A satirical what-if story of the hunter becoming the hunted.
A BALANCING OF SCALES
My earliest memories are of the smell of the woods. The earthy scent of sage grass and pine trees on a hot breezy day could never be replaced by something manufactured and put in a can. The ingredients are of everything that has ever existed and lived and died in the woods. And for some unfathomed primal reason that knowledge has always excited me to no end. From the leaves of the Oak and the Sycamore, to the many varieties of wild grasses; the dirt and the dead leaves, to the squirrels and the toads, the dead and the alive and the wind that blows conspire to serve the purpose of the natural world’s cycle of creation, death, and resultant redolence. It is an intoxicating and liberating balancing of the ugly and the beautiful, and I cannot, even to this day imagine anything more fundamentally inspiring. I can, however, recall the day I encountered the first serious shifting of Mother Nature’s balancing scales. The woods were to never smell the same again.
It was an ordinary late autumn day-break, about like this morning. The quarter-moon was nearly descended. The sky was clear and dark blue like a mountain pond in the night with thousands of small candles floating on its surface. The wind had gone to bed and it was going to be an excellent morning for hunting deer. Winter was just a few weeks away and the morning temperature was cold enough that you had to hide your breathe, so when the sun came up, the steam would not give away your position. I had just crested the small knob of Yellow Mountain on the way to my tree stand when first I noticed the change in the smell of the woods. Something was dead and rotting.
I had not been up that way since the previous hunting season, but I could tell right away that whatever it was that had died was larger than a squirrel. The stench was overwhelming. Without taking another step I went into my back pack; retrieved and turned on my small Mag flashlight. No matter the consequences to my hunting trip that morning I did not want to step into a large dead animal’s rotting carcass. The most obvious guess of the source was someone had been out poaching pre-season deer and got off a bad shot. The mortally wounded animal had probably ran until it bled to death and the poacher never found his illegal kill. I have always hated poachers. They are cheaters who have no respect for the natural world, nor for the heart and dignity of the hunting sport and profession. They do not see the beauty of their victims nor appreciate the nobility of their cunning and savage instinct for survival. The poacher merely murders to satisfy a puerile lust for killing. I have made the case time and time again over the last few months that but for the poacher the unbalancing of the natural world would never have occurred.
I found the deer, true to my imagining, just a few minutes later. It was a huge twelve point buck. Taking my time, I examined the corpse, covering my mouth and nose with my gloved hand to avoid some of the foulness of the decay. It had been badly shot in the right side of the head just below it's eye. The round had exited on the left side in back of the ear leaving a large hole. There was no way this deer could have traveled very far with that kind of damage. It must have lost half of it's brain immediately. As I fanned the Mag light over the large rack I found dried blood all over several of the points, some were broken off. This didn't make any sense. I couldn’t imagine how the blood could have gotten there, unless it had splattered from the wound, but these weren't splatters. The antlers looked like they had been dipped into a bucket of red paint.
The sky was starting to turn a pale milky blue in the east, and realizing I was wasting my morning, I struck out again to reach my tree stand before the sun dragged its self over Four Brother’s Mountain; Yellow Mountain's twin on the east side. I hadn’t gone on up the hill more than three or four minutes when I found Charlie Hick’s body.
Charlie was an old bachelor who lived alone over in the head of Stone Coal. Hardly anyone paid any attention to him which is why he could go missing for three days and no one notice. His chest had been badly torn apart. I went sick as soon as I saw him. They later found his car, a 1963 two-toned Ford, parked in behind the old barn near the mouth of Hurricane Branch on the other side of Yellow Mountain. He had hiked about thirty minutes up the other side of the mountain from where he had parked his car to meet his death.
News spreads fast in small communities so it was no surprise that by nightfall nearly everyone in Floyd County knew of the strange and frightening circumstances of Charlie’s demise. A rutting buck, if cornered, will attack and can definitely hurt you, but no one had ever heard of a deer attacking and killing a deer hunter. What we didn’t know then, in all our ignorance, would only serve the funeral directors and embalmers bank accounts later on. The next day’s newspaper headline “Hunter and Hunted Duel To Death”, brought the national media into our part of the county, and of course, when the media get interested the government is never far behind. The Governor dispatched the state’s Department of Wildlife bureaucrats to investigate and on and on. For about a week you couldn’t go into town without someone wanting to stick a microphone in your face. Then around about the time when the media was losing interest, Don Salley was found dead over on Tinker Fork. Unlike what happened to Charlie, Don’s entire body was torn to pieces, but this time there was no dead deer, just lots of deer prints in and around the body. The Wildlife Enforcement Officers would later report their estimate that more than ten different deer had been in the area of Don’s dead body. That was only the beginning.
Months after when Charlie was first found deer hunters were being killed right and left. The deer hunted the hunters, and contrary to their timid reputation, killed swiftly and with savage and brutal intent. Most deer hunters began traveling in pairs and small groups. They carried more ammunition, pistols, and large knives. Some deer were killed yet more hunters were killed than the deer. In the old days hunters joked about being able to always see deer everywhere until open season and then they just seemed to disappear. It is tragically funny that we never acknowledged this seasonal occurrence as an indicator of superior intelligence. We now know differently.
The deer proved themselves to be better and smarter hunters than we are or ever have been. And yet, realizing this did not stop us from continuing to hunt them. What was once spoken of as a sport had evolved into a property war. The deer attacked any human that entered their hills and their woods. While the governor held public debates on whether or not to send in the National Guard, hunters up and down the creeks shouldered weapons and hiked in to battle. Most were not returning. Of course, being that the woods is the natural habitat of the deer gives them somewhat a tactical advantage, as well does their superior sense of smell, hearing, speed, and eye sight. They probably know within ten minutes when someone has stepped into their back yard. Some hunters have reported that the deer often run diversionary tactics using as many as five and six at a time to circle or flank the hunters and lead them to try and shoot them on the run. With so many targets moving at top speed a hunter could empty their supply of ammunition pretty quickly, just shooting at shadows, and once that happened the deer would come in full force, sometimes as many as twenty-five, to finish the kill. For some reason a primal human impulse compels us to conquer and control the natural world; it will not allow us to accept that we are intellectually inferior or even equal to an animal that walks on four legs.
I guess that’s explanation enough for why I am trapped here in this tree stand, alone, on a beautiful Autumn morning surrounded by a large group of vicious racked-up bucks. I can’t see them at this moment but they're out there hiding and waiting; waiting for me to come down. In the last two hours, I have used up three hundred rounds of fifty caliber ammunition and killed only one deer that I can be sure of with plenty remaining. Still, armed with a 357 caliber pistol, and five full reloads, I began my climb down the tree. I had specifically planned my location so that I would only have a ten minute down hill run to get to my car and safety. I had every intention of making it. I had trained for this moment. I had practiced shooting and reloading on the run for several weeks, and I was very confident that I could pull this off.
Immediately upon touching ground, I sensed them moving in from all directions though none were visible. I was into about my fifth running step, just getting up to speed, when what looked like ten of them came straight at me weaving in and around the trees at unbelievably fast speeds. I got off six quick shots, hitting nothing but the wind, when I was taken off the ground from behind by what must have been the largest rack ever to grow on a deer. At least six of the points penetrated my lower back and I was hoisted and slammed into the trunk of an old Beech tree. As I slid face first down the old buck flipped me over with his rack. Then they took turns coming in on me, bouncing my body off the tree with unnaturally sharpened horns. Strangely, the shock and savagery of their attacks prevented me from feeling any of the pain. I found myself looking up and noticing how blue and beautiful the sky was this morning. I could smell the sage grass and pine trees and noticed a slight breeze stirring the leaves overhead. Suddenly, I remembered something Johnny had said last night on the Tonight Show about how smart animals are. I couldn't help but smile.