The oak was easy to find. Mauro had dropped Don off, making sure he was safely in the maple before walking to his own hunting spot. He loved his cousin, but there were times when he felt like he had to carry him with the nuances that made for a successful hunt.
He had walked what he estimated to be exactly 100 yards when his flashlight beam touched the orange flag. Viewing the woods around him, he noticed large buck rubs on several trees. His nose picked up a malodorous scent, and he shined his flashlight at it. A pair of skunks feasted languidly on a steaming pile of deer scat, which looked like a mound of moist Milk Duds. He grimaced at their voracity.
Mauro put his bow down and pulled out a mayonnaise jar, urinating into it. He had read too many stories of hunters who ruined their best chance at a monster buck from their scent being detected. He twisted the lid back on tight, still unable to shake off the image of the huge, silver-tipped stag. He set the jar down.
He reached into his carry-on pack and grabbed a screw-in foothold. He was starting to twist one in when he noticed a ladder, set with care against the side of the tree.
“Damn,” he whispered.
He picked up the bow and checked the quiver snapped to it; eight arrows, their orange and white plastic vanes nestled in two rows of four. He strapped the bow over his back and started his ascent. He saw the small seat nailed in place.
This can’t get any better, he thought.
The platform built into the crotch of the towering oak was three-by-three feet and solid enough for him to eschew the use of a safety harness. Pinkish light crept into the sky, and the air turned a bit warmer as he felt the blow of a south wind over his face. He nocked an arrow and waited. His eyes adjusted to the oncoming light of sunrise, and shapes became more discernible. He closed his eyes and listened to the space.
An hour passed and the sun had made a small dent on the pre-dawn light, but then clouds moved in, causing everything to look soft-edged and muted in color. There was a rustling, and Don was instantly aware that he’d fallen asleep after Maurohad walked out of earshot. His breathing quickened. He felt for his bow, relieved it hadn’t fallen. He looked down at two deer fifteen yards away. The big maple had no leaves, but its numerous limbs broke up his outline. One snorted, and he strained to see if they were does or bucks. He guessed they were does and was correct. They were huge, healthy females, and he could only surmise what the rest of the herd must look like. He drew his bow but stopped, the mirage of that massively racked giant teasing him.
The deer run along which they were positioned led to and from Troyer’s bean and cornfields, as well as a stand of some remaining apple trees that stubbornly refused to give way to the harsh, northern Michigan winters. There didn’t seem to be a better place anywhere in the world if you wanted to kill a trophy buck.
And that’s what Don really wanted. Though he always claimed it was more about the meat, if he was honest with himself, it had to do with killing a deer bigger than Mauro’s.
He relaxed the string. He decided to wait for a good one, nothing less than a six-point. Unless, of course, it was getting late and if he wasn’t offered anything substantial to shoot, then all bets were off. He’d kill Bambi if that’s what walked by. He wanted to get Aldo some venison. Don knew Mauro was the better hunter, but he also knew he had a temper and the potential to get anxious. There had been healthy competition between them since boyhood. Lately, it seemed it was for Aldo’s affection. Don craved it in the worst way, and knowing his uncle respected Mauro as an outdoorsman, he felt bagging that monster would even the playing field. But winning at all costs wasn’t in Don. And he knew it.