Traditions: Part 2
GON’s Fall Fiction Series: Part 2 of 5
By Brandon Adams and John Seginak
“Good gracious, Buttermilk, there’s more huge buck rubs down thar than Jimmie Rogers and the Carter family have hit records!”
“Come on now Junior, there ain’t hardly a deer track left in these mountains, boy.”
“Well, by goodness, there’s at least one, and he must be a monster of a buck!”
The two moonshiners walked back down the ridge to the rubs, and they didn’t gather any dust doing it either. No way could they contain their excitement. This was big.
“Saints be praised Junior, those rubs are chest high!”
“Yes-sir… and look at these gouges in them trees,” Junior said, his voice cracked with excitement.
The eight biggest rubs were on hickory and fir trees that were bigger around than a large coffee can, and the deep gouges dug into the trees a full half inch.
“We gotta hunt this rascal Buttermilk. He’ll feed our families for a good bit, and we could get a good price for the rack from one of them rich Atlanta city slicker fellas. It has gotta to be a golly whomper!”
“Yes-sir, lets scout fer more sign when we bring in more supplies next week. But for now, let’s skin out back to town.”
The 6 1/2-year-old mountain buck laid in his bedding area, a thick laurel thicket on a bench above the moonshiners still site. The massive 12-point rack with split brow tines and eight 12-inch points glistened when the sun illuminated them. He was truly one of the last monarch bucks that remained in the mountains of north Georgia. He had destroyed several large trees and hundreds of small ones marking his territory. The sign that he was leaving behind was unmistakable for another buck, other than a true mature buck. The days had started getting shorter, and his blood was beginning to boil with the upcoming rut.
Nearing darkness, the huge buck awoke and started his trek down the mountain, which would be his routine until the rut ended. There were so few deer on the ridge and mountains that he would travel miles and miles, hitting all the oaks and other food sources where does and other bucks might be feeding in hopes of finding the first of the does to come in estrus, if he could find any at all. Very few deer remained in his home range. The buck was a survivor.
As he moved from oak flat to oak flat, occasionally he would encounter a doe or smaller buck. The bucks would leave in a hurry, and the does would stay their distance. He was becoming more and more frustrated as time progressed, stopping and horning large trees with his massive 20-inch wide rack. Every night before dawn he would return to the sanctuary that was his bedding area.
• • •
“This sugar aint getting any lighter buddy. Let’s sit a while.”
“Dang Junior… ya losin your wind?” laughed Buttermilk at his friend.
“Well, let’s just switch and let me tote them jars ol boy, they ain’t much.”
“Now now, you’re doin just fine. Git ya a swig of creek water and let’s go light ‘er up, and then go lookin fer that ol buck.
“OK, I’ll git the locust in place and everything runnin, then let’s reach the flat bench above the still. I’ll bet ya he’s bedded in the big thicket up’er.”
The buck became alert when he heard the truck coming up the mountain, and his senses became more intense when it stopped and shut off, even though it was a considerable distance below his bedding area.
The old buck still remained bedded in the laurel thicket on the bench above the still, his nose testing the up drafts of wind that came from the valley below for danger, and his ears focused down the mountain for any sign of danger coming from the area he last heard the truck below. He knew something was happening, and his muscles grew tense, ready to bolt at the first sign of imminent danger.
His nose then detected a smell that was strange to him, that far up the ridge. Having fed on acorns and browse in lightning strike burned areas, and searching for does in estrus in the same, he had very little interaction with the scent of humans, and never that far up the mountain. He waited and was ready to react to any danger that presented itself.
“Let’s see if we find anymore buck sign up ere around the thicket, Junior. Let’s just look together. No reason gettin separated, just in case we gotta skidaddle outta here. Know what I mean?”
“Yeah I do. It’d be our luck somebody would come up the holler searchin for chestnut trees or somethin.”
The two men climbed up the steep ridge above the waterfalls, onto the next flat bench.
“Good gracious, there’s more huge sign right thar on the edge of that laurel tangle!”
I see em Junior, let’s take a look see.”
“It is the same buck alright… look at them thar gouge marks in that hickory, and look at them pawed places under them branches down thar on the ground. My word… look at the size of them tracks in the fresh dirt! Biggest ones I’ve ever seen, not that I have seen that many!”
“Yeah and I’ve never seen pawed places as big as the hood of our truck either. Dang!”
“Let’s see if’n we can find where he beds in this here thicket Junior.”
The buck was bedded a mere 40 yards from the two men. As their voices got closer, the old buck finally lost his nerve and bolted toward the low gap on top of the ridge and down the other side of the mountain into the neighboring valley.
The men heard the laurel branches cracking and breaking. They looked up just in time to catch a glimpse of the huge rack, tines reaching above the tangle of laurels as the buck bolted for the gap.
“Did ya see that Junior? Did ya see him?”
“Heck, I know what that is! This is for sure an old moonshiner’s still, Todd. Grandpa Levi used to tell me all about the ‘shiners back in the day. They’d bring in a case of Mason jars, and they are all numbered on the bottom.”
“Well they must have dropped this one.”
“Ha. No they probably didn’t. The moonshiners would break every jar with the number 13 on it. They considered them to be bad luck, and they would break them on purpose to break any bad luck.”
“Well, I’ll be. You learn something new every day don’t ya.”
Chris and Todd had been friends forever. They came up through school together since kindergarten. In high school, both played baseball together. Todd was one of the pitchers, and Chris was one of the catchers. They hunted and fished together every chance they could, from deer to raccoons to bass and trout. Both boys were brought up right. They were good athletes, and they were sportsmen. These bonds had made the two best friends, through all that life had thrown at them over the years, from knee injuries to broken hearts.
Chris and Todd were sitting at Bates Store, having a Coke and some crackers while discussing their plans to hunt the buck. The store had been under the same ownership for 100 years, ever since it was opened by Mr. J. C. Bates after he returned from World War I in 1920. Today, it is being operated by his Great Grandson J. D. Bates. The store still carried most everything you would need, but it was now only holding its own due to customer loyalty. The big chain stores with lower prices had caused a lot of old businesses to shut their door in recent years. Chris and Todd used to joke that if you saw a huge pile of dirt on the side of the road, you shouldn’t disturb it, as it was probably a new Dollar General about to hatch. Todd always got a good laugh out of the thoughts of that.
“We have to find a way back into the national forest land behind Mr. Taylor’s farm. There has to be some way in there. Maybe an old roadbed from when they first cut the timber around the turn of the century.”
“Yeah Todd, and a place where no one will question what we are up to. Do you still have that app on your phone that shows property boundaries? Pull it up so we can see where the government boundaries actually are at. We might find something, or jog an old memory that we are not thinking of.”
“Yeah, I can do that,” Chris said. “It will take just a second to pull it up… Here it is. Now let me get to the area around Mr. Taylor’s farm. Here are the boundaries on an aerial photo. It also shows the gated roads, forest service trails and such.”
“Hey, what about that old logging road we used to walk squirrel hunting on?” Todd said. “Doesn’t that old roadbed go through the gap were we found the big rubs at?”
“Yeah, here it is on the aerial photo,” Chris said pointing to his phone. “It’ll be a heck of a walk, but that’s never bothered us. We can handle it, especially for a deer like that!”
“Hey Chris, be quiet, I can hear somebody’s footsteps, and that is Greasy’s truck parked over by the air pump.”
Greasy Harris was the local low life. Laws were a mere suggestion to him, and he broke every one he needed to if it meant making his life all the easier. His folks were well known in the county and got him out of all the trouble he got into when he was young, either with money or favors.
So Greasy’s lifestyle continued into adulthood. He was not brought up knowing there was right and wrong, at least as far as he was concerned. He grew up thinking that there is right, and what you can get away with.
Greasy walked out of the store with a big grin. He had been lurking just behind the glass, and he heard most of Chris and Todd’s conversation. He heard where the big buck was seen on the Taylor farm, and he heard that they went hunting with their dogs. He also heard where they thought the buck might spend his daylight hours bedded high on the side of the mountain.
Greasy was already planning a way to kill the buck with little regard to the laws. It was nothing for him to spotlight a field and kill a deer just for the thrill of it. He never even would attempt to get the antlers of the bucks he killed.
“What you two boys talking about?”
“Just talking hearsay. What are you spending money on today?”
“Ahh, not much, I just needed a few rifle cartridges, and some D-cell batteries. You boys have a good day, ya hear. I don’t have a lot to do today… guess I’ll just watch some football, maybe ride around a bit later on. You never know what you can see riding around at dark.
“See you boys down the road.”
Greasy hopped in his new Ram truck, courtesy of his momma of course, and headed down the road. Everyone in town could hear those unique mufflers his momma paid for.
“D-cells and rifle bullets. What do you think he is up to Chris?”
“I think we both know what he is up to Todd, and it is not likely good for us. I have a feeling we should have been paying more attention to our surroundings than we did. I can’t believe we did not see his truck there, or see him in the store. I just hope that old buck didn’t get mature by being stupid and feeding near a county road.”
• • •
The small cornfield had been totally wiped out by now, between the deer, bears and raccoons. There wasn’t much left after it was cut, and very few kernels even remained on the ground. The huge buck and other deer had begun to feed in the nearby soybean field, since it had still not been harvested. The bean field was bordered by the road, and this was providing the locals a great view of some of the smaller bucks and does.
As the deer fed, a slow moving truck came up the road. All of a sudden, a spotlight scanned the soybean field, and a .243 rifle came out of the window.
The echoes of rifle shots resonated up the valley…
“How we gonna git him Buttermilk? We sho’ nuff can’t pay the fine for hunting up here. Lord knows we don’t want to dodge the revenuers and the game wardens. Especially that barefooted ranger. That feller loves them deer like they was his own livin’ kin folk. That old man knows these here mountains like the back of his own hand.”
“Yeah, Junior and don’t forget the town folk. Most of them people is all right with us messing with white liquor, but would tar and feather us fer huntin these deer.
“The late frost kilt off most of the acorns this high up the mountain,” Buttermilk said. “It is slim pickins for food up here. Let’s go see Miss Josephine Abrams. She’s got some of them late droppin old timey apples that I am sure that an old hungry deer, especially a buck, would just have to stop and eat. We can get a few at the store, as well. We need them fer our apple pie shine anyway. Let’s see if we can git him in range putting an apple pile on that thar flat by the tangle we jumped him out of.”
“That might just work thar, if’n the bears don’t git all the apples first, and we don’t need no bears up here busting up our still. I also have a feelin accordn’ to what I have been told these deer aint thinking of food right now my friend.”
“Well, if’n that is true the few does that are up here gotta eat, and that’ll keep em up here on the ridge which should them help keep that ol’ buck up here as well.”
“Well, let’s git them apples tomorrow, and we need to start a cookin a batch of squeezins so that we can start to pay Mr. J. C. Bates back, and see if while we are up here on this here flat we can get that buck to pay us a visit…”
“Whoa. Shssh Buttermilk…” Junior cut him off. “What is that? Ya hearin that sound?”
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