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Fall Fiction: The Homecoming Part 2

Brandy arrows a big 7-pointer, a diamondback rattlesnake nearly takes a life, and Mike’s big coastal buck takes a bullet.

Craig James | September 8, 2018

Mike slowly looked down. There lying in a bush next to a weathered cypress tree was the largest shed he had ever seen. As Keith picked it up, four perfectly symmetrical points glowed in the afternoon sun. Though slightly weathered, the shed was in remarkably good shape.

“Look, I think I see the other side over there in those bushes. These have to be our buck’s sheds,” Keith shouted in a hunter’s whisper.

As Mike grabbed the other side, the friends stood amazed at the massive antlers they were holding.

“I’m no expert, but this is our deer. I’m telling you, look at these pictures on my phone,” said Keith.

Mike carefully examined the trail-cam pictures on Keith’s iPhone, and it was obvious this was the same deer.

“I just can’t believe this. The only buck I’ve ever seen even close to this one was the one dad hunted years back,” said Mike.

There was  a long pause, as both hunters knew this buck was something special.

       

A few weeks later, as Mike was unpacking boxes in his new home, he heard a truck door slam and feet running up the steps. Before he could take two steps toward the door, Keith bombarded through it.

“I’ve figured it out! We have never seen that buck on the property because he’s using areas of the property that no one ever bothers with,” said Keith.

“Like the archery range,” Mike added.

“Exactly, I know he’s using that area, and he’s got to be working his way down the backside of the property through the marsh. The million-dollar question is where is he bedding down?”

While Keith pondered the buck’s whereabouts, he had no clue the buck was bedded down between some moss-covered cypress trees less than 200 yards away.

       

The next day, Mike started his new job as the Branch Manager at a local bank. It was a far cry from his big city job in Atlanta, but it felt nice to be settling back into the small town way of doing things.

Mike spent most of the morning getting things squared away in his new office before hurrying off to meet Brandy at Grams Restaurant for an early lunch.

“I didn’t know if you would show or not,” Brandy said laughing as Mike entered the restaurant.

“I almost didn’t. You know how busy the bank can get on a Tuesday,” Mike joked.

The two sat down together and enjoyed Grams special of the day, fried catfish, cheese grits and some of the finest hush puppies in all of the South.

“So, you know Saturday is the bow season opener, right?” Brandy asked.

“Yeah Keith calls me about every half hour to remind me. Are you planning on hunting?” Mike asked.

“Of course! There is a big 7-pointer out at my parent’s place I have been hunting for the past two seasons. I would really like a shot at him with my bow,” Brandy said excitedly.

“Yeah, I’m planning on getting some work done in the yard, and then I’m going to watch the Dawgs play at 3:30. Other than that, I have no plans for the weekend,” said Mike.

“How about we make a deal then? You come hunting with me Saturday morning, and then you take me to lunch, and after that, we can watch the game together,” Brandy said with a smile.

“I don’t even have a bow anymore. I will probably just take a raincheck this time,” said Mike.

“You don’t need one. You can sit in the blind with me and watch a pro hunter at work. Be to my house at 5:30 Saturday morning, and don’t be late,” said Brandy.

Every part of Mike wanted to refuse. He hadn’t been hunting since the day of his father’s accident, but something about Brandy’s smile just wouldn’t let him say no.

       

The wise old buck fed on freshly ripened muscadines, and he had danger in the back of his mind. He had managed to avoid human contact for the majority of his life, and the sounds and smells coming from Mike’s new home place had the buck on high alert. Still, his instinct told him this was the safest place to be. He would just have to limit his movement during daylight hours to stay alive.

Feeding a few more minutes, the buck slowly began to work his way back to the marsh edge where he could move about undetected.

       

On Saturday morning, Mike’s alarm went off, and as he got out of bed, he couldn’t help but dread the task at hand. On one hand, he couldn’t wait to see Brandy and spend the day with her, but on the other, it was just so painful to go hunting again.

After watching a few minutes of the usual depressing news on his T.V. and drinking a few cups of black coffee, Mike climbed in his pickup truck and headed to Brandy’s house.

As he turned out of his driveway and onto the little two-lane road in front of his house, the full moon shined brighter than Mike had ever seen. Running about 15 minutes early, Mike drove slowly along the back-country roads to Brandy’s house as he thought about her, his life, and as always, his dad.

As a few tears rolled down his face, Mike tried to hold them back, but he couldn’t. Why did he have to lose him? Why couldn’t they be riding down this little road together right now getting their game plan together? Why didn’t he double check his dad’s climber when he hung it. If he had, his dad would still be alive. As usual, in Mike’s mind, everything was all his fault.

Mike slowed down and decided to turn around and head back home. He just couldn’t face the hunt.

As he pulled into a small logging road to turn around, his cell phone lit up. It was a text from Brandy: “Can’t wait to see you. There’s nobody I would rather spend the day with.”

As Mike read her words, he teared up some more. As bad as he hurt from losing his dad, he couldn’t stand the thought of hurting Brandy again. He knew when he took off for college and shut her out, that it had broken her heart. But now after all this time, she still wanted to give him another chance. Mike had made a mess of his life, but he wasn’t going to ruin things with Brandy again.

Pulling back out into the highway, Mike dried his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt and stepped on the gas. He was going hunting with Brandy no matter how bad it hurt.

       

Brandy was out by her truck smiling when Mike turned into her yard, and he couldn’t help but notice just how good she looked in her camouflage.

“I got you a hot biscuit inside,” Brandy said as Mike got out of his truck.

“You didn’t have to cook for me. I’m not that special,” Mike said smiling.

“Who said anything about cooking? I went to Hardee’s,” Brandy said laughing.

They both laughed and joked some more and then went inside to eat. Once they finished their food, Mike and Brandy got in her pickup and headed down the road to her parent’s property.

Two large does scurried across the road about 50 yards in front of the truck.

“Did you see that? They are on the move this morning. I’m so excited. I just love opening weekend,” Brandy said smiling.

Once they made it to the property, they parked Brandy’s truck at the gate, grabbed her gear and headed for her blind.

After walking a few hundred yards, the pair made it to the blind. After settling in, they waited patiently for the morning sun to rise.

The pair sat silently as darkness began to turn to gray, and the silence of the woods was broken by the sound of crunching leaves. Mike’s heart began to thump heavily as the noise continued to get closer. He had forgotten what it felt like to wait eagerly with anticipation.

After another 10 minutes, a doe and yearling stepped into the shooting lane just 20 yards from the pair and stared at the blind curiously.

After feeding in the plot for the next five minutes or so, the doe started to become anxious, looking back in the direction she had come from. Once a few more long minutes passed, the doe and her fawn bounced off into the bushes.

A half hour later and after no more deer sightings, the woods were quiet, other than the occasional chirping of a bird.

Suddenly Brandy nudged Mike’s leg, and as he looked up from the game on his phone, his heart filled with excitement. The 7-point buck Brandy was after was in the food plot and starting to work its way in their direction.

Watching the buck work to within 50 yards, Brandy readied her compound bow and prepared to draw on the buck. After a few more tense minutes, the buck closed to within 35 yards and turned to look behind him in the plot.

Immediately, Brandy drew on the large, chocolate-horned 7-point with one smooth motion. As the buck turned back and took a step, Brandy let out a “Baah” and released her arrow.

The whack of the broadhead pierced the silence of the woods. The buck leapt up and took off noticeably injured.

“Did you see that? Wow, I’m going crazy here! That’s the one I’ve been after! I’m shaking like crazy,” Brandy said in an excited whisper.

       

Thirty minutes later, the pair exited the blind and headed down the food plot to where the buck was hit.

“Yeah I’d say you got him good. From the looks of that crimson blood, you got him right through the lungs,” Mike said energetically.

“Look! He’s right over there through the woods. He didn’t even make it 50 yards,” said Brandy.

As the pair hurried over to the deer, their excitement compounded.

“Dang girl! That’s a heck of a buck. I bet he scores in the 130s even with deductions,” Mike said.

“I can’t believe he came out on opening day. I’ve hunted down here my whole life, and I’ve never killed anything close to this,” said Brandy.

“He’s an awesome buck for the coast. You need to enter him into the GON Truck-Buck Contest. You might win that brand-new pickup from John Megel Chevy,” said Mike.

Once they took some pictures and admired the buck some more, the pair loaded the buck in Brandy’s pickup and headed for Big David’s Deer Processing.

       

As they backed the truck up to the concrete pad, a small crowd closed in to see the first deer brought in for the season. The group of hunters enthusiastically congratulated Brandy on her buck as the screen door swung open.

“I seen that Georgia Girl sticker on the back glass, and I said to myself, leave it to Brandy to show up all the fellers on opening day,” Big David said laughing.

David, who stood 6-6 and roughly 300 pounds, reached into the back of the truck and almost effortlessly pulled the big buck out by the antlers.

“How we gonna work him up Brandy?” David asked as he grabbed a 20-year-old blood stained clipboard.

“Half smoked sausage and half burger. I definitely want to get about 10 pounds done in your jalapeno Dr. Pepper jerky. That stuff is addictive,” Brandy said with a grin.

“Ten four. Once I get him caped out, I will get you a green score on him. Looks real close to 140. He’s got a pile of mass, especially in his main beams,” said Big David.

Once the pair finished talking at Big David’s, they swung by Grams and picked up a Boston butt and came back to Mike’s house to enjoy some barbecue while waiting on the Bulldog game to come on.

As the two chatted about the morning’s events, there was a knock at the door. As Mike looked out the blinds, he recognized the fellow outside as none other than Tom Dykes.

Tom went to school with Brandy and Mike and also owned the property adjacent to Mike’s house.

“Howdy neighbor,” Tom said with a sly grin as Mike opened the door.

“Hey Tom. I haven’t seen you in a long time, man. What brings you over today?” asked Mike.

“Well I’ve been meaning to get over here and see you since you moved back, but I’ve been wide open,” said Tom. “I was at Big David’s earlier and heard that Brandy had killed a big buck. She didn’t kill that deer out here did she?”

“No, I didn’t. I shot him at my Daddy’s place,” Brandy said as she walked out on the porch.

“Oh ok. Well that’s good news. I’ve been hunting a buck for a few years out here, and I was hoping it wasn’t him. I mean he’s no monster, but I sure would like to use a tag on him,” Tom said slyly.

Once Tom left, Brandy came in and said, “You know there must be a sure enough big buck around to have him come over here asking about mine. You can trust Tom about as far as you can throw him. He’s up to something. I just know it.”

“Yeah he must be after a good one. You could see the crazy look in his eyes,” Mike said laughing.

The pair spent the remainder of the evening watching the Dawgs put it on South Carolina while eating Grams delicious barbecue until they were full to the point of being sick.

       

About 10 o’clock, the pair called it an evening, and Brandy went home. A few minutes later, Mike’s cell phone vibrated. It was Keith.

“What’s up buddy?” Mike asked.

“Dude, I haven’t heard from you all day, and I have to hear through the grapevine that Brandy knocked down a monster. I see how it is,” Keith said sarcastically.

“It’s been a crazy day, brother. I’ve been meaning to call you,” Mike said.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure. You want to hear something really crazy? I got some more pictures of the big one today,” said Keith.

“Are you serious? Where at?” Mike inquired.

“Behind the archery range. I’m gonna hang a lock on down there tomorrow. You want to help?”

“Sure man, I don’t mind a bit. You want to just swing by after church?”

“That works for me. I will see you then,” said Keith.

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you that Tom Dykes stopped by earlier. He was acting all concerned about the deer Brandy killed. He was worried she killed it off my property.”

“You know Tom. He’s always been a little on the weird side,” Keith said laughing.

“Yeah you can say that again. Give me a shout tomorrow, brother.”

       

A recent mishap had the ol’ buck in a world of pain. Earlier as he crossed out of the marsh on the way to bed down in the woods behind Mike’s house, he had stepped on a 5-foot-long diamondback rattlesnake with his back-left hoof. He had been bitten by snakes before but never like this. The snake had injected a large amount of venom, leaving the buck’s nervous system in a state of total chaos.   

Laying on the ground next to the cypress pond under the moon, he struggled to breathe as gobs of saliva poured out of his mouth. His whole body, especially his back leg, felt like it was on fire as he shook violently from nerve convulsions.

The buck was in a fight for its life, and as a coyote howled in the distance, he realized just how vulnerable he really was.

       

The next day after church, Mike and Keith headed out to the old archery range to hang Keith’s lock-on stand.

“Over there in that pine thicket is where I got the pictures. I think the fire break behind that thicket is the best chance to cut him off when he comes back through,” said Keith.

“10-4 man. Sounds like a plan.”

The buddies spent the next hour hanging the lock-on and trimming some shooting lanes.

The area was loaded with deer sign, and even though Mike wasn’t going to be the one hunting it, he couldn’t help but be excited for his buddy.

“I’m telling you, Keith, you should be able to get a good one out of this thicket,”

“Man, I sure hope so. It’s been so hot, so I just don’t know. Speaking of hot, let’s head to the store to grab a drink and a snack.”    

“That sounds like a plan. Hey, I think I’m gonna walk this break on out to the main road. I haven’t been through here since I was a boy. You want to pick me up out at the main road?”

“No problem buddy,” Keith said happily.

Mike took off down the firebreak, walking at a fairly quick pace, so he wouldn’t hold up Keith too long at the highway. As he walked down it, he ducked and dodged limbs and trees as the narrow fire break had become overgrown in a lot of places.

Then, as he rounded a curve, he saw it. There on a giant, old oak were the words his daddy had carved with his Case knife when Mike was a small boy.

Mike walked closer, and tears filled his eyes as he read his daddy’s words.

“I love you son.”

He could remember that day, when he begged his daddy to carve something into the tree. He must have been 7 or 8 years old at the time, and he could remember watching his dad etch those words out letter by letter.

Pulling out his daddy’s Case knife, he traced the letters as tears ran down his face. Why did he have to lose his dad? He didn’t have anyone else in the world. Why did it have to be this way?   

Mike wiped away the tears with his shirt sleeve and put on his sunglasses to cover his eyes. He walked the last 200 yards to the road where Keith was waiting with the truck.

“You see anything on your way out?”

“No man, not a thing.”

       

Once Mike got back home, he sat on the porch alone trying to clear his head. He tried to process all of the events that had happened over the last few weeks, the can of Altoids, the mysterious man that led them to the sheds and now the carving in the old oak tree.

Mike couldn’t help but feel like his dad was trying to tell him something. But he pushed the thought out of his mind. After all, any chance he had of ever talking to his dad on this earth again was long gone.

       

Three days later the buck was finally on the mend. After fighting off the effects of the snake bite, he was finally able to get up and move around. As he drank from the black water cypress pond, his stomach growled loudly.

He had lost nearly 10 pounds in three days and needed badly to feed. He knew where a corn pile was and reluctantly headed in that direction, knowing that traveling during daylight could be a mistake. The buck slowly walked along the marsh line, stopping every few seconds to check the wind for danger.

After spending a half hour to carefully walk a quarter of a mile, the buck was at the corn pile location. Checking the wind once more, he stepped into the open and approached the bait station cautiously.

The buck began to feed, and he could feel his strength coming back with each bite.

Suddenly, he heard a sound from up a nearby pine tree. As he heard a safety click, he realized he had made a horrible mistake. As the high-caliber rifle rang out, the buck knew instantly that he was hit as he turned and bolted away.

      To be continued.

Click here for Part 3 of “The Homecoming”

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