some time pass to heal that wound, that miss.

In an hour, when the knife edge of the nor’easter has blunted itself some, a few spots of sunlight appear in the snow under my maple. I climb down for a stretch, and a moment out of the lessening but still sharp breeze. I watch to the east, but I’m thinking southwest, wondering if it’s time to drop in on David. We could share a spot of cocoa, I could detail a few of my past miscues, maybe even break out the Snickers that I have in reserve. David, though, beats me to it.
“Dad!” He’s coming up the dead-furrow, head down but moving quickly. A hug seems like the best greeting.
Jehosaphat! His lips are blue and he’s oozing wet. In this wind! The sun doesn’t seem to slow his shaking at all.
“David…”

“I fe‑fell in the ditch…missed the culvert in the dark.”

“Three hours ago? This morning?” I do have sense enough to run him toward the car— I’ll get the gear later—but he keeps on, shaking like an aspen.

“I th‑thought it would be wr‑wrong to spoil your hunt. When the b‑b‑buck came, I couldn’t hold on h‑him. The b‑barrel j‑jumped all over. W‑when he r-ran off, I‑I th-thought of crying. I d‑didn’t, though. D‑Dad, it w‑was the k‑knobbly buck, w‑wasn’t it?”

I thought a minute as we crossed the little slough behind the abandoned barn. We were jogging now, anxious to reach the car. Then I decided.

“I don’t think so, David. He was too small, though he must have looked big to you. The knobbly buck, I’d guess, is still to come.”

I think he bought it. Anyway, back home we filled David with hot lemon, then a hot bath and into a warm bed.
Once in a while I dream of that buck. David says he does, too. More often, though, I remember David, blue-lipped and shaking with cold in that icy nor’easter, who didn’t want to spoil my hunt. Then I know that the prize is not the knobbly buck at all.
 

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I really enjoyed reading your story. Your writing style reminds me of the classic gun writers of the 1960s.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks but I am not the writer; up at the top of each story I copy the writer's name to give credit where credit is due. I WISH I had that skill again; for me it's one of those use it or lose it skills, and I lost it decades ago.
 
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You are more than welcome; I am glad that some folks find these to be worth the read and get as much enjoyment out of them as I do.
 
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