Short Story: Season of the King

by on March 20th, 2015
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No words of my own could say it better than that which comes from Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, in the Old Testament: “To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

“A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance…”

On the day in this story, I recalled many days of “dancing” in my heart where I held the King and even more, it was a time to mourn, which in the greatest sense, I have, and shall until I join him if I’m so lucky as to be rewarded that privilege…

Ref: Verses 1 thru 4 of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, Old Testament.

It is not uncommon behavior for a solitary hunter to talk to himself in the hunting woods; even to the wind which oftentimes has an “answer.” This was such a time during the…

Season of The King

In nearly three decades of hunting, I almost always preferred going it alone, especially in the woods of the whitetail. But this season would be different, as a dear friend, one Big Bill Schwering, somewhat embarrassed though needlessly, confessed to me: “Joe, would you believe I’ve been hunting twenty-eight years now and I’ve yet to take a buck!”

Bill was far to proud to go along with me, and he always had this crazy notion that my being an outdoor writer gave me some sort of special “advantage.” In the hunting fields, on the rifle range and anywhere else where outdoorsmen venture. “Not so, Billy me boy, in fact, we of the profession may well be at a significant disadvantage since there’s undue pressure placed upon us because of your kind of thinking in thousands of others who read our works. The only true advantage an outdoor writer may have, is the fact that he’s able to spend more time in the woods than the average Joe and thus more opportunities which tilt the odds in his favor, however little.”

Bill knew of my three-year quest for a magnificent buck I’d come to refer to as “The King.” He knew I would hunt him this year, knew what it meant to me to ultimately kill this buck, thus winning a sort of contest of the minds, though King was far more furtive than I, and knew certainly that I preferred hunting deer alone. These then, were his primary reasons for his being totally surprised when I asked, “Bill, would you like to join me this season and hunt the Georgetii Farm?”

Big Bill. He was one of those tender giants of a man, some 6-feet, 4-inches tall and all of 300-plus pounds but in his great heart, a pussycat. His childish, blue eyes puddle with tears as I asked him to hunt with me. “You kiddin’ me Joe? You really want me to hunt deer with you?”

“Sure, Bill, why not?”

“Nuttin’, I guess, I just never thought I’d hear you ask anyone to hunt bucks with you! I know how sacred you’ve made that time of year, what it means to you and all.”

“You’re one of my best friends, Bill, makes it a tad different.”

“One of, what’s this one of? Who’s your best friend?”

“Why Butch Murray, of course!”

“Then why haven’t you ever invited him to hunt deer with you?”

“No real strong reason, Billy, just that I think you’d provide more laughs and anyway, Butch always hunts Greene county with his father, Clyde.”

And so it was decided, Bill would hunt with me opening day. I did mention that he’d be going his way and I, mine. That was fine with him as he knew of the King. A deer that dreams are made of, but very real, very alive and to my mind, King carried within his veins, the wildest blood ever to flow within a whitetail. And he used that and more to evade hunters for several years. I hoped to change that this season.

I’d seen and touched this deer as a fawn. He had a bad left eye which I, and Gene Georgetti, diagnosed as being blind for it was terribly clouded over. By the time he was old enough to grow his first set of antlers, it was easy to realize this buck was special; his body conformation was like that of a sprinting quarter-horse, rippled with well-toned muscle and his headgear was no less impressive.

The first season I declined killing him as he presented me with a broadside shot on his left side, the “bad eye” side. I took another buck that he met up with that day. The second season, I dropped a running buck I thought was old King, but as it turned out the dream of killing this magnificent King remained alive, and I would hunt him again, 364 days later…

Big Bill and I planned our hunt a dozen times in the two weeks prior to the season. I must have assured him twice that many times, “Billy me boy, we’ll have our bucks opening morning, no problem. All you have to do is sit tight where I tell ya and, bingo!” His childlike excitement hitting its apex after Mr. “G” who owns the large farm, confirmed the fact that “At least eight good bucks were running the farm and surrounding woods.” One alleged to be “my King.” With this news, we elected to scout a few areas the following day.

Bill was reminiscent of a child on Christmas Eve as we drove the road paralleling Mr. Georgetti’s property. “By golly, Joe, this does look good! Almost reminds me of the big northwoods!” After we’d parked the four-wheeling Ram Bill had just bough, we got out and as we looked up to a bench on a small mountain, we saw seven deer hotfooting it, apparently frightened by the slamming of Bill’s door. Bill just shook his head in disbelief. “Why for the love a’mike, you’d think they’d be bedded down this time a day!” As far as Bill was concerned, we need not go a step farther. We did, however, as I wanted to show him his first-day stand above Sugar Run and check for sign – King’s sign!

We jumped 10 more deer on the first hogback on our way up the mountain but were unable to determine whether there were any bucks in the group. This wired old Bill to the max and soon thereafter we headed down the mountain.

As we lumbered down the steep slope, something seemed amiss, off-key, and at the time I couldn’t quite put my finger on it – while on the mountain. Certainly, there was sufficient sign, plenty of scrapes, rubs, droppings and deer trails, both master and feeder trails, and yes, the deer themselves? We were almost home when it occurred to me; I hadn’t seen a single, unmistakable rub made by the King. Those which usually scarred and shredded the bark of the largest young trees, say in the area of five-inches or so through the middle. I consoled myself with the fact that I “knew” this buck, I’d observed him for years now, and hunted him. Surely he was still alive, still up there somewhere, and that on opening day I would find him?

As Bill and I parted company, I asked what he thought of “my” favorite deer woods. His answer came in terms of “fresh venison liver and onions,” thus confirming he approved and felt confident. Also, it served to prove why Big Bill was “big!” Always had food of some sort on his mind. Still, he felt certain he’d get his first buck opening day and I was confident I’d down the King of Sugar Run?

Very early opening day, Bill pulled up in the drive and helped me load my gear. It was only 4:30 a.m. and we decided days before to have breakfast at an “Open 24-Hours” greasy spoon. As we got our of the Ram in the café parking lot, I realized Bill was wearing more fluorescent orange than I’d ever seen on one man, more than I’d ever seen in one place! Perhaps more than a camp full of deer hunters! I couldn’t help but laugh. When I was forced to explain my laughter to Bill, he said, “Looky here shorty!” He pulled up his pantleg to expose the slightest bit of fat, stubble-haired leg and over most of it, bright orange calf-over socks. I was nearly in tears and unless one sees a giant dressed like this, it’s at best, difficult to realize what that amount of hunter-orange looks like all at one time! Nevertheless, I was, as usual, already enjoying my time with Big Bill, my season with a dear friend. He greatly and humorously impressed everyone in the diner as well, and we suffered through breakfast; not just with the slimy food, but with everyone giggling as they saw several hundred yards of fluorescent orange sitting there with a head attached to it all…

After we’d gotten to the farm, we headed out, navigating a steep hillside in the darkness. As it was a chore, climbing it, we were forced to stop every few minutes for a breather. As we did one time, it caused a grouse to flush in the darkness and this afforded me yet another first; more airborne fluorescent orange than ever before seen by mortal man! This promised to be an interesting day as my laughing probably spooked every whitetail within miles?

Bill and I separated, and I sat at the base of a large oak tree, awaiting dawn. It broke cool but relatively comfortable for the time of year it was. I chambered a round in the .243 Smith, and stood for a better view of the thornapple thicket which lay before me. Daylight was still merging with the darkness when the first shot of the morning and of the season echoed from a southwest slope. No shots sounded from our side of Sugar Run.

I knelt for a better view through the thicket and spotted a deer slipping through the oak shoots, a doe. I then caught movement on my left, another deer, but this one carried a rack. In the seconds it was in partial view, I wasn’t able to get a clear shot, nor could I determine the size of the deer’s antlers. It could have been King, it could have been a four-point. I didn’t know for sure, only that it was indeed a decent buck.

By 8:30, there were still no shots on our side of the run and sitting there, I wondered why the two deer I’d seen were traveling in the opposite direction I’d usually observed? From my right and front to my left? Writing it off as merely bad luck or poor pre-season scouting, I decided to move, all the while praying I’d hear Big Bill’s rifle fire. I’d been hunting with my fingers crossed for him…

The morning turned, unseasonably, warmer. I stillhunted my say to where Bill would be and eventually caught up with him, and began suggesting new strategy.

“Bill, I’m going to work a section of woods on the other side of the stream. It cuts through a big hollow over there.” I pointed in that direction and continued, “Why don’t you find a likely crossing on this side, and sit a while? I may just shove one your way if I can prevent them from crossing over onto that other farm. If they do that, buddy, we’re in deep doo dah. It’s posted and I don’t know the landowner. I do think those critters are holed up in the thickets over there because of all the activity of the morning. They gotta be, otherwise we would have seen fifty deer by now! Something isn’t right and I’m determined to learn just what? Sound okay to you?”

Bill agreed to sit tight until I worked the thickets. He did, I did, and the physical effort proved fruitless. Bill had seen nothing and said so. “Nuttin’ you nut!” And all I spotted were five waving flags thanks to the noise of the cornflake-like leaves. Bill asked, “Now what?”

We sat in silence for several moments, trying to put things into some sensible perspective; to gather our thoughts. The deer were there, we each knew that, but the hunt was becoming a nightmare rather than the dream I felt it would be. I sat there thinking how wonderful it would be for Mr. Big to get his first buck because of my driving efforts and from my favorite deer woods…

Bill interrupted my thoughts. “Wonder where your King is now?”

Shaking my head in the affirmative direction, I said, “Oh, he’s here, Bill, he’s here. Probably watching us right now, thinking if deer do, just what fools we are?”

Seconds later, a shot sounded from somewhere near the posted land? A shot which for some strange reason left me feeling funny inside, empty. I hoped the emptiness was because I was hungry, so I pulled some jerky from my jacket pocket and offered Bill a chunk. “Naw, thanks,” he said, “I think I’ll hoof it t’the truck and eat my lunch.”

I rarely leave the woods until quitting time, so found it strange that I chose to do that when Bill said he was going to his truck. As we walked, that lone shot echoed over and over in my mind. It somehow seemed a premonitory thing, causing me discomfort. I felt not only restless, but very inquisitive about the lone shot…

“Bill, I’m going to walk up the road a bit. I want to check out a few crossings. Maybe they’ll reveal something to help solve this puzzle?”

As I rounded the second, sharp bend in the road, paralleling Brush Run, I spotted two hunters with a deer, a man and a youngster. They were very near their vehicle and as I got nearer, I could see the buck they were dragging was huge. After about three more anxious strides, I stopped as though I’d walked into a wall. I began walking again, my eyes focused intently on what had to be the most magnificent buck I’d ever seen this side of the Mississippi. South of heaven, there couldn’t be a buck more beautiful than the high-tined, 8-point which lay before me. This was a deer most of us see only when our eyes are closed – and we’re dreaming…

I said “Howdy, nice buck!” Then knelt to examine the massive antler, turning the deer’s head to inspect the left eye. I felt myself to get lightheaded as I saw the left eye was clouded with blindness.

“Have you ever seen such a rack?” the man asked excitedly.

I told him I hadn’t. That this buck would score high in the state record books and even managed to look up at him and smile as he began telling me how he took the King of Sugar Run. He had no idea this buck was one I’d hunted for several years but his story somehow softened the blow of learning the season of the King had come. Too, it buffered the hurt and disappointment I felt. My three-year quest had been in vain, yet, in a way, I was happy for them. They were a courteous father and son team and their story assured me they well-earned their trophy: “Ya know,” the father said, “I’ve been hunting deer since sixty-nine and this is my first one. Never even got a doe. But ya know what makes this so special is that it’s m’ boy’s first season. He did really well in hunter’s education ‘n all, but we couldn’t afford to get him a rifle this year. Figured I’d take him along anyway. Ya know? For the training. I’d have let him shoot but we need the meat and it was sort of a tough shot.”

He was glad to have had his son along when he took his first buck and the youngster’s face revealed he felt the same. Fingering the tines of old King, I noticed the spot where the bullet impacted, yes on the right side! Fate is a marvelous thing at times. “What did ya get him with, an ’06?” I questioned.

“Nope, a little 30-30.”

“You were on stand?”

“No sir, the boy and I were walking a ridge above an old orchard when we spotted this doe a’slinking through a small clearing. I whispered for m’boy here to stop a second, and sure enough this old buck came in behind her. Tell ya one thing, I sure underestimated the power of that little saddle gun. Why that old buck dropped in his tracks. Died instantly so he did…”

His story revealed to me that the death of the King couldn’t have been more perfect. He was killed in such a way that his dignity remained intact and he had not a second of suffering. He was getting old, and Mother Nature’s “hand” can more often than not prove far more cruel.

I didn’t let on that his buck was one I’d hunted and wanted for several reasons. I felt it was better that way. I helped them load The King into their car trunk and said congratulations again, then “So long, he’s sure a dandy…”

After I got back to Bill’s truck, I told him the story in short. I could see Bill’s disappointment but it was because he knew what King meant to me. And not just an object to kill, as a renewable resource either. The King represented the ultimate challenge and was the epitome of whitetail magic. We decided to call it a day because of the heat and dryness of the late morning…

As we drove toward home in silence, I thought of my son, Justin. How disappointed he would be, I thought. He’d had great hopes that Poppa would take the King. We’d shared a three-year dream and I wasn’t looking forward to breaking the disappointing news to him.

He greeted me in the usual, cheerful manner. “Hi Poppa! How’d it go? Did ya see ol’ King?”

“No buck today, Partner, but yes, I did see the King.”

“What do ya mean ya saw him?”

“Well, Justin, I helped load him into the car of another hunter. Old King wasn’t on my side of Sugar Run this mornin’ and someone else finally got him.”

I told him most of the story and he listened intently, looking at me through puddle eyes, then gave me the title for this story. “Doggone it, Pop, I thought sure this would be the season we’d have the King.”

I explained as father’s often have to do, that in a way we did “have” the King. That we had the pleasure of sighting him many times around the hollows of Sugar Run and that those memories will be forever etched in our hearts. That no one or nothing could take that from us. It didn’t, at the moment, seem to help Justin’s mood, much…

The next morning found me atop the same ridge but this time, alone. Big Bill had to work. A dawn breeze worked its way into a full-grown wind and my thoughts naturally turned to The King. I knew they would…

I asked myself whether there would ever be a buck as great as he? And the wind, as it commonly does in the woods of the whitetail, spoke back to me: “Oh course. The King sired sons and you shall be here to hunt them. For now, be satisfied with all that which this day brings. The wind, the smells of autumn, the magic of being alone in the home of the King’s sons.” And, somehow, I was. The voice in the wind, of course, was my own…

Note: As you read this story, you no doubt noticed where I described Big Bill and said he “…was one of those tender giants of a man.” I wrote “was” because after returning home to Pennsylvania in 1994 after having spent 4-years in eastern Oregon, I phoned Bill’s home in Washington, PA and sadly learned from his wife that he’d passed away the year before; lying on the sofa after work and had a silent, killing heart attack. Needless to say I didn’t do much for weeks after learning of Big Bill’s passing. He was just 56 years old and one marvelous human being with whom I had considerable fun and countless laughs. Heaven knows, I miss him terribly.

_Before I learned that old Bill left without saying goodbye, I began a series of our “escapades” (all quite humorous!) I called, “The Bullseye Bunch, Infallible.” Each piece recounted our times, great ones all, together. After I found out he’d passed on, I personally chose to discontinue the series. Now, as I ponder that foolish decision, I think Bill would have been proud to be nationally “publicized” in the series and so, I’ve decided to write my next book, already well started, exclusively recounting our many times together; very warm and wonderful times… _

There should be at least 15 heartwarming stories. I wish there could be more and perhaps if I jostle my memory a bit, I can come up with several more? If only he hadn’t died so soon, so young, I could write several books about our times together, sharing his wonderful ways with the world. But as they say, God has this habit of plucking His most beautiful flowers…

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