By Roark Russell
His broad track was distinct, sinking all the way down to his dew claws in the red soil along Tallawackee Creek. His long toes splayed under his considerable weight and his right front hoof turned sharply inward, making his track quite recognizable. Thus the name — Ol’ Pigeon Toe.
No one could say for sure that they had ever seen Ol’ Pigeon Toe in the flesh, but those tracks were a taunting reminder to the members of the Scuppernong Huntin’ & Shootin’ Club that he existed right under their noses.
Doc Bones and William E. “Willie” Schtabbitt, the founding members, had quietly devoted themselves to hunting Ol’ Pigeon Toe, and, in truth, they were competing with one another as much as they were with the nocturnal phantom that occupied most all their waking moments. Treestands had been hung in hundreds of trees over the years in the chess game with Ol’ Pigeon Toe, not to mention how many times they were moved, adjusted and replaced in “more likely” locations. And after untold strategies failed to produce a single sighting of the phantom buck, his telltale track never failed to show up right where the “would be” ambush was supposed to have taken place. It was uncanny how that buck could avoid being seen and yet always remind the hunters of his presence right where they were hunting.
It was possible that Willie had gotten a look at Ol’ Pigeon Toe once, though he couldn’t be sure. He was in his treestand at daybreak on a foggy December morning when the image of a huge buck materialized like a mirage on a deer trail under his stand. The buck stood stone still as the fog rolled by in layers that made him disappear momentarily and then reappear. Finally the buck started walking toward Willie’s stand but a doe cut in front of him about 10 yards. As she passed under Willie’s stand, presenting him with a perfect broadside shot, the temptation was more than he could bear and Willy quickly put an arrow through her ribs. After his shot, he looked back to where the buck had been, but there was nothing but fog.
Any other hunter would have let the doe walk by in hopes of getting a crack at a buck like that, but not Willie. His motto is “never pass up a perfect shot.” His inability to turn down a bird in the hand probably heralds back to his youthful days when putting the venison on the table was serious business and all he hunted for was a sure shot. He didn’t need the venison to survive anymore, but old habits die hard. If the world record buck walked by Willie behind a doe, he was as safe as a day in jail.
In addition to his “first come, first served” deer hunting philosophy, Willie had other colorful traits. Though his passion was bowhunting, which had accounted for several hundred deer according to him, he was armed to the teeth for other critters, as well. You can bet that somewhere within quick and easy reach, Willy is packing a shiny, chrome single-action Frontier model .45 long six-shooter. ”Ya never know when yer gonna get charged by one of them boar hogs,” Willy claims in full justification of his six-gun. And in one of his pockets there is always his snake gun, a single-shot .22 Magnum Derringer. Fact is, when Willie empties his pockets, the arsenal revealed would do most lawmen proud.
Doc declares that if you found Willie sitting up watching a late movie, he’d have that .45 on his hip and the Derringer stuffed in the front of his BVDs.
As far as any of the Scuppernong club members knew, Willie was a faithful husband to his wife, Horeena, for more than 40 years, an upstanding member of Deadwood Hollow Missionary Baptist Church, and an honest, hard-working man who had never shorted anyone on purpose. But still, with all the firepower on his person, you get the feelin’ that out there somewhere was someone Willie was expectin’ to come sneaking up on him in the dark. Willie doesn’t have a known enemy, but maybe there’s something in the unknown. One thing is for sure: Anybody who sneaks up on Willie is sneaking up on a well-armed man!
Doc had never seen Ol’ Pigeon Toe, but he came close once. After sitting in his treestand one morning until 9:30, he went back to camp for the customary breakfast of eggs, sausage, biscuits and grits. After the breakfast dishes, the club members initiated the daily ritual of figuring out where they would hunt for the afternoon shift. This typically involves a meeting held around the bed of Doc’s pickup truck. Everybody leans on their elbows and waxes philosophical about the most logical place to hunt next. This process usually consumes about two hours. It involves a fair amount of chastising and arguing about who should go where, as well as the customary belching, farting, spitting and shifting around the truck bed in accordance with which way the wind is blowing the aroma from the bag of garbage in the back of the pickup. On most days, the decisions are made by 2:30 or 3 p.m. and the hunters disperse to their chosen locations.
Doc, unlike Willie, approaches his decisions somewhat scientifically. Guess that’s why he’s a doctor. But the cost of his deliberating often puts him on the trail a little late. Such was the case on the day he almost got a look at Ol’ Pigeon Toe. Doc decided to go back to the same stand he had occupied that morning. And as he was walking in on the tracks he made as he left the stand that morning, there were the unmistakable tracks of Ol’ Pigeon Toe - that turned in right front hoof print pressed deep into Doc’s very own boot tracks. Ol’ Pigeon Toe had actually walked by Doc’s stand in broad daylight, obviously when Doc and the others were in deep cogitation around the back of the truck. Doc was naturally disappointed that he wasn’t in the stand when Ol’ Pigeon Toe had walked by, but he was encouraged that the phantom buck had actually been out walking in broad daylight.
There were plenty of other times when Ol’ Pigeon Toe had seemingly toyed with Willie and Doc, and they sought to settle the score with the phantom buck. But as much as they each wanted to put Ol’ Pigeon Toe in his place, there was a contest between them to see which man would succeed. Though Doc and Willie were the best of friends, they were competitive, and being born and bred in the Southeast, NASCAR blood ran thick and hot in their veins. Everywhere they went, whether trucking down the interstate or traversing the narrow dirt trails through the hunting club property, they drove like it was the Talladega 500.
To date, Doc Bones has been in no less than 29 automobile accidents and, amazingly, not one of them has been his fault. Be that as it may, a shivering number of those wrecks totally demolished the vehicles and yet Doc emerged in one piece by none other than the hand of his maker. You’d think that many brushes with eternity would have slowed him down, but if anything, it has made him drive even faster. The man is simply obsessed with speed. It’s not uncommon for Doc and Willie to jump in their trucks after the evening hunt and race for the front gate down the little 15-foot wide red dirt road that winds through planted pines.
“Gadget” Thornton knew of Ol’ Pigeon Toe but had never made any serious attempt to hunt him. So-called for his fascination with all the latest and greatest hunting innovations, Gadget didn’t really care which deer he shot just as long as he was the first to shoot it with the latest gadget.
On that particular day last December, Gadget showed up with a brand new bow sight that promised unparalleled performance. It would calculate the effects of the gravitational pull of the earth on every known arrow shaft at yardages all the way out to 1,000 yards and compensate for wind drift at the same time. Once the self-selecting pin was placed on the target, according to Gadget, the deer was as good as dead. He had it all tuned up and had dazzled the stunned minds of the entire Scuppernong Huntin’ & Shootin’ Club membership, leaving them eaten up with envy. Gadget lived for those glowing moments.
By daylight he was in his treestand, poised to launch an arrow at the first deer that walked within his considerable bow range. He didn’t have to wait long. A doe came creeping by at the slam dunk range of 12 yards. Gadget came to full draw with unparalleled confidence and drove his arrow squarely into the only limb between him and the deer. Seems his fancy new bow sight wasn’t designed to avoid intermediate objects in the arrow’s line of flight. Undaunted, Gadget nocked a second arrow and waited only a few minutes before the second doe passed his stand at 15 yards. There were no limbs or branches between him and this doe, so it was a done deal in his mind. How the arrow flew a foot low was beyond his comprehension. And why the next two arrows did exactly the same thing only added to the mystery.
But by 9:30 he was out of arrows and headed back to town to get more. Some of his fellow employees at the shop where he kept his extra arrows asked him why he had returned for more arrows so early in the morning, as they peered into the back of his truck, noticing that it contained no trace of a deer carcass. Gadget grabbed a handful of arrows and an unopened package of broadheads and headed to his truck as the teasing began. He was losing face for sure. He could not return to work without redeeming himself, especially in view of the fact that he was using the most advanced archery technology on the market. He knew that by the next morning his coworkers would be making unbearable jokes about his shooting. He was desperate to make good on the next deer he saw.
When he returned to the club cabin, all the members were there, and he had no choice but to tell them he had shot a full quiver of arrows at deer that morning without cutting a single hair. He was wishing he had never told them about his fancy new bow sight. Gadget suffered in stinging silence as the jeering began. Somehow he had to stem the tide of ridicule and show them all that it wasn’t his fault he missed all those deer. He slipped off to the bow range behind the cabin and took several shots at the target. But he was dead on. The mystery continued.
Unfortunately for Gadget, the evening shift failed to produce a single sighting of a deer, much less a shot opportunity. As the club members gathered back at the cabin after dark, the reports indicated that everybody but Gadget saw deer, and of course, all his fellow club members wanted to know if he’d missed any more deer that evening. How he dreaded going back to work the next morning empty-handed.
Everybody packed their gear into their trucks and prepared to head home. Gadget was riding with Doc and they pulled into the lead position in the race to the gate. Willie, getting a slower start, was in second place as they burned up the red dirt at warp speed. It was a ritual. Doc and Willie had their own private backwoods NASCAR race every night after the hunt was over. They even had 2-way radios so that they could keep track of each other during the race.
Doc and Gadget were almost to the gate when they heard Willie shrieking excitedly over the radio. At first they couldn’t understand what he was saying, so they pulled over and stopped so they could hear it better.
“It’s a sho-nuff shooter!” wailed Willie.
“Whateryatalkin’ about?” Doc replied.
“He jumped right out in front of me and I hit him square on,” Willie yelled into his radio. “He’s a dang good buck!”
With that Doc turned around and drove back until he saw Willie’s truck lights and a group of men standing around. As Doc and Gadget drew closer they could see the huge rack on the crumpled buck. They jumped out of Doc’s truck and trotted over to get a better look and there was Willie standing over the dead deer with his chrome Frontier, single-action, .45 long Colt still smoking in his hand.
“Didja have to finish him off?” Doc asked.
“Not really,” Willie grinned. “I just figured I’d give him one for good measure. The truck really tore him up - like a snake in a weed eater. And he messed up my truck pretty good, too.” Willie was always looking for a reason to drag out his .45 and that occasion was as good as any.
Suddenly a light dawned on Gadget. If Willie could shoot the buck, so could he.
“Prop him up,” Gadget commanded. Everyone looked at him in puzzled silence. “Prop him up,” Gadget ordered again, “I’m gonna shoot him, too.” So, the club members dutifully propped the buck up on his brisket while Gadget backed up about 10 steps, bow in hand with its fancy new bow sight.
“Now, everybody stand back,” he commanded.
“The way he’s shootin’ we might oughta get in the next county,” one of the members mumbled.
Gadget drew an arrow and drove it squarely into the dead buck’s heart. Then he pitched his camera over to Willie and told him to take a picture. Gadget knelt down by the huge 8-point trophy and grabbed him by the antlers and smiled as the camera flashed. “That’s just what I need,” Gadget snorted.
As they were loading the buck into the back of Willie’s truck, someone noticed something strange about one of the buck’s front hooves. Its right front hoof had a peculiar inward twist. “Good Lord,” Doc declared, “it’s Ol’ Pigeon Toe!” Everyone stood in silence, realizing that the phantom legend that had eluded them for so long was finally dead.
Willie broke the reverent silence. “Well, he outsmarted us to the end,” he said. “Guess we never woulda killed him in the daylight. If I had been driving slower, he’d still be on the hoof. And I’ll betcha he done $5,000 worth of damage to the front of my truck.”
“It don’t seem fair,” Doc grumbled. “I was in the lead and, by all rights, I shoulda hit him.”
Predictably, the next morning when Gadget arrived at the shop, the whole work crew gave him the gears about all the deer he had missed the day before. He let them have their fun and after everybody quieted down, he pulled a picture out of his shirt pocket and threw it down on the table. “Oh, by the way,” he said nonchalantly, “I did manage to shoot a pretty good buck yesterday evening.” The crew gasped in unison, shaking their heads in disbelief.
The following Saturday, when most of the members of the Scuppernong Huntin’ and Shootin’ Club headed to the woods, Doc Bones decided to head back to the stand where he had last seen Ol’ Pigeon Toe’s track. It wasn’t going to be the same without Ol’ Pigeon Toe in the woods. That buck had been the object of his hunting life for years. He felt a twinge of melancholy now that it was over.
Suddenly Doc stopped like he’d seen a ghost. There before him was a smoking fresh set of huge buck tracks sunk deep into the muddy trail. The toes on both front hooves splayed out wider than a man’s hand and the right front hoof turned sharply inward.
Could it be true? Could Ol’ Pigeon Toe still be alive? And if he was, how was he going to keep Willie from finding out?
-- Reprinted from the October 2006 issue of Buckmasters Magazine