The Mentor Of Blues Bog Part 4
A map hidden inside Dillon Craft’s granddaddy’s gun may provide enough clues to put the 13-pointer down.
Dillon Craft tossed and turned all night unable to sleep for replaying the sound of the high-powered rifle shot he had heard at midnight from the direction of Blues Bog. He could just imagine some night hunter dragging his 13-pointer away…
At first light he sped out of the farmyard on the 4-wheeler heading for the fields bordering the Bog. As he burst into the first field, he saw someone standing half-hidden in the tree line at the top of the field, and he raced in that direction. As he closed in, he realized that it was Phineas, who was inspecting the ground. As Dillon climbed off the 4-wheeler and approached, he noticed a backpack laying open with a battery-operated Q-beam in plain view. Dillon was stunned, then angered.
“Why do you have a Q-beam?” he demanded. “Are you hunting at night?”
Phineas turned toward him, his face looking more haggard than usual.
“Yep,” the old man said. “‘Been up all night huntin’ a skunk. Look here.”
He raised a plastic bag with a spent high-powered cartridge in it.
“.308,” he said.
Phineas then pointed to a flattened spot in the leaves.
“Someone shot at your 13-pointer last night,” he said. “He was layin’ waiting right here and must have had a rest for his rifle. Whoever it is, he’s got antler fever bad. Don’t care how he kills the buck. He just wants to get his paws on those big antlers.”
“Did you stop him?” Dillon asked.
“Don’t know,” said Phineas. “I was just comin’ in on the bottom side of the field expectin’ trouble, when that buck showed up following does, I got lucky with my own night-vision gear and saw the shine from the skunk’s night-vision scope on his face. I lit him up with the Q-beam just as he shot. Should’a pretty near blinded him seeing that light magnified through his scope. The skunk disappeared. So did the buck.”
• • • • • • • •
Two weeks passed without any sign of the 13-pointer.
“Maybe someone shot your buck,” said Maggie late one mid-November Saturday afternoon as they sat together watching for deer. “Just like last year.”
“Thanks for the encouragement,” said Dillon.
“That’s what sisters are for.”
“Anyway, I don’t think so,” said Dillon. “You’d hear about it if someone shot a buck that big.”
Maggie had not seen the 13-pointer, but that was about to change.
The teenagers had placed a second two-seat stand against a water oak just inside the woods at the edge of a pasture. The stand was at the low point of the field with Blues Bog behind them as they faced the field Dillon had recently bushhogged. Two hundred yards to their left the property cornered, with the O’Neal fenceline extending perpendicularly for nearly a half mile up the hill. Dillon hoped the 13-pointer was still checking for does around the O’Neal’s cattle feeders where he had seen the buck from the tractor, but he was counting on the buck arriving from the Bog on the Craft side of the fence.
The afternoon passed slowly, with long shadows inching from the trees out into the recently cut stubble as the sun set. With an hour to go before dark, Maggie pointed toward the distant O’Neal fenceline at the very top of the slope.
“Someone’s coming,” she whispered.
About a hundred feet inside the fenceline a field road paralleled the property-line fence on the O’Neal side. Between the fence and the road was a strip of fallow ground with a few small trees and brush. Through his binoculars, Dillon could see 16-year-old Clark O’Neal in his blaze-orange vest more than a quarter mile away walking slowly down the field road, his rifle across one elbow. Just below Clark, the field road turned slightly to Clark’s right before it opened up into a pasture. At the top of the pasture where the road entered, were two round-bale hay rings and a salt bin for cows.
“OMG!” Maggie hissed. “Dillon! There’s a huge buck right in front of Clark!”
Dillon scanned down the fenceline ahead of Clark with his binoculars, his round field of view finally focusing on a large-bodied buck with a huge rack that had just crossed the field road ahead of Clark. The buck was standing in knee-deep brush in the fallow strip. There was no question that it was the 13-pointer, and the buck was in danger. At that moment, the buck must have seen or heard Clark approaching, for it visibly tensed.
“The buck is cornered!” Maggie whispered excitedly.
Maggie was right. Clark had not seen the buck. He continued to approach slowly, but he had reached the bend in the road and now he could cover much of the O’Neal cow pasture to his right if the buck bolted that way. If the buck went straight away down the fenceline, Clark would also see it; and if the buck went to his left, the deer would be in the wide-open bushhogged field, albeit on the Craft side of the fence.
Then Dillon and Maggie watched something incredible. The buck lowered its head, its nose nearly on the ground, and it seemed to crawl toward Clark who was only 50 yards away and closing fast. Just ahead of the buck was a dead sweetgum tree that had been bulldozed into the fallow area. The tree was long dead with a few dry limbs, and the trunk was all that remained. Several ragged thistle plants and some dried morning glory vines hung in the twisted bare roots of the tipped-over root ball. The buck crept to the downed tree and its fringe of weeds and lay stretched out on its belly, its nose in the weeds, its antlers pushed closely against the root ball, the long tines blending in with the dry, brown-and-gray roots. Then the buck lay completely still.
Dillon felt like he was watching a suspense movie, the outcome still uncertain, as Clark approached the hidden buck. The binoculars in his hand shook as Clark reached the point in the field road adjacent to the sweetgum. Clark stopped. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and raised his binoculars to scan the pasture, completely unaware of the incredible buck hiding 50 feet away in a thin screen of cover. Dillon held his breath. Surely the buck would spook and bolt, and what would happen next?
Clark finally lowered his binoculars, then continued to walk slowly down the field road, eventually turning to follow the upper edge of the field away from the property line, and his orange vest soon went out of sight behind the trees.
Several seconds passed, then Dillon and Maggie watched as the 13-pointer pushed to its feet, long strands of morning glory vine trailing from the long rows of tines. The buck shook the vines from its antlers, then it jumped to the field road and sprinted up the hill in the direction Clark had just come from, quickly running out of view.
“Wow!” Dillon whispered breathlessly. “That was incredible!”
Maggie nodded, wide-eyed.
“Clark is sure going to be surprised when he sees those tracks!”
• • • • • • • •
The next morning after farm chores had been completed, Dillon slipped off alone into Blues Bog to see Phineas. He rode the 4-wheeler to the edge of the swamp, then walked the rest of the way to Phineas’ cabin, his Grandpa Olin’s rifle slung over his shoulder. When he arrived at the cabin, Phineas was sitting on the porch, whittling on some old barn wood, handcrafting a plaque for Maggie’s 5-point rack. The old man looked up from his work as Dillon climbed onto the porch, squinting through his glasses at the boy.
“You got something to say?”
“What was my Grandpa Olin like?” said Dillon as he carefully laid his rifle on the porch.
Phineas stared into the distance for a moment, then:
“Olin was the best woodsman, the best deer hunter I ever knew,” he said. “He loved being in the woods deer hunting and trying to figure out why a deer was doin’ what it was doin’. He was always respectful and fair in the way he hunted. He was a marksman, too. Far as I know, he never missed a shot at a deer. Not that he was an outstanding shot, he just knew his capabilities. ‘The only shot you take is the one you can make,’ he used to say. He knew the difference between the two and had sense enough to pass up shots he couldn’t make.”
Phineas set his work aside, clearing the old wooden table.
“Can I see your rifle?” he said. “I got a strong suspicion about that gun…”
Dillon opened the bolt and handed the .30/06 to Phineas. The old man adjusted his glasses then inspected the stock carefully. He produced a screwdriver from his tools and unscrewed the two screws holding the butt plate in place.
“What are you looking for?” asked Dillon.
“Maybe nothin’,” said Phineas. “But knowin’ Olin, I doubt it.”
The butt plate dropped to the table, revealing a round hole that had been bored deep into the base of the stock. Inside the hole were two tightly rolled tubes of paper.
“Hmm, just as I thought—Olin, you sly old fox,” Phineas said as he handed the rifle back to Dillon. “Could be your grandpa was trying to leave you more hunting help than just the rifle.”
Dillon stuck a finger into the hole and extracted the tubes of paper. He set the rifle aside, then unrolled the paper. The first small sheet had a note handwritten on it:
I figured you’d find this. If you’re reading it, I expect the hunt story’s going to be good.
I appreciate it.
The larger paper, unrolled, unfolded and flattened on the table, revealed a detailed, hand-drawn hunting map of the Craft property and of Blues Bog.
Phineas sat back in his chair shaking his head, an amused grin showing through his beard.
“Looks like your Grandpa Olin left you a deer-hunting treasure map.”
• • • • • • • •
The following Saturday morning, Dillon hunted alone. Maggie had been invited to a spend-the-night party and wasn’t home. He went directly to the ladder stand overlooking the field where he and Maggie had seen the 13-pointer evade Clark. Just at sunrise during that prime-time of the morning for deer hunting, he saw someone walking the field edge to his right paralleling the Bog. Through his binoculars, he confirmed what he already suspected: it was Phineas. The old man wore a tattered orange vest over his weathered and worn coat. He walked directly to the base of Dillon’s stand then leaned back so he could see out from under the wide brim of his canvas hat.
“What’re you doin?’” he asked, squinting upward.
“I’m hunting,” said Dillon impatiently.
“No, you ain’t,” the old man replied.
“Well, what am I doing, then,” said Dillon.
“Wastin’ your time,” said Phineas. “At least if you aim to see that 13-pointer. You don’t think a buck that big stayed alive all these years by prancin’ around in wide-open fields do you? And don’t you know any other way to hunt except for sitting in a tree like a hoot owl? Since you ain’t going to kill that buck here, climb down. I been thinking about your Grampa Olin’s map. I want to take another look at it.”
• • • • • • • •
A half hour later they were sitting at a wooden table in Phineas’s cabin, the map spread out before them.
“If you want to kill that buck, you need to start thinking like him,” said Phineas. “Right now that buck’s torn between two things: breeding does and keepin’ from having holes shot in his hide. Of those things No. 2 is the most important, but No. 1 can sometimes overrule No. 2. What he cares about to accomplish both points is cover. He’s probably staying in the thickest, darkest part of the Bog. That’d be right here,” and he placed a finger in the center of the Bog where two creeks converged. “That also happens to be where your Grampa Olin killed his 10-pointer.”
“Can we get in there?” said Dillon.
“Back when Olin hunted Blues Bog, it was a jungle, and it’s way worse now after a tornado ripped the place up a while back,” said Phineas. “It’s grown up thicker, with all the old tree trunks and branches layin’ every which way.
“When that buck sneaks out of the Bog, his tracks say he’s slipping into the grown-up cover around the duck pond or traveling up the Bog on this longer trail then cutting over to the high ground along the fence-line funnel where Maggie shot her buck.
“I reckon there’s your choices,” said Phineas as he moved his finger across the map from place to place, tracing still-existing deer trails that Olin had marked years ago. “The Bog, the duck pond or the strip of trees on the fence-line funnel. What do you reckon the buck will do?”
• • • • • • • •
On Thanksgiving Day morning long before daylight, Dillon and Maggie sat side-by-side in camp chairs in a duck blind in tall Johnson grass at the edge of the 2-acre duck pond. A barred owl “whoo, whoo ha-whooed” from the swamp, and a pair of wood ducks silhouetted against the sky flew overhead squealing, then banked hard on set wings and dropped into the pond. Fall had been drier and hotter than usual, but there was still enough water in the pond to attract a few wood ducks and an occasional mallard. Dillon hoped a specific large buck would also come out of the Bog looking for does in the safety of the grown-up ring of brush, weeds and small trees that surrounded the shallow, 2-acre pond. They were sitting facing backward from the blind, facing the tree line of the Bog rather than the pond. Between the low pond dam where they sat and the treeline 50 yards away was a sea of saplings, thistle, briars and other weeds chest high. The ground was usually too wet to bushhog, so it was cut infrequently. The cover made it a perfect crossing for deer coming out of the Bog to slip into the larger sanctuary of thick cover around the pond. The pond and overgrown area extended like a wide point into the larger pasture which was 200 yards wide and a half-mile long paralleling the edge of the Bog.
Dillon was full of nervous expectation about the hunt.
“This could be the day!” he thought.
Thanksgiving marked a year to the day since he had missed his opportunity on a big 11-pointer, and he cringed inwardly remembering the blown chance. He would not let it happen again, he thought.
In the gray light of early morning before shooting light, the woods began to come alive. First the cardinals and towhees began to call, then high-pitched squealing from the Bog.
“Piggies,” Maggie whispered.
Almost immediately they heard a deeper resonating pig-like sound.
“Buck grunting,” Dillon whispered, sitting forward in his chair.
The crashing sound of running deer came from the Bog, then deer—five does—ran out of the Bog bounding up and down through the tall weeds in the gap between the pond and the treeline. Immediately behind them and only 75 yards away came a buck in a stiff-legged run, grunting as he emerged from the dark tree line. Maggie covered her ears as Dillon raised his rifle and found the buck in his scope. The buck was a mature deer, but it was not the 13-pointer, rather an 8-pointer with an extremely tall, upright rack. Still, it was a nice buck—bigger than anything Dillon had ever shot. He flipped the safety off while he tried to decide.
“Dillon, wait!” Maggie whispered. “To the left on the tree line—a buck—a big buck!”
A hundred and fifty yards down the tree line, the 13-pointer stood at the edge of the woods watching the 8-pointer run does in his direction. The wide-racked 13-pointer bolted from the woods. His bulled-out neck and the hair on his back standing up made him a formidable sight as it headed directly for the 8-pointer grunting with every step.
Deer seemed to be running in every direction, Maggie thought, as she watched the white tails fly and deer jumping through the brush.
The 8-pointer, large as it was, showed no interest in a confrontation with a much bigger, highly aggravated buck. When it saw the 13-pointer charging, it turned tail and ran.
Dillon tracked the 13-pointer through his scope urgently looking for an open shot. Here was his golden chance for redemption from the previous year, but the buck would not stand still. It turned and trotted toward the does, which were milling in circles 100 yards away to the left and nearly out into the open pasture. The buck appeared and disappeared in the cover as it zig-zagged toward the does, apparently trying to herd them back to the Bog. Suddenly the buck stopped for just a fraction of a second, and seemed to look back over its shoulder directly at Dillon. The morning breeze was blowing straight from the duck blind to the deer, and reading the scent of a hunter in the air the buck instantly bolted, heading for the safety of the bog.
Dillon was utterly stunned and confused. He had not pulled the trigger, but there had been a booming, high-powered rifle shot, and the dry ground to the side of the running buck had kicked up from the impact of a bullet.
What was happening?
The buck shifted into a faster gear—running wide open now, low to the ground, racing for cover.
Another crash from a high-powered rifle nearby. The buck was in the open now, cutting across an open corner of the pasture heading for the Bog.
“Dillon! Someone’s shooting from the top of the pasture,” Maggie shouted.
The buck was 50 feet from the tree line, running as fast as a deer can move, eating up yards of ground with each leap, its head low to the ground.
Another blast from the top of the pasture, and the bullet ripped up dry dirt behind the buck, but closer than before. Whoever was shooting was firing a semi-automatic and was adjusting his lead on the running buck.
Dillon stood up and yelled trying to distract whoever was shooting, trying to spot the person, but it was too late.
The intruder fired again, and from the corner of his eye, Dillon saw the head and spectacular rack of the 13-pointer snap straight backward. The buck seemed to hang in midair for a moment, then it went down hard, slamming to the ground and rolling sideways, hooves flailing in the air, just as it arrived at the tree line.
“No!” Maggie screamed, and she sprang to her feet, and burst through the nearby brush, then into the open pasture sprinting directly for the tree line at the top of the pasture and whoever had just shot the 13-pointer.
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