Short Story: The Blind Side of the King

This is a story about the second most magnificent whitetailed buck I ever encountered. I fell in love with this buck, later called “The King,” and too, loved all the magic that forever seemed to follow him.

It was one of those springtime days a person can almost taste. My old friend, Gene Georgetti’s tractor struggled laboriously up the side of a hill on his 500 plus acre farm in Washington County. I was perched atop a tinfoil-like fender screaming into his ear above the rumbling, spitting engine. We were going back to his “big woods” to check a fenceline and load a stack of wood he’d cut onto the small homemade trailer that reluctantly followed his aging, iron horse…

Two, sentry-like redtails lay effortlessly on the thermal currents rising from the lush, green valley. The sky was azure blue, a bluebird day, and almost cloudless. All along the makeshift road, laughably pugnacious killdeer birds scampered to safety in that half-running style of old-time actors in the silent film days. A hawk, which looked to be a redtail, dove toward earth like a feathered kamikaze, but up with empty talons. It’s not often these birds of prey make a stoop and miss. Gene and I wondered just what had escaped the hawk’s attack. Curious, Gene poured the coal to the terminally-ill engine, which generated enough “power” to get us another quarter-mile per hour. Near the area where I thought the hawk stooped, I thought I saw something from atop my metal perch and shouted into the poor Gene’s ear, “Slow her down!”

Over along an old fencerow lay a whitetail fawn. As I walked toward it, it appeared to be frightened and I wondered: Is it because of me or was this fawn of spring the hawk’s target?” I’d never heard of a hawk actually attacking a fawn or anything else larger that it could handle, but of course, the fawn couldn’t know that. As I approached it, I spoke softly to the camouflaged creature in a tone I hoped was reassuring, comforting. The chestnut and now colored beauty allowed me to walk right up to it and seemed to sense I didn’t represent a threat. And by the time Gene shut down the tractor engine, I was on hands and knees talking to this miniature whitetail as though we were old friends. The experience was heartwarming as I’d never been this close to a whitetail before.

“What are you looking at?” Gene yelled “Or are you just praying we don’t find that cord of wood I have stacked?” He was laughing.

“A fawn, Gene! Come over here and see if the rascal is hurt in some way. Walk easy…”

Gene no sooner got to my side when he said, “Why that little critter has only one good eye!” I hadn’t noticed that. Then Gene added, Let’s check his spindly, little legs. One could be broken; else he’d surely be with his momma. No wonder you took off the tractor in such a hurry!”

And all else was well with the little deer as far as we were able to tell. We did ascertain its sex; a male, a buck…

“My farm herd usually moves past this way toward evening when they come down to feed in the alfalfa field.” Gene said softly. “We’ll leave the Little Prince right here and momma will find ‘im ‘fore dark. Yessir, don’t you worry none, Little Prince, you’ll be just fine.” Gene has an incredible way, almost uncanny, almost uncanny, with animals and I had little doubt he was right.

We wondered how the fawn had lost sight in his left eye and concluded it must have been a birth defect. This was my first experience with a fawn, the first I’d ever seen in the wild, and a memory that will linger long after the young buck falls to natural-or unnatural-causes. He was beautiful beyond words and from that day on, Gene and I referred to him as the “Prince,” though unbeknownst to us, this half-sighted young buck would soon become king of the farm herd-despite his slight handicap…

Watching him during many early evenings in the sultry summer became routine activity but always pleasurable. He no doubt forgot my face and the scent of me for on several occasions, I attempted to approach him and was never “allowed” to enter his danger zone. His mother had taught the young buck lessons on survival…

Somehow, he seemed ultra-furtive, more alert than his herd brothers, for he always looked as though his muscles were more taut and defined than the rest of the band? He always appeared to be in charge and not having use of his left eye didn’t seem to handicap or bother him or reduce his awareness. Perhaps the loss of that eye only intensified the sight in the other and perhaps Mom Nature saw fit to sharpen his other senses, smell and hearing; she always seemed to take care of things such as that…

Indeed, this young stag was special. In his first autumn with the farm herd, he had a beautifully formed and impressively high “Y” rack which he seemed to “carry” with considerable pride. Countless times, I wondered, whether he’d fall by my rifle or someone else’s?

Time passed and as the third summer faded and merged smoothly with autumn, the Prince carried a velvet-sheathed rack with 8, very respectable, very high, tines. One thing was certain, he, the Prince but now to be referred to as King, had been wise enough to evade the hunters that often hunted Gene’s farm. He’d grown into one, magnificent trophy and seeing him in velvet made me certain he’d score well by the Boone & Crockett scoring system, he was outstanding. Thus, I decided to abandon my plan for the traditional trip to the northwoods of Pennsylvania …

I asked Gene whether he’d mind my hunting his farm come fall. And even though his answer came out as “Hey, make yourself at home. He’s your buck and I’ve wondered a while, just why you haven’t hunted him. Smart as he is, he’ll die of old age before one of the slickers who hunt the farm gits him…” I knew Gene meant well, but this buck belonged only to himself. To God and Nature and the woodlands that sheltered him.

As autumn submitted to Old Man Winter, that fire burned warmly within and awakened the little boy that perhaps “lives” in each of us prior to buck season? Countless seasons of tramping the deer woods from one coast to the other, and I still, to this day, find sleep strangely elusive the night before (Okay, a month before!) the season. Sleep seems to come on fast and hard after about three hours on stand in the comfort of an old, 40-vintage Woolrich, every bit as cozy as a down-filled sleeping bag. But, this season would be different, and really, no two are ever really the same…

I partake of each season with a reverence as it was intended. I savor the all-too-fast changing of the guard, the leaves of green to brilliant golds, orange and crimsons. Entering autumn, to me, is almost a time for worship and I “walk” into it slowly, tasting of the crispy air and saying “thanks” to the Man who made it possible, I absorb, almost greedily, and allow the moments to gently soothe well-frayed nerve endings; healing them in the most natural fashion.

My heart drums like an amorous grouse’s during the mating season and the tips of my ears at the sight of fleeing whitetail flags. I get childishly excited at the sight of polished sumacs and always close my eyes to envision the bucks that rubbed them clean. I feel an unexplainable joy when I spot the little holes in the woodland soil, put there by probing woodcook. And my neck hair stands at the sound of distant, phantom-like, crowing cockbirds as they ready to roost for the night. I very much dislike ruffling the carpert of leaves as I walk the autumn woods, mussing what Nature had so beautifully woven and to find a discarded cigarette pack or snuff tin or beer can brings my blood to the boiling point in a hurry. Such things and the men who left them, have no place there.

I feel elated as short-lasting breezes cause the pine boughs and hemlocks to speak and I forever strain to savor all that which autumn has awarded me. For never again will I, or those moments, be the same. Each moment in the deer woods makes a different man of me and yes, soon a certain whitetailed buck would make me more different than I ever thought possible, for he was strangely special; magical?

I wondered constantly about the King. Whether I’d be able to kill him should the opportunity arrive? I wondered whether I’d grown too fond of him, seeing him as a fawn and watching him browse countless times on Gene’s farm. If I closed my eyes to envision him as the magnificent animal he was, and acted out in my mind, the culmination, the kill of the King. My stomach would churn with butterflies-as I summoned that memory, not so very deep, of him as a fawn and then I had to wonder, “Could I…?” I reassured myself, time and time again, that I am a hunter. However, the doubt lingered, the question “Will I or won’t I?” weighed heavy in my heart; haunted my mind every waking hour…

The first morning arrived after several nights of little sleep. The alarm sounded at 3 A.M. but I was wide awake an hour prior. I wrapped the sandwiches my wife had made me in soft, paper towels so as not to spook any deer that may happen past my morning stand, specifically the King. Leaving, I wanted to be as quiet as possible, so as not to awaken my family, so I left the car door ajar rather than slamming it in the drive. As I turned the corner from our alley-way to the street the door opened and I nearly spent opening day supine in the center of our quiet street. I wasn’t thinking, my mind was souly upon the hunt that was to follow, the King, the wondering whether I was predator enough to kill him should I be afforded the chance…

When I arrived at Gene’s back door, he answered my knock by opening the curtain and motioning me in. His jaws were full of something as he muttered, “Mornin’ there slicker, where in hill ya ben? Thought ya was gonna be here early?”

“Good grief Gene, it’s only 5 A.M.! It ain’t gonna take us no two hours to walk over the ridge to McGinnis Hollow!”

“No, but shoot man, your breakfast is cold, rather was cold!”

“Whaddya mean was?”

“Why I had to eat it, of course, but c’mon, there’s more batter left and I’ll just whack ya off a chunk of that fresh side and toss ‘em in the skillet. Ready to take the King, are ya?”

“Yes. Yes I think so, why? Don’t ya think I can?”

Gene didn’t answer but that was good enough to assure me that he felt I wouldn’t have the opportunity, or, if I did, I couldn’t put him down because of personal sentiments. I felt he was wrong on both counts; the King would be “mine” in less than an hour after daybreak…

As I sat there watching Gene slosh batter into an old iron skillet as though he were handling brick mortar, I wondered about the King. I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him since the early grouse season. Gene broke my daydream.

“Guess who old dad saw last night?”

“Don’t start playing with my head old timer, and try to hand me some nonsense that you saw King!”

“Yep, I did! And right about there where you’re a lookin’.”

“By the bass pond? C’mon Gene, he’d never come in that close, what with grouse hunters shooting for the past month or so! He’s back in that thick stuff on the other side of McGinnis…”

Gene’s persistence prevailed and he convinced me he’d seen the King. Now I was wondering. I’d planned to hunt him farther back in what Gene calls his big woods. “Right there at the little bass pond, huh? I’m going out for some mornin’ air, Gene.”

“Getting’ nervous Mr. Outdoor Writer. Ha, what would readers think of ya now? Why you guys are supposed to be cool pros at this kinda stuff!”

“Ain’t a bit different than anyone else, Gene. Just in the sense we hunt or fish more often then put ‘er down on paper. No different, Gene, thus, no better…”

After breakfast and several mugs of almost chewable coffee, Gene announced, “Time to hit it partner!”

Gene chose to hunt near an old orchard and I took my knowledge of the King’s regular runs and headed for a draw-riddled section of his “big woods.” There was plenty of feed for old King back in there and the going was tough and thick enough that few hunters bothered to get even close to the area. We exchanged, “Good luck” and went our separate ways. Gene winked, “Go gettum son.”

By the time I’d gotten to a big oak windfall, I was no doubt, pounds lighter, perspiring profusely. I sat down, settled in and tried to dispel the chill of the evaporation process. I was okay, but tired and somewhat apprehensive; this whole thing had taken its toll on me, emotionally and physically…

On stand, I hoped for an early kill of the King, and as dawn came into full view, two cantankerous bluejays hopped up, then down on hemlock limbs, scolding me for whatever reasons. Soon thereafter, three antlerless deer picked their way to within 25-yards of where I sat. They didn’t see or scent me so it seemed all was right in this place of ambush I’d chosen? Still, my stomach seemed to be churning with those ever-present butterfly squadrons…

Two more, younger does came along minutes later and seemed to sense something wasn’t quite right. They added a little speed to their step and soon caught up with the first three. “Must be the rut is on the bottom of the curve, “I thought, “not one buck following these does?” No sooner had I gotten that out of my mind, I spotted a horizontal “line” in an area with mostly verticals. It had to be a deer though I wasn’t certain. If so, it had to know I was there?

I froze, sat there and stared until it hurt then, about five minutes later I could make out the body of a deer. It took one slow-motion step, then another, as though it were trying to get into position for a better look. I couldn’t see antlers yet, but slid my safety into firing position and eased the rifle to my shoulder. The deer stomped the ground just about the time I had the rifle mounted and I could see its antlers. “M’God it’s him!” I thought, “The King! This is just too darned easy!” Then I realized, looking through the scope, it wasn’t old King, but a nice six-point. “What’s he doing in the King’s back yard?” I thought. Then, my peripheral vision again caught movement, this time on my right side. I turned my head ever so slowly and clearly saw what was for certain, the King!

He pranced confidently through a small clearing, over to where the other buck stood, almost frozen with fear? King pulled up as though there was a bit in his mouth and someone had jerked back on the reigns. And with steam funneling from his flared nostrils he looked at the six-point as if to say, “What are you doing here?” All of this heart-stopping performance took but a moment…

For several minutes, the lesser bucked picked at something on the ground while King stood there starting off into the forest beyond, seeming to me, uncommonly tolerant of the six-point; no doubt the rut was over? I could see the small buck’s muscles go taut and her jerked to look back over his well-defined shoulder. King followed suit and I snuggled into the walnut stock, placed the crosshairs perfectly behind the shoulder and touched the trigger.

I don’t recall hearing the shot, as is so often the case in the hunting fields, but I could clearly see the six-point drop where he stood, dead before he hit the turf. I never saw the King bolt for safety. I smiled to myself as I thought of him keeping his blind side, his bad left eye, to me, and I wondered about that for the longest time…

As I field-dressed the six-point, I heard Gene’s old ’06 bark just once, which assured me he’d gotten a buck as well. I laced the dragging rope about the neck of the plump buck, front legs intertwined into the antlers on either side and headed for the barn.

Midway through a field, Gene and I met; he waved to me, motioning for me o hold up right where I was. When he got to within a comfortable talking range, he hollered “Got the big boy, did ya?”

I felt awful at the time but felt compelled to tell a little white, deer hunter’s lie. “No! Didn’t see him, how about you?”

Gene had shot a stallion-like 8-pointer, but not close to a match for old King. We spoke along the way, talking numerous breaks from the strenuous dragging. Gene stopped at one of his cattle watering troughs, and said, while squinting at me with one eye closed, “King came in from your right side this mornin’, didn’t her?” Gene knew me all too well.

That evening, just as I was about to head home, Gene, after a good 5-second laugh, admitted to something that for some reason didn’t shock me. He, too, had seen the King. “First thing I seen movin’ after daybreak. He came tippy-toeing right past where I stood…” Once again, proving how much we were alike and why I loved him as a father…

I started the car, switched on the headlights and placed the gearshift into “home.” As I rounded a bend in Gene’s red-dog drive, my headlights shone toward the small bass pond and made me visible, the greenish glow of one jewel-like eye. The King’s

He paused from his early evening drink long enough to allow me to detect what strangely appeared to be a “smile” on his wild and beautiful face. Casually, then, stretching his muscular neck to drink more pond water.

I just sat there, half smiling, awestruck by this miraculous creature of God’s most careful molding. I pointed toward him, shaking my finger slowly, up then down. “Maybe next year, my friend, maybe next year…” I said. But then as I thought about it, I knew it would only come to pass if the King came in from my left side. And then? God only knows…

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