Twisted Antlers: A Hunter's Dangerous Pursuit of That Which Will Never Satisfy
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
The late November woods released a shadow. It came fast, covering the barren ground like a
ghost. Snapping twigs and shuffling leaves accompanied its form as it took shape. Patches of white appeared around its eyes and on the neck, and the big-bodied buck came zigzagging into range through the naked timbers like a pro-bowler shooting through gaps in a defense.
Top-heavy for such precision, it carried an awareness quite unlike the nervous deer passing earlier. It stopped. A handsome whitetail by all counts. Except above its ears, instead of a stately rack was a worn grapevine stump near a lone nub. The hunter flipped off the safety, settled on a patch of hair and squeezed.
His earliest dreams were to take home a mature buck. Grandpa’s stories of chasing cedar-swamp bruisers on Drummond Island, coupled by years of subscriptions to Field and Stream, rich with colorful copy showcasing hunters and their bucks from across the country had set the spark. At twelve, the boy earned his hunter’s certificate. Each fall, stories from schoolmates came trickling in between classes, while he continued to learn as they detailed their exciting success taking first bucks, and sometimes second. There were bucks that came in on a grunt call. Bucks that came following doe, and those which their dads, uncles, and brothers had shot. Many of those days were spent listening.
By his late teens, he was skillful with both bow and rifle, practicing after school - often into the night, for his day of hopeful glory. He’d begun hunting too, learning mostly by mistakes. Arriving late, leaving early, busting deer with sound, busting deer with movement, busting deer with scent. The curve was steep. He grew tired of certain stories, where despite low-arrowed, gut-shot, or even lucky-shot scenarios, bucks had been tagged, their prized racks adorning the walls.
From October through Christmas, deer hunting consumed him. Friends, schoolwork, sports, girlfriends. Resolve drove him into the woods, eventually stealing from his passion. Each time he returned empty-handed, his desire intensified. A few years went by, he considered it a prolonged sweetening to a hard-earned success story. It was inevitable. It had to come..
While in college, during calls home he sometimes got details of “so and so”, some distant-colleague of his father “brought home a really nice 10-pointer”. It churned at him. Social media popularized, and so did the hunting pictures which hardened his reality. Hunters, often much younger, hovering over gargantuan bucks, gripping massive antlers. They might as well be shoved in his side.
Still, he was lethal. With his amount of time in the woods, it had to be. Proven by the half-dozen doe and other game he’d taken off the property, his grandpa knew of the lethality the young man possessed, and this buck-less streak ate at him, too. In those years, his encouragement came regularly.
“Woods are always open.” “You should get back out there this Saturday.”
He was generous, giving the teenager access to his 40-acre darling of hardwoods, just 15 minutes outside the city. Other hunter’s requests were often batted back in hopes of improving his chance at scoring a bruiser amidst all those funnels and ravines. Grandpa had been gone nearly a decade now, and with his passing, so went the property. Yet h