One Day In November
from Oscar's tail. If Oscar knew the whitetail was there he gave no indication, not even so much as quickening his pace. I saw the antlers and hissed "A buck."
It was five minutes to five. I eased the .257 Roberts into Eric's hands, guiding his thumb to the safety.
The buck by now walked directly away from us, following the blond cat. Eric shifted the rifle but did not shoot. Oscar continued striding purposely along. I grunted like a rutting buck. The fork-horn stopped, jerking his head up as Oscar walked on. I grunted once again and the deer swung broadside, clearing the cat from the line of fire.
I whispered, "Now, Eric," and the shot instantly followed.
Both buck and cat exploded into flight, each running in the direction they had been facing. I grabbed a handful of Eric's coveralls with my left hand and the gun with my right, in case Eric forgot where he was and stepped into thin air.
The boy's face was flushed, slick with sweat.
Eric flew down the ladder, then waited for me to unload the rifle and follow him to the ground. We found hair where the buck had been standing. We followed the deep splayed hoofprints of the running animal and then discovered large, red splashes that ended at the fallen buck, only 50 yards away. We both began to talk at once, reliving what had just happened.
In time, the story was told and retold to mother and wife, daughter and sister, pictures were taken, the buck was loaded into my pickup, and we headed to the check station for registering. Savvy hunters admired the young buck and shook Eric's hand. In the inky black of the truck cab as we were returning home, Eric said "Dad, when I was getting ready to shoot, you could have touched any part of me and felt my heart."
It is midnight in a silent house. Snowflakes fall from the December sky, blurring the sod road and an oak tree visible from my office window.
Oscar dozes in a magnificent buff ball a few feet away.
I think of a boy who faced a challenge within himself and took a long stride into manhood.
I think of how quickly two more years in Eric's life (and two more bucks) have come and gone. I think of how a gift given was far outweighed by a gift received.
And I cannot sleep. Tonight you could touch any part of me and feel my heart.