Uncle Frank missed killing the same eight-point buck that escaped the cross hairs of my 30-30 rifle. By the time the whitetail crossed an opening in a wooded area fifty yards below the quarry road where Frank was sitting in his jeep, the animal was traveling at top speed. When I shot and missed the most beautiful creature ever covered in brown and white, the game before me stood perfectly still, antlers high up in the air. The shot was a clear one. I even had a scope. Somehow the graceful unicorn of sorts escaped death that day. I was glad that Frank missed shooting at the same deer too.
“The damned thing must have been running forty miles an hour. I hardly had a chance to get my gun up,” Frank told the other men in our hunting clan as he sipped on a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer near the wood stove in my father’s garage. Frank’s hair was as white as the tail of the deer. His blue eyes shifted to me. He smiled, offering a look of condolence. I had hunted since the age of 12 and at 17, despite the long hours I spent outside in the cold December air of Pennsylvania, I never managed to kill my first buck. A boy does not become a man in Pennsylvania until he shoots his first deer. It was the last day of buck season that year– 1986. This was my last chance to become a man. I had enlisted and was leaving for the Army in June. It appeared that I would never truly become a man and kill a buck. I was sad and felt like a sissy. Frank knew the deer was not running when I shot at it.
“Yes. I never saw a deer move so fast,” I added while handing Frank a fresh beer. I got one too. We were in the garage where the family had gathered to butcher six other animals that were bagged earlier that season. Dad let us drink beer when we were butchering. The women didn’t like us drinking, especially when we were working with knives but the buzz made the meat come off the bone more efficiently.
We were driving deer earlier that day. Everyone was tired. The beer went straight to my head. I tried to forget the fact that I missed such an easy shot. Frank and I were “flankers”. Our purpose was to head off any deer that did not run straight from the thicket into the waiting guns of the ‘headers’—my brothers Barron and Bill who were positioned near a set of abandoned railroad tracks, approximately a half mile from where I was sitting in the cold.
The men dropped me off along the quarry road, at the very top of the mountain at a place known as “Sink and Run”. This is where the stream that feeds the town reservoir originates. I slipped on an ice covered rock as I was preparing a place to rest along a tree while the other men were escorted in my Uncle Daryl’s Ford pickup to the very end of the quarry floor where an old sandstone crusher remains standing. Although the sandstone mining industry had ended decades before, the crusher was left to rust in the overgrowth.
There were always deer in the woods below the crusher. Because at one time the forest had been cleared by loggers, the new growth was mostly brush and briers—a perfect hiding place for deer on the run. I was happy not have been one chosen to walk through the thick brush to scare the deer out. Everyone knew I had never shot a deer, so I was offered the chance as a flanker to shoot at one after they were chased out of hiding.
My rifle slipped out of my hands and bounced on the ground. I was happy that safety switch was on. It didn’t go off. I quickly picked it up and brushed off wet leaves and inspected my father’s prized gun. He used it as a kid. Thankfully there were no noticeable marks on it. That’s when I spotted the eight-point. It was standing in Sink and Run and seemed to be enjoying my clumsiness. I carefully removed the safety switch and placed the pretty, soft face of the deer in the cross hairs.
The deer seemed surprised that I shot at it. It didn’t fall.
The animal then realized I was trying to kill it.
Off it darted in the direction of Frank.
“Shit!” I shouted.
Frank grabbed another beer and started talking about the fast moving deer.
“Where did you say that deer was coming from?” Frank asked, realizing, only during his high that the deer was not one that had been driven from the thicket, but happened to be traveling in the opposite direction.
“It came out of Sink and Run,” I explained again.
My father went and picked up the rifle I used earlier that day.
“Where did you bump your gun?” He laughed.
“I dropped it when I was sitting down.”
“Christ almighty, boy! What kind of hunter are you? You should have used the open sight. Look at the scope on this gun, Frank. Is it any wonder he missed it?”
I had only inspected the gun. I never thought about the possibility that it may have been knocked off sight during my fall.
“Well forgive me!” I shouted in my first drunken rage of my life. “I was taking a shit in the woods. My pants were down. I couldn’t hold the gun still.”
The men and women laughed.
“Well, Charlie,” my Dad said. “Not even I would have killed that deer with a scope like this. Did you remember to wipe your ass?”
I realized I hadn’t. I went running towards Frank’s jeep where I heard the shots.
My face turned red from the beer.