By T.J. Knight
-- It was the first day of the Tennessee muzzleloader season. I placed my wife in a promising spot then, as usual, reminded her to click her two-way radio every hour on the hour so I'd know she was okay. I continued to another location I liked, and sat in the folding chair I carry on my back.
An hour had almost passed when a movement on the hill to my right caught my eye. It was a large-bodied buck sporting what appeared to be an 8-point rack. It was angling downhill only 40 yards away, and it was now getting close to the path I had walked to my spot.
"Click, click." My wife was doing exactly what I'd told her to do. When my radio clicked loudly, the buck froze. I hadn't had time to get turned in my chair to face him, and now my neck was turned to the right as far as it would stretch. My gun was across my lap, pointing in the opposite direction. The buck was now about four steps from the path where I'd walked to my spot. I knew if he hit that trail he'd probably whirl and disappear.
The buck stopped in a spot where its entire body was hidden by brush. I could see the buck's head and tail. He stood as still as a statue. I did the same. The buck was staring at me. I was trying to keep my eyes half-closed so he couldn't see them. Knowing I couldn't move until the buck moved, I started thinking about what I would have to do. The instant he took a step I would have to slowly turn, raise my gun, cock it, aim and fire before he got to that trail. Yeah, right.
He kept staring. My neck was starting to cramp and my head was shaking from the tension. I remembered reading somewhere that ninjas or monks or somebody had explained that with the use of deep concentration you can make yourself invisible. They claim you can become a tree or a bush. You can transfer your being and blend into your surroundings by subduing all thoughts and brain waves. But my mind was screaming. Every nerve in my body was flooded with current. I imagined sparks flying from my ears, lighting a neon sign on my head that said, "Right here! I'm right here!"
How long could this last? I realized that he had no schedule to keep. This was life and death to him. He could stand there for as long as it was necessary. He was no dummy. He'd already survived through two hunting seasons on public land. This was his third time around. He was still staring.
My right arm felt like it was going numb. I slowly wiggled my fingers, knowing they were hidden behind my gun stock. He stared. I was supposed to click my radio to let my wife know I heard her signal. What if she clicks again?
He turned his head then took a step. I was moving. He stepped. I was on him. He stepped. I squeezed the trigger. Smoke blocked my view for a moment as he bolted and ran down the hollow. His tail was down as he ran straight and low to the ground, crashing through brush. No bouncing leaps. I felt good about the shot. He was out of sight now, so I walked over to where he'd been when I shot. Blood. Lots of it, with a good blood trail leading away.
I looked at my watch. It was 8:35 a.m. My wife had clicked on the hour. The buck had stood perfectly still for over 30 minutes without as much as a flicker of its tail or a turn of its head. So had I.
Thirty minutes of watching television, driving, or talking with a friend seem to fly by. But just for fun, sit in a chair and turn your head as far as you can to one side. Don't move. Wait. Hey, I said DON'T move. Okay, that's 30 seconds, just twenty-nine and a half minutes to go.
This and other successful and unsuccessful contests with wary game are what make me keep returning to the woods day after day and year after year. The 8-point rack on my wall doesn't come close to making any record books, but the experience and fond memory the buck provided me are the greatest reward a hunter can receive.
Mount Juliet, Tennessee
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