purpose has always been to serve as a challenge to the hunting skills of people who are, despite these changing times, predators. And so they remain for a whole storehouse of reasons.
I kept that rack of antlers through some 20 years of travels, only to lose it and the rest of my past when my log house in the woods burned to the ground in 1981.
What I remember today, when I glance up at my yard-sale antlers-so closely resembling the rack of that old warrior buck from Solitary Hollow-is that deer have always had a purpose in both living and dying. It's a grander purpose than anyone could ever imagine, reminding us that wildness is not so much a man-made definition as simply a state of being.
One of the many reasons we still hunt deer in this age of alternate choices is that we still need to experience some degree of wildness ourselves. We need it, if only to sit before dawn in the woods, communing with our own senses and considering the wondrous ways of nature, which include mighty measures of life and death. If a deer must have a purpose in our minds, drawing us out from behind our four walls to match wits with him in his world is a pretty good one.
For this reason, I have to admit that I have had a lifelong admiration for antlers. Just seeing them always touches that wild place in my soul, like the way nature's breath on your neck reminds you of another place you'd rather be.
There is constant amazement to be found in a "rack of horns," as we call them back home. There's artistry in the grace and design that nature always seems to give her weapons. The amazement lies in the complex genetic codes that not only control the shape and size of antlers, but allow annual improvements in the form of the formidable points that a buck uses in battle for just one season before discarding them in favor of a bigger and better set.
The artistic pleasure lies in the balanced sweep of the blades that rise from a burly, knurled base and curve into a main beam that sprouts smooth tines that are as satisfying to touch as a fine sculpture. No wonder we fashion knife handles from them. Of all the world's deer, the antlers of our own whitetail seem the most symmetrical.