It's Saturday morning back home in Macclesfield, North Carolina. The rays of sun easing through my window reflecting brightly on my bed sheets wake me slowly, as I arise out of bed by mid-morning. Comforting weekend mornings like these weaken the motivations to rise and begin the leisure’s of the day, as goes for the sleeping white-tails resting away in the woods most perfect spots. I picture them laying under the protection of the tall pines, their majestic brown bodies huddled up closely together in a small area where the sun provides its pleasant rays of comfort shining through the canopy of trees for them, too. They will soon have to rise from their cozy bedding spots as the hunters now making their way through the field surrounding the old woods with their trucks and army of hounds pacing back and forth anxiously under the shallow roofs of the dog boxes begin to make their move, as they do to that wood each Saturday morning.
I know it’s about the time, as this is my motivation to slip on my jeans and my father’s handed down flannel jacket as I head for the door to step outside into the cool morning setting provided by the hunters. No sound yet of the first shriek from the hounds as they near the edge of the woods, but I know it won’t be long before they smell one of the trails left by the whitetails before laying down during the late dawn hours of the previous night.
I head towards dad’s truck he always leaves under the shed on Saturday mornings for me, so I can tune in to the CB radio the hunters use to communicate with each other in their southern drawls, each racing to shout into the mic when the the dogs have jumped the first one of the morning. “About that time” I thought to myself as I listened to them tell which blocks of the wood they turned their prized dogs out at, insisting that un-alert whitetails had to be resting nearby. “Arrrf, arf, arf”, I hear faintly through the woods as the first dog lets out an unsure winnowing cry, sounding like the mouth of a younger dog. No feedback on a jump from the radio, as the learning hound must have only sniffed the scent of a squirrel or other smaller creature that disappoints their master. “False Alarm” I replied in thought.
The woods and all that stirred in it now turned for a few passing minutes, as the eagerness grew in all who waited outside of it, counting on the old faithful hounds to take course and spook one up from their resting spot, as even I did too.
Then suddenly, “Roooooooooofff”! alarmed the deep cry of an old experienced hound, signaling a jump to his master on the other side of the brush and his family of four-legged warriors surrounding him as they began traveling full speed, noses to the ground, close on the trail of the enemy. His master beams at the sound of the deep melody his best hound just let out, now out in the field trying to keep still in case the deer just jumped busts out of the woods in front of him. Every hunter is now on edge holding down their strategic spots, standing anxiously with their shotguns clenched tightly in hand, hoping they’ve predicted right where the deer will pop out at in a rush to escape the dogs before their mischevious noses become redirected on another’s trail.
“POW, POWWW” I hear vibrantly as the shots echoed through the woods. I curiously await the follow up from the hunter who just shot, assuming it must have been one worth trying at by how close together the shots were, judging that neither one hit as I didn’t appear to hear the sound a successful shot makes. “That was a nice ‘on boys! Eight pointer headin’ back up the other side through the neck! Dogs turnt him around, somebody better get there quick!”
Just the feedback I needed, as I knew they’d jumped the one my dad and I had seen behind our house two nights ago. He stood erectly sporting a shocked glare into the headlights as we shone them on the field that night to see if anything was out there, and indeed there was. He wasn’t alone either, which my father taught me through the years would influence his antics during the breeding season, the “Rut” here as they call it, as he was hot after the little doe he was with, like a teenage boy in love. It was now evident that he’d lie there with her all night and into the morning, until the dogs came rambling through just moments prior to ruin the party.
When things go wrong like that for an old buck, he turns to his wits and does just like any man does, he runs away and leaves the woman. This is what the the deer had done in getting up and making a quick break for the field, not stopping a second to lead the female with him and share his wisdom to help her escape. He acted out of interest for only himself now, as his swift and cunning characteristics left him so well equipped to do so. His daring move to pop out into the field so quickly, exposing himself to any danger represented his confidence in his wits that he had so recently regained in taking such a route out of his protected pathways.
However, the incident of which he escaped the hunter’s one chance that would be taken at him, suddenly assuring his escape made his antic and respected charisma seem all the more stifling in the ways of the wise old buck, confirming his experience in these woods.
The hunter who now hung his old head in shame for missing such a trophy was right about where the buck was headed once he disappeared back in the woods, but wrong about anyone having a chance to cover where he would soon be. He was right as indeed the buck was now headed back up the “neck” as they called it, the thickest patch in the wood guarding his way between the space he now created between he and the dogs; however, thinking that this fella would ever dare to pop back out again before the old boys could push the gas pedals on their trucks down fast enough to get back even with him, was his mistake.
The buck was headed down that neck to the one place where he had run his course to make his escape time and time before, doing it more cunningly each time with experience. He’d soon cross the old storied swamp at the other end of the woods, where the other hunters could never imagine how fast he’d be there to slip the dogs when his scent trail ended at the edge of the murky water, as my father had taught me.
But by this time I was moving along the wood’s edge, back hunched to stay low as I dodged the limbs and briars along the shortcut I’d traveled many times before behind my father, trying to keep up with him to avoid being lost before reaching the swamp. All those years of growing up in these woods now meant so much to me, as I could feel his wisdom there with me now, leading me down the path to reach the swamp, hopefully just in time to catch the moving buck make his last crossing.
The resonance of the dogs now carried faintly through the woods as they began to pick up the trail he had made through the thicket, pointless now for them to continue on the soon to be lost run. The fact that I could hear them now as I waited underneath the little “camouflage tree” as my dad and I had named it, meant that he had to be coming through any moment now, unless I’d missed my chance.
The way he could move through those woods, the ole’ deer could have certainly been through the swamp by now and completely off the chase, as I thought to myself. The next few moments that passed me by were full of eagerness and wonder, as I reached deep down for the patience that the best of hunters have in those few waking moments before they get their chance that some wait a lifetime for. It felt like years had gone by.
A calming little breeze sullenly whistled through the swamp, rattling the bare limbs of the old trees that surrounded it. Then suddenly, I heard the breaking of a few limbs in the woods in front of me. “Chhh-chh-chh-ch-ch choot”. Something was making its way through, and that something was him.
I saw his horns first, as he stood like a soldier with his neck and body hid beside a cluster of trees, still in the wood, glancing straight ahead, his nose up in the air as his guard to sense whatever unexpected party may be in front of him, before continuing on into the clear. The dogs and the defeated hunters behind him now were the least of his worries, as he’d realized in the times before when stepping into this spot of freedom, taking a short breath of relief from the majestic woods he had successfully made his trek through.
All this now, for me to see, from listening to my father’s direction all these years. I remained as still as I could in astonishment under our camouflage tree, as I watched him gracefully take a hop out into the clearing. He put his nose on the ground, and sniffed the perimeter briefly to make sure no other buck had been nosing through his territory there, as this swamp was his, and his actions reflected so well his confidence in it.
He dutifully lifted his head up from the ground in contentment, in a motion that would have balanced the stultifying rack of horns he boasted, should they not have been naturally knotted to his head. He then leaped forward as high as any four-legged creature could pierce the air, landing on the bank, before easing his way into the swamp, erasing all hope of his trail for the ones that followed.
Before I knew it the old buck had emerged from the water on the other side, shaking off quickly to shed the water from his majestic coat before making one last leap into the brush that put the final cap on another escape. “There he goes”, I thought still frozen in the trance this majestic creature had left me in, only to be lulled back to my senses as I blinked at his white tail disappearing into the brush, concluding the triumph for the King of the Swamp.
As for me, I had completely dis-regarded the existence of my shotgun I had carried with me down to this spot once I caught sight of him. The enchantment of the being he was dumbfounded me as I realized his dominance and beauty in his ways as the king of that swamp just through those woods behind my house. He carried far more wisdom than I’d ever known up to that point in my youth, and I wasn’t yet good enough to be at one with him on that morning in his territory. Perhaps as I continue to learn and experience more of those runs created by him and his preceding kings on Saturday mornings such as these, I’ll take my chance at it one day in that swamp at the end of the woods, when I’m ready.