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Author Topic: The Turning - by Charlie Lamb  (Read 417 times)

Offline Terry_Green

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The Turning - by Charlie Lamb
« on: April 12, 2003, 12:19:00 PM »
The Turning

by Charlie Lamb

The light of the new day had come slowly. It was soft colorless light that barely penetrated the soupy fog, which lay like a blanket on the sleeping hills.

It was eight a.m. before I could see more than just a few yards from the base of the giant oak. Perched there like some over weight hawk I scanned the field edges for signs of movement. But nothing did. Not so much as a nuthatch stirred. Beyond fifty yards the mighty oak-hickory climax forest blurred to a flat gray wall. In front of my stand and rising sharply to a height, which was greater than the tops of the great trees, was a field of winter wheat. It’s emerald green hues dissolved to pastel shades before disappearing in the misty air. It was about nine o’clock when a hint of something out of place on the hilltop got my attention. Up where the hilltop should have been I could see a dark form materializing out of the fog. In the span of two heavy heart beats the hint turned to solid form as my partner Pete Coats came sprinting out of the fog.

Even before he closed to speaking distance I was lowering my bow to the ground. Pete didn’t have to speak  for me to know what was going on. At that point in time you couldn’t have stopped him from speaking with a howitzer.

It seems a nice buck had come through his set up, stopping at exactly the right time, in exactly the right place. Pete’s Black Widow recurve had come up exactly as he had practiced it a couple of thousand times before and pointed the razor sharp Magnus two blade at exactly the right height to take the buck through both lungs. That’s when things got wrong in a hurry. At the instant the string slipped from Pete’s fingers the buck made a slight turn into the shot. What would have been the perfect double lung hit turned into something less. How much less was anybodies guess. The arrow, it’s fletching showing as the buck ran, was angled through the buck from front to rear. Confidence turned to doubt in my partners mind and the drifting fog only intensified a growing feeling of despair.

As Pete recounted the tale he was not aware of the bucks turning. There always seems to be a gap in one’s conscious thought process at the moment of truth. Every element, every fiber of one’s being, is tuned to the moment of the shot. At release we seem to breakdown for a second or two. It is always worse with a big animal. This was a BIG buck whitetail. The truth of it just wouldn’t register for my pal. His mind’s video was in fast forward and seeing the Douglas Fir shaft spinning straight through the buck’s chest.

We made for the truck instead of back across country to Pete’s stand. It seemed only logical to drive the rig as near as possible before starting the trailing. It would give the buck time and that is always prudent.
According to Pete’s account he had followed the bucks trail a short distance before turning off to come get me. The blood trail was not particularly heavy but steady with good color. We were able to drive nearly to the point where he had stopped. It was at the base of a limestone-studded hillside, stiff with red cedar and patches of blackberry and wild rose.

It was farther from the stand to where Pete left the trail than I thought it would be. If I had to guess, I’d say it was a good one hundred yards. That seemed pretty far for a mortally wounded buck to run. I didn’t say anything, but I was beginning to wonder a little.

I’d trailed animals described as “perfectly shot” by excited hunters before. With less than perfect endings. My buddy Pete is not only an excellent archer but also a competent woodsman.. He should know what he saw.

We located the last blood sign along the edge of some blackberry canes. From there Pete started casting about for more sign at a right angle to the buck’s original line of travel. It made sense that he would go that way. Cover in that direction remained unbroken.. For the buck to continue as he had been would have taken him across a meadow which was a good hundred yards across. That didn’t make sense. The trouble with what made sense was that we had lost all blood sign.

Going back to the last sign I squatted down to get a different perspective of the area. Looking out across the meadow I could see a barbed wire fence which bisected the meadow. The strands of the fence ran straight and taught throughout it’s length except for one section where the top wire sagged noticeably.
A heavy dew lay on the yellow meadow grasses. The whole field glistened in the filtered sunlight as the yellow orb burned off the tenacious fog. Through that scintillating expanse a line appeared . Something bigger than a rabbit had walked through the grass not to very long ago. The line stretched straight as a string toward the low place in the fence. Twenty yards along it we found a splash of blood. We were in business.

Droplets of the red stuff spread like fingers from the momentum of their falling and the motion of the animal, pointing onward toward the fence. The drooping wire gave the buck only a four or five inch advantage, but it was this place that he had chosen to cross.
His line of travel was taking him toward another oak-covered ridge. It wasn’t a tall ridge, by any means, but steep as a cow’s face. We used our binoculars to search ahead but saw nothing out of place. At the base of the ridge the blood sign came to a deeply cut trail which angled gently up the  side of the ridge. We knew it would take us into a steep hollow that was a favored bedding area for the local deer. He couldn’t possibly make it that far. My optimism was starting to turn sour. Too far, much too far!

The blood trail seemed to be getting lighter. That can be a bad thing but not always. We hadn’t found the fore shaft of the arrow yet and that meant that it was probably still in the buck. At this point I was starting to suspect that there was no exit wound. That would explain the scarce blood sign. High entry with no exit always means slow tracking.
The trail quickly descended the backside of the knife edge ridge. We knew there was heavily used deer trail in the bottom of the hollow. Both of us expected him to cross the trail and continue on. He didn’t. He turned up the steep trail.

We were ankle deep in oak leaves now and those that lay in the trail had been disturbed. The dry underside of the leaves showing up in graphic contrast to the wet leaves around them.

I was fighting a growing sense of foreboding. The buck had come too far. He was leaving far to little sign and traveling like a deer that was unhurt, not taking the easy route like a mortally stricken deer should. He was taking on some of the roughest terrain the property had to offer. I was thinking how I hate to see it go down this way.

The trail climbed steadily toward the very head of the hollow. With each gully and fold expectation would soar and then plummet.

We could clearly see the head of the hollow now. It’s sides rose up like great barren brown walls. We knew that if a deer lay there we would be able to see it. Maybe I should say “I” thought that.

Suddenly Pete gave a little yell and sprinted away from me. In a small depression where the roots of some long departed forest giant had once anchored it lay our buck. I say our buck because I had become very much a part of it all. As if the shooting of the buck was somehow secondary. We had joined together as one hunter. Each of us knowing the other would not quit. Like hounds on the scent we had dogged the giant stags trail. It was a trail, which had seemed overly long in distance but the time had, in fact, been short. We stood and admired the buck. Admired his determination and his strength of will.   

The arrow had been well placed after all. It had cut both lung and liver and was protruding through the tawny hide slightly behind the diaphragm. Perhaps the trail would have been more reassuring had the shaft come out and more sign had been left on the ground. The result would have been the same however.

The fog was burning off now and warm shafts of golden light shot down through the leafless canopy of limbs. We were no longer hunters, Pete and I, but mere men humbled by the spirit that gives all things life and that takes it away. We reached down as one man and laid hands on the fallen monarch. At that moment I felt humble and insignificant. In some way, by this bucks death, we had been blessed by his living. I’m sure Pete felt the same way.

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