I’d seen this buck on opening day. He was high and heavy with a small drop tine on his right main beam. He had just had his head handed to him by a one-antlered monster; a heavily muscled whitetail with a more aggressive personality. The one-antlered buck had experience, age, and attitude on his side. Their fight caused me to reflect and take inventory. I don’t have the same gifts I had as a boy and as my eyesight diminishes and my accuracy declines, I find myself relying more often on the gift of patience.
The fight reminded me of a time right after high school when I had gone to a carnival. I wasn’t much for the rides, but I liked the looks I got when I won one of the huge stuffed animals that are the top prizes in the games. I’d go and spend my money until I’d won, and then would walk the midway looking for just the right girl to give it to.
This particular night, I wasn’t havening much luck at my standards. I hadn’t shot out a star, nor had I walked the horizontal rope ladder to ring the bell. The one-armed carney at the strongman game could tell by the look on my face that I was an easy mark. He got the last of my money and handed me the mallet. I had three tries to strike the block and send the weight up the column to ring the bell. There were no onlookers when I turned over my money, but as soon as I stepped up to take my swings, the rest of the carnival must have taken a break, because every teenage girl within a hundred yards was suddenly measuring my masculinity against the height I achieved.
Let’s just say I didn’t measure up. I wilted under the pressure. I’m not sure I even hit the block on that last swing, but by then the girls had my number. Embarrassed, I tried to slip out through the crowd, but was turned back by the sound of the bell being rung repeatedly. It was the one-armed man who had taken my money. His impressive arm was blacksmith strong and he swung the mallet with talent.
It was a great life lesson. We aren’t all given the same gifts, deer or men. This season I used the gift of patience. Boys shoot the first buck they see. Mature hunters use their knowledge of the weather, terrain, and persistence to wait for bucks which are as experienced as they are. The old English proverb that, all good things come to he who waits, has often played through my mind and saved the life of some promising young buck that needed only time to become great.
This fall I had set my mind on a buck that I had only seen through a spotting scope at a distance and then again in the headlights long after dark. He had a tattered ear, a split brow tine, and at the end, only one eye after losing the other to a rival. These infrequent glimpses saved the life of the younger buck at the top of the story.
On Sunday, I sat through two ferocious snow squalls and did what I could to ignore a pulsing migraine. I had just picked up an old shed antler and stopped to look at my watch. I’d given myself one more hour before I had to head back home for church, when my two weeks of patience paid off. Flashes of tan and white were racing through the trees at the edge of a protected field. Those flashes could only mean that the rut had finally started in earnest.
I quietly snuck in, and at first the players were all familiar, young bucks I’d hoped would survive the season. The big drop-tine buck from the top of the story was handing out lessons, when suddenly the intensity on the field changed. The deer I’d waited on for two weeks, finally took the stage. He chased the culprit who had just taken out one of his eyes, eight hundred yards across the field and into my undeserving lap.
It was a vivid hunt; the evening light through the snow squalls, the wind driven solitude in the pines, the lust driven battle and chase, all made for a beautiful memory. It is time now to turn my full energies to my sons and help make their prairie-deer dreams come true.