Part One Of GON’s Five-Part Fall Fiction Series

Brad Gill | August 1, 2011

Dec. 24, 2010: As the heavy Blazer powered into the sharp curve, the driver put all his weight on the brakes… but it was too late. Just as the Blazer skidded into the other lane, its front bumper smashed into the driver’s side door of an oncoming car. On a still, cold night, the collision of metal could be heard for a half mile. But on a country road late on Christmas Eve, nobody heard a thing.

9 months later… Three black sows stood knee deep in black muck, where they’d been rooting for a half hour, but it was the smell of gasoline that had them on high alert. The black Chevy slowly weaved through the 10-year-old planted pines approaching the freshly plowed dirt, but by the time the pickup truck rounded the corner, the trio of pigs was 100 yards deep in the pines headed for safety.

The driver’s side door opened and a pair of legs wearing worn-out snakeboots hopped out and splashed into the mud. Shoving keys into a pair of faded bluejeans, the smiling driver sprinted to the front of the truck. Turning around and looking back through a mud-splashed windshield at the passenger, the voice squealed.

“Daddy, look at the rooting.”

Hannah Turner had never killed a hog, and the freshly churned dirt alongside the woods road was looking like the spot to ambush one. The 17-year-old took a few steps down the road as her daddy took his last sip of coffee and opened the passenger door.

Paul Turner kept eyes on the ground.

“Fresh,” Paul spoke to himself.

Hannah noticed something out of place lying in the pinestraw just down the hill.

“It’s hot,” she whispered.

She took a hairband from her back pocket and put her long blonde hair into a ponytail and ran it out the back of a worn-out Antioch Lady Lions high-school softball hat. Hannah was going into her senior year and was the team’s best pitcher.

Her daddy, Paul, was a clean-shaven man with a head full of brown hair. Most days he wore an old camo baseball hat. On the front, you could barely read the letters, “UGA.”

“Whatcha think, baby?” he asked.

Hannah smiled.

“Have you ever felt like a door opened and you just knew you were supposed to walk through it?”

Paul grinned. “I think you know the answer to that.”

“Well, that’s kind of how I feel about us hunting here,” Hannah said.

“Did the hog sign rip that door open for you?” Paul asked.

“Sort of. Stay here,” she said.

Hannah sprinted out through the pines and stopped in an open area. All Paul could see was pieces of her white T-shirt as she knelt down. He’d already acquired hunting rights to the 737-acre tract, but Hannah didn’t know that. Hannah stood back up and walked back to the road.

“This didn’t exactly keep the door closed, either” Hannah said.

It was a deer antler. The four short points probably belonged to a 2 1/2-year-old buck from last season. With its matching side, it would probably score 100 inches.

“I love this place, Daddy. Can we hunt here?”

• • • • • • • • •

Paul loaded the last bag of corn into his truck and rolled his Wal-Mart shopping cart into the rack.

“Hello, Paul.”

Coming up behind Paul was Jesse Jenkins, a gray-haired man in his 60s who was well-liked and respected in small town of Antioch. His family had owned land around Antioch for several hundred years, and since the 1960s most of the properties had been used for hunting and farming. Mr. Jesse rarely hunted anymore, but he enjoyed the venison some of his lease holders brought him every year.

“Good morning, Mr. Jesse. Great to see you,” Paul said. “Fixing to head out to your property right now. Wanna see if Hannah can connect on some hog meat,” said Paul.

“Well… kill every one if you can,” Mr. Jesse said.

Paul could tell Mr. Jesse had something on his mind.

“My son and grandson are coming out early Saturday morning. Can you be there then?” asked Mr. Jesse.

Paul certainly didn’t mind a morning of scouting in the deer woods.

“No problem, Mr. Jesse. We’ll certainly be there.”

“And, Paul…” Mr. Jesse said.

“Yes-sir?” Paul asked.

“Have you been thinking about the conversation we had last week?” asked Mr. Jesse.

“Of course,” said Paul.

“Well, I’m really hoping you can have a heart to heart with Nathan at some point this hunting season,” said Mr. Jesse. “He needs direction in his life, a new beginning.”

Paul gave Mr. Jesse an assuring glance.

“I can’t think of a better place than  deer camp to turn a life in a new direction,” said Paul. “I’m excited about this opportunity.”

• • • • • • • • •

A group of sows and piglets stretched with dry, mud-stained fur as the late-afternoon sun hit the tops of their backs. One by one, each hog stepped off a tiny island into a beaverswamp and headed for nearby dry ground.

It was Friday evening, Aug. 12. At 102 degrees, it was the hottest day of the year. After Paul received hunting privileges from Mr. Jesse on the 737-acre tract, he made fast time getting to the property with posthole diggers, digging a pair of 3-foot holes and filling them with corn. He backed off 75 yards and put together a blind with limbs and camo cloth. Now he and Hannah sat waiting on pork.

“I’m so glad we got the property,” Hannah said, leaning her head on her daddy’s shoulder.

Paul smiled.

“There is one detail I haven’t brought up yet,” he said.

Hannah popped her head up and looked at her daddy.

“What?” she asked.

“Do you know what I do for a living?” he asked.

Hannah rolled her eyes.

“Duh, daddy,” she said.

“Then you know I couldn’t afford a place like this on my own,” said Paul.

“OK… ” said Hannah.

“Well, the hunting privileges are free, but they did come with a price,” said Paul.

Hannah looked down the road toward the corn.

“Daddy, sometimes you make no sense,” she said.

Paul looked toward the baited holes.

“This property is owned by Mr. Jesse,” said Paul.

“Aww, I love Mr. Jesse,” said Hannah.

“Me, too,” said Paul. “Well, he came by the office the other day and asked if we wanted to hunt here this fall.”

“Really?” asked Hannah.

“Yeah, but the deal is that his son and grandson moved back to town about six weeks ago…”

Paul drifted back to that conversation with Mr. Jesse. About 10 years ago, Mr. Jesse’s son David had moved several hundred miles away from Antioch. The last few years had been rough on David. He had lost his job, his house and was recently divorced. David had nowhere to turn and was forced to return to Antioch and move in with his dad, Mr. Jesse, until he got financially turned around.

David’s 15-year-old son Nathan was not taking the changes very well. He was rebellious and enjoyed blaming his parent’s divorce and his dad’s job loss, especially when someone questioned his attitude.

“Hello! Daddy? What did Mr. Jesse say?”

Paul smiled at his daughter.

“Let’s just say Mr. Jesse asked that we spend some time hunting with them this fall,” said Paul.

• • • • • • • • •

It was about dark. Blood hadn’t spilled, but Paul deemed their first hog hunt successful as they watched a doe and fawn feed on the corn. While the young button buck paid little attention to anything but the feed, the big nanny popped her head up every 30 seconds to scan the surroundings. Paul and Hannah sat watching the two deer, simply amazed by their beauty, by their very existence. After a few minutes of feeding, the doe whipped around and stared down the deer trail they had traveled up earlier.

“Something’s coming,” Paul whispered. “Get your gun on the sticks.”

Paul had made a simple pair of shooting sticks out of two tomato stakes and one of Hannah’s hairbands.

“I’m ready,” Hannah said.

The doe stomped her foot twice, bounced 10 steps toward Hannah and Paul and darted off the road. The button buck had corn kernels dribbling from its mouth and had no idea hogs were coming up behind it. However, instinct took control as it raced toward its mother.

“Listen,” Paul said.

A pine branch popped loudly at the edge of the road.

“Hog! You on him?” Paul asked.

Hannah had the 150-lb. sow in her scope as soon as it hit the road, but it didn’t stop until it arrived at the first hole full of corn.

“Right below the ear,” Paul said.


The hog’s head fell straight into the hole. With fleeing hogs still squealing in all directions, Paul and Hannah were already kneeling beside the flinching sow. With an arm on his 17-year-old daughter’s shoulder, and as the last bit of sunlight was leaving the treetops, the two took a spoken minute to share how thankful they were for the hunt and its result.

• • • • • • • • • 

While Hannah stood under a tall water oak flinging crossbow bolts at a 3D deer target, Paul was busy opening the windows on his camper. It’d been several years since Paul had a real use for the 1970s model camper, but new hunting land was the perfect chance to pull it out of the pole barn and put it to good use.

“Hannah!” Paul hollered.

“Yes-sir,” she said.

“Check the Weber,” Paul said.

The two had arrived at daylight and were warming some of the sausage from Hannah’s hog, while smoking some chickens for lunch.

The two sat at a picnic table under the big water oak and enjoyed a nice breeze as they ate sausage. The air was abnormally cool thanks to a wide line of thunderstorms the night before.

“I think I’m going to kill a big buck this year,” Hannah said.

“You do?” Paul said.

“After we looked around the other day, I’ve been studying that map you printed off the Internet,” said Hannah.

Paul dug through some paperwork and pulled out the club map. Boaz Road, a hard-surfaced, but lightly traveled county road, divided the property into east and west sections. The east section had more hardwoods and several fields, while the west side had fewer hardwood drains and mostly planted pines of different age classes.

“Alright hot shot. Where you gonna kill ’em?”

Hannah ran her finger over the east side of the map until she came to a wide hardwood draw below a small pond. There was a small waterfall that fell about 100 yards below the pond, making it one of the more scenic spots on the property. Just below the waterfall was a knoll that jutted out over the hardwood bottom that would allow Hannah to see more than 100 yards of hardwood bottom across and down the creek.

“Right there on that knoll we found,” said Hannah.

“Good spot,” he said.

Paul turned the map around.

“Big buck, huh?”

He ran his finger up to the northeastern corner of the map at what looked like a half-acre hardwood island buried in a sea of pines.

“I don’t know, baby. Bet you could whack some does at the waterfall. But…” Paul paused.

“But what?” Hannah asked.

“Bucks don’t grow old by coincidence. Anything could happen, but I was thinking this small island may be worth checking out, too,” Paul said.

Hannah thought a minute.

“Do you think there’s some oaks in it?” she asked.

Paul glanced up from the map. Staring with his blue eyes, he smiled.

“You have been paying attention all these years,” he said.

• • • • • • • • •

Even though it was approaching noon, the old buck was wide awake and standing, his fuzzy velvet rising way over and outside his ears. He hadn’t moved outside of 25 acres in more than three weeks. He had been left undisturbed and was comfortable in his surroundings.

The 230-lb. buck was a main-frame 4X5 with plenty of trash which gave him 17 total scoreable points. He had impressive split brow tines that had left deep gouges in dozens of trees the fall before.

The buck peacefully fed inside a thick hedge of green briar just 30 yards from a small piece of hardwoods, which consisted mostly of sweetgum, popular, and elm trees, but there were a few scattered water oaks.

The buck’s current schedule was to feed periodically throughout the day, bed and ease out well after dark, browsing through the half acre of hardwoods before meandering out to Boaz Road to feed on the greenery along the road late at night. He’d return to the thicket several hours before daylight.

The thicket was a favorite one for the buck, especially after a soaking rain. There was a hood-sized indention on the ground that would become a bathtub full of water before it drained back into the ground. The bowl of water drew all sorts of critters — deer, hogs, raccoons, rabbits and songbirds.

As the buck’s black nose touched the top of the water, he licked up the warm drink. His long antler tips stretched way out nearly touching the pool. What had been a peaceful, very quiet summer changed in one easy breath. The buck jerked his head straight up in the air.

It wasn’t a sound but a smell that put him on high alert. The buck had never smelled this particular scent in this area. Standing statue still, the buck continued to collect information through his nose as he stared ahead, hesitant to move. A full minute passed until the buck’s left ear rotated toward the sound of crunching leaves.

In one quick motion, the 5 1/2-year-old bruiser went straight down, his fat, white belly to the dirt and his high rack now part of a collage of greenbriar vines. He watched through the entanglement of green and could see splotches of blue and white at 50 yards as the colors shifted back and forth for nearly a half hour. The movement eventually meandered out of sight until all that could be heard was the sound of a machete busy at work. The work went on for longer than an hour before all went quiet. Then, the intruding smell was gone.

And so was the buck.

• • • • • • • • • 

“I still can’t believe it,” said Hannah.

“Me neither. I’ve hunted 30 years and haven’t come across anything like that in the woods before,” Paul said.

Daddy and daughter enjoyed a smoked chicken lunch and talked about their profitable scouting trip to the woods that morning. They discussed the upcoming bow season, scratching up a few food plots, softball, boys and even plans they had to welcome David and his son Nathan.

• • • • • • • • • 

Fifteen minutes later David Jenkins pulled into camp driving a beat-up red Dodge pick-up. With the engine still sputtering, he stepped out.

“Sorry we’re a few hours late,” David hollered.

David was 6 feet tall, and his belly poked out from under a set of light-blue overalls. He had a shiny head that he kept shaved, but he had a thick brown gotee. He exchanged pleasantries with David and Hannah.

“Is that your boy in the front seat?” Paul asked.

David paused.

“That’s him,” said David.

Nathan sat in the front seat with his seatbelt still buckled. He had headphones glued to his ears as he stared out the passenger window. Brown hair stuck out from a flat-billed hat and nearly hung down to his nose.

“Listen, I’m sorry we’re late. Boy wouldn’t get out of bed.”

“No worries,” said Paul. “Y’all get some chicken.”

David motioned for Nathan to get out of the truck.

“These nice people have made us lunch,” said David.

Nathan got out and worked his way over to the picnic table.

“Great to meet you, Nathan. I’m Paul and this is my daughter Hannah,” said Paul.

“Sup,” said Nathan.

• • • • • • • • •

While the Jenkins boys ate chicken, Paul stocked his camper with sleeping bags, pillows and blankets. He planned to spend several weekends in the camper with Hannah. When the work was through, Paul sat on the tailgate next to Hannah, who was busy entertaining the Jenkins.

“Y’all excited about hunting?” Hannah asked.

Nathan shrugged his shoulders.

“You bet we are,” said David.

It had been years since David had hunted. He’d spent the last decade obsessed with motorcycles, riding with friends, some of which led him to a pretty fast life. But after David lost it all, he was honestly excited about putting a rifle in his hands and getting back to a slower lifestyle. He hoped hunting would pique his son’s interest and help turn the rebellious teenager around.

Hannah went on and on about the double ladder stand they were going to put up at the waterfall.

“And it’s so pretty down there and a great place to kill does,” she said.

“Hannah, we got to get going,” said Paul. “Make sure that camper door is shut good and tight. Don’t need anybody getting in there.”

Hannah walked over, slammed it shut and wiggled the knob.

“Done,” she hollered.

Paul hopped off the tailgate.

“We’re coming back Monday afternoon to get that waterfall stand up. Y’all want to meet?” asked Paul.

David had a better idea.

“Tomorrow is Sunday. Let’s meet first thing,” said David. “Should be nice and cool.”

“Can’t do it on Sunday,” Paul said.

“Well, Monday it is,” said David.

• • • • • • • • • 

It had been 15 minutes since Paul and Hannah left.

“Stay out of trouble. I have to hit the bushes,”  David said.

With his dad just out of sight, Nathan stood up and went straight to the door of Paul’s camper. He expected it to be locked, so he was surprised when the door popped right open. Like it was his own, he walked inside.

On the right was a bunk bed with several neat piles of sleeping bags, pillows and blankets.

“Ain’t nothing in here I need,” he thought.

As he turned around to inspect the other end of the camper, his eyes bulged at what sat on the kitchen table. Nathan had never seen a shed deer antler, much less held one in his hand. He spent several minutes inspecting the heavy rack, counting nine points on the antler and running his hand over an abnormally long split brow tine.

“Split,” he said.

As he put the antler back on the table, he noticed an out-of-place, brightly color brochure on the table.

“What’s this?” he wondered.

He skimmed over it for a few seconds before he heard a limb crack behind the camper. Nathan’s dad was coming out of the bushes.

“Geez,” Nathan whispered.

Nathan very quickly made his exit out the camper door and quietly closed the door shut.

“Uh-oh!” he whispered.

Nathan had the colorful brochure in his hand. Just as his dad rounded the corner of the camper, Nathan slid it into his back pocket.

• • • • • • • • •

As planned, Paul and Hannah and David and Nathan met on Monday afternoon. All four went to the waterfall and hung a buddy stand.

After setting it up, Paul and Hannah kept a 12-year tradition intact by spending the last few hours of daylight hunting opening-day squirrels. They’d found a mature hickory tree in a new hardwood bottom.

In a few hours of hunting, Hannah head shot three gray squirrels with her Marlin .22 rifle. Now, she was busy skinning them on the tailgate.

“Why did you waste an afternoon hunting squirrels?” Nathan asked.

Hannah looked up with blond strands of hair in her face.

“Do you know how challenging it is to make a head shot on a squirrel in a clump of hickory leaves?” Hannah asked.

“Aim and shoot. What’s the big deal?” Nathan asked.

Paul walked into the conversation.

“Have you ever hunted before, Nathan?” Paul asked.

“Naw, but how hard can it be?” Nathan asked.

“Nothing hard about it,” said Paul. “Just takes time and experience. Your dad said he’s signed you up for a hunter-safety course.”

“A what?” Nathan asked.

“Trust me, you’ll learn loads,” said Paul. “And when you’re done with the class, we’ll hook up and get you shooting Hannah’s .22 rifle.”

Nathan shot a sarcastic look at Paul.

“A girl’s gun?” he asked.

“You bet. And who knows… maybe by September we’ll see if you can head shoot a bushytail,” Paul said.

• • • • • • • • •

The squirrels were cleaned, bagged and iced down in Paul’s cooler. For the first time that afternoon, all sat around an empty firepit and faced the western sky. The sun had dipped below the treeline, and bright, orange rays broke through puffy, white clouds, creating a picturesque sunset.

“Daddy, this reminds me of your lesson yesterday… about how we know God exists,” she said.

Paul smiled.

“Yep. Psalm 19:1. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. And that sky is certainly proof of that.”

Nathan continued to stare at the sky, while David looked down.

“What do you do, Paul?” he asked.

“I’m a youth pastor,” Paul replied.

• • • • • • • • •

A cloudy night with a stiff wind made traveling much easier. The coyotes were hungry and on the prowl. A 5-year-old, jet-black male led a younger gray-coated female.

The corn was intended to draw wild pigs but had recently been attracting several deer, and the wild dogs knew it. Several days earlier they’d attacked and killed a button buck, but they were hungry again.

The giant buck stood in the sticky, rooted-up mud. Since its encounter with human scent, the split brow-tine buck had left his secluded thicket for an area across Boaz Road. This was the buck’s first visit to the corn, and he cautiously ate the feed, even under the cover of darkness. As careful as the old buck had become in his 6 1/2 years of living, the steady wind was in favor of the yotes.

The yotes could make out the silhouette of the deer eating in the corn, but they had no idea it was a 230-lb. buck with a head full of bone.

Now inside the last 10 yards, the black yote took three fast steps and in one long leap, sunk its teeth into the neck of the buck.

Part 2 of “Split”

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