A cool autumn day thirty-five miles northwest of Athens, Georgia.
Two white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) battled in a small clearing for mating rights of a distant doe both were pursuing. With antlers tightly locked, the bucks twisted and jabbed in a desperate attempt to goad the other into defeat. Blood from both animals trickled onto the lacerated earth. The larger fourteen-point buck was quite a fighter and had been since his first mating season. They were battling from within his territory, clearly marked with numerous tree-scrapes plainly registering his scent to does and rival bucks alike. No outside males would be tolerated without a fierce clash.

A younger, eight-point buck had entered the area despite the conspicuous warnings. The scent or sight or a larger competitor did not perturb him. Neither did several puncture wounds dotting his midsection from his adversary’s sharp antlers. The enticing mating fragrance of the doe was too tempting and he would put up a fight as well.

A break and the animals separated for a moment. Backing away from one-another, the bucks got into opposing positions for another round. Charging one-another with lowered heads, they collided and locked antlers. Almost eye-to-eye they twisted, pushed, and shoved, to gain the advantage.

With deep grunts, the older buck pushed more vigorously and forced his opponent slowly backward. Size, determination, and experience prevailed as it often did in nature. A fallen pine branch on the side of the clearing tripped the younger buck and he tumbled to the ground. A hard upward head snap and the older buck broke the left antler of the younger buck, freeing both. In defeat, the younger buck stood and fled. The victorious buck chased the defeated buck well past the clearing edge, stopping only when he was satisfied the unwanted intruder was abandoning his territory. Exhausted after an intensive mating season and the fight, the larger buck rested for a moment. Non-stop patrolling for does coupled with fighting off several younger bucks challenged his stamina. Yet, he had serviced all the does in his territory and successfully fought off all challengers that season as well as all previous mating seasons.

        With a tightly curled upper lip the buck lifted his head high in triumph knowing his territory was secure. His head reared back, the buck turned to corroborate his direction. Off in the distance came the inviting scent prodding him onward. Clearly another estrous doe ready for mating – one he had not encountered that season. Perhaps she had deliberately roamed over or was lost. Regardless, her aroma clearly signaled what nature intended. After perceiving his bearings, the buck pushed further south toward the enticing bouquet. Nothing could stop him.

        So he thought.

Four miles south stood a majestic elm tree soaring skyward, appearing to touch the overcast, slate-gray autumn sky. Its stout ashen trunk spewing sturdy branches from a few feet above the earth until spreading wide at the lofty crown. Towering hundreds of feet in the air, the elm rose well above its nearest competitor – a soaring Georgia pine.  With the leaf season coming to an end, the elm was aglow by the fading brilliance of dying foliage. Another productive growing season had come to an end and the elm would remain dormant until spring as it had for over a hundred years. Then the spring warmth and extended sunlight would awaken the tree for another season of photosynthesis.

Pausing before the tree to reflect on his most wonderful discovery, young Tymon Brogan contemplated what he had to do: Climb the tree as there was no other choice. Scanning slowly up the trunk, he saw there were no large gaps in the branches to prevent him from reaching the tip of the crown. Once at the top, he would know he had climbed what had to be the tallest tree in the state of Georgia. Since nobody else would know where the tree stood the feat would remain exclusively his for the rest of time. An incredible accomplishment that no other could ever match. The temptation was too great as it sometimes was for Ty. A goal had been set and had to be reached no matter the cost.

        Putting aside his orange nylon back-pack and hunting rifle, he trotted over to the base of the tree and jumped hard to grab the first branch. The course bark roughed his bare hands as he swung his weight upward to lock his knees on an adjacent branch. With great difficulty, he climbed atop the first set of branches five feet off the ground. The first step, a small one, but he was making progress and soon the tree would be conquered. He smiled at his growing accomplishment and reached for the next branch.

        Forty yards away his father, Wesley Brogan emerged from behind some dense bushes where he was answering nature’s call to see his twelve year old son spiraling up an elm tree. Although they had been on a tight schedule since awakening early that morning to get dressed and ready for the big day of hunting, it really did not surprise  Brogan. His son was known for doing things on the spur-of-the-moment.

        Too much morning coffee had a parallel effect on Ty’s maternal grandfather, Matthew Zinnman. After coming around a large oak he used for privacy he was motioned by his son-in-law with a exasperated smile to look skyward. Zinnman was stunned at the sight of Ty methodically climbing higher.

        “You know something,” dryly observed  Brogan, “that kind of behavior does not come from my side the family. Here we are on our way to a hunting blind and while we stop to visit the litter box, Ty decides to lay his pack and gun aside and climb a tree. Look at him go!”

        “He’s just climbing a tree,” defended Zinnman. His mouth was slightly ajar in astonishment watching the controlled commotion his grandson made ascending the tree. Not more than two seconds past before Ty targeted another branch and reached for it with all his might. Making a slow spiral, he was already thirty feet in the air and rising.

“But I thought we were going hunting right now,” pondered the father. “I’m dressed for it.”

“The real reason is that Ty’s heart is not in this,” risked Zinnman. “I think he is trying to tell you he is not a hunter by climbing the tree as sort of an escape. ”

        “You need to take off those rose-colored glasses you use when observing Ty,” suggested Brogan with a sigh. “What you’re watching obsessive behavior in action. For whatever reason, he got the wild idea that he had to climb that tree. I suppose he just looked at it and figured that has to be the highest tree in the forest. And he will keep going right up to the top until he reaches it or he falls. Of course if he falls then he will start right back up the tree again unless he is killed or injured. Only when he reaches the very top will he forget about it. Until then it will be the main priority in his life and he won’t let go of the goal.”

        “He achieves what he is after is all.”       

“This is not the only time Ty has demonstrated it,” shrugged  Brogan. He paused to load some wintergreen chewing tobacco.
“There are little things all the time but last August we were at the Six Flags amusement park. Ty had been looking forward to it all week and vowed he would ride all the roller-coasters. There must be at least twelve of them in that park.”

        “I remember him telling me that was his goal,” accepted Zinnman.

        “That day there was some severe weather and the park had to close early,” continued Brogan. “I explained it to Ty but he would not accept it. He put up his usual fight and wanted to wait but I got him out of the park. The next morning he was gone bright and early. He didn’t come home until late that night as he had been back to the park.”

        “How did he get there from Athens? That’s almost a hundred miles.”

        “He never would say. I figured you had taken him. But he rode every roller-coaster twice and that was all the mattered to him. Having done that, he could care less about Six Flags or riding a roller-coaster.”

“My grandson is a determined contender is all. Would you want him to just quit?”

“At times – yes.”  Brogan turned to spit. “A man has to not only know but accept his limits and when it is time to throw in the towel to be able to fight another day.”

 Zinnman had nothing in reply but a worried look of agreement.

Ty completed his second complete circumference of the tree trunk as he passed fifty feet. Oblivious to anything but reaching his goal, he did not hesitate on any branch. Years of climbing various trees in the vicinity of his house perfected his technique. His right hand would flex the targeted branch to make sure of its strength while his left hand held him secure to the current branch supporting him. Every other branch he glanced to the top to see how close he was. Each glance brought him a little closer to euphoria. Life was a complicated game and he was clearly winning the current round.

“He’s like a Sidewinder missile when he locks onto a goal,” continued Brogan with unease. “Those missiles will keep chasing their targets until they run out of fuel. If they miss on the first try they will recalculate and come back in for another try. Trouble with Ty is he has so much fuel he will stay after something for years if needed. I only wish I could control what he is after. If Ty set his mind on being a straight ‘A’ student it would be no problem for him. It’s never big goals that he wants, just little things that he feels he was cheated out of. His last birthday he did not get the chemistry set he had in mind. Well, Ty still wants it just as badly as the Schwinn Sting-Ray he never got and will not give up. Considering what he does now it scares me to think of him as an adult and what he might do to get his way. There are a lot greater disappointments than not getting a Schwinn bicycle, chemistry set, riding on a roller coaster, or for this moment climb a tree.”

        Skilled as he thought he was, Ty pushed his luck and grabbed a rotted branch. A loud crack and the branch was free falling to earth. Ty was faster than a falling cat to right himself. Fortunately the branch below caught him after a hard landing. The broken branch shattered upon striking the ground showing to all what might have happened should he have fallen.

        “Ty!” yelled  Brogan to get his son’s attention.

        A pause before Ty stopped climbing and another pause for him to ascertain his situation.

“We have to go and don’t have time for tree climbing today,” firmly instructed his father. “Come on down before you fall.”

        Ty paused with deep breaths as if undecided. He was almost a forth of the way. It would not take that much longer to reach his goal.

“Now!” bellowed his father who was set on recreating a special day from his past. The day that Brogan vividly remembered as his father took him for his first hunting trip when he was the same age as Ty. That was the day that he considered himself a man.

“Yes sir,” conceded Ty. Accepting it would be a lost cause to debate and there would always be another day, he carefully descended down to the ground to get back to the business at hand. They were going hunting whether he wanted to or not. His transition into manhood at his father’s undeviating direction was soon at hand. Kill a deer and he was a man promised his father. Additional assurance was given by his father’s friends when they conversed with Ty at his father’s sporting goods store. A single well-placed shot and he could add his tale of the hunt as they gathered at the gun counter of his father’s sporting goods store.

A light fluttering of butterfly wings danced in Zinnman’s stomach as he watched his grandson carefully descend. “You know Wesley,” he whispered, “Ty’s mother did not want him to go hunting at this age. She felt he should be at least seventeen or so and do it only if he wanted to go.”

“I was younger than Ty when I was taken and I didn’t get a choice. I learned to like it.“ assured Brogan with another hard spit. “As for his mother, she is gone and as his father it is my decision. I would like to see Ty working at my store at one point in time. The sooner he is a hunter the better for both of us.”

        “He should only be a hunter if that is what he truly wants,” pressed Zinnman.

“Matthew, Ty’s mother spoiled him,” assured Brogan with firmness. “I don’t mean any disrespect towards her but she was always too easy on him and it shows in his behavior at home and school. I’ve got precious little time to correct that or who knows what he’ll be like as an adult? Today is a perfect day to make a new start in his life and for us to be father and son. I want him be a success in life and not end up in a trailer park struggling to pay the rent each month.”   “I’m here to help.”

        “You can help a bit more and be fully on my side if that is how you see it,” pressed  Brogan “If Ty senses you are against this in any way shape or form he will use it as an excuse to fail. Let’s get a deer and get it over with. His mother is gone and we have to overcome that as best we can.”

        Zinnman sighed with relief seeing Ty nearing the end of his descent. “I’ll be one hundred percent for it.”

        “Thank you.”

        After calculating the shortest drop to the ground, Ty let go and landed at an angle. He rolled over in the brittle leaves and stood before his father to show he was not hurt.

“That’s one,” announced  Brogan staring down his son. “Let’s go. We have to hurry to make up lost time.”

His auburn-haired son knew exactly what that meant by the count and put on his pack without feedback. The count only went to three. Then came the brown leather belt.

        “Let’s get this over with, Ty, “ added Zinnman collecting his gear. “You’ll be making your mother proud.”

Remaining silent, Ty retrieved his gun and pack.

They continued on a dry creek bed that provided an accessible path toward the waiting deer blind they would use. The two grown men walked at a more agile pace than he was used to though he did not and would not be allowed to complain or would regret doing it.

        Hearing faltering footsteps, Brogan whirled around. He turned to see Ty already lagging by more than twenty feet. They had not even walked a hundred feet and already his son was slipping.

        “Hurry up, boy, front and center and stop daydreaming about that tree!” snapped the father. He added a forceful spit of tobacco to emphasize his agitation. “You procrastinate at times, did you know that?”

        “Yes sir!” responded Ty with an extra burst of energy to catch up to his father.

        “Are you paying attention and keeping watch like I asked?”

        “Yes sir!” assured Ty.

        “You better,” insisted  Brogan. “What are you primarily keeping an eye out for?”

“Bears!” answered Ty scanning the woods.

“That’s right. Because the bears are hungry right now and they’ll eat anything they can. In addition they’re smart and could easily sneak up and snatch you away without a sound.”

        “Yes sir!”

        “So stay with us and keep watch and don’t get near any more trees. Elm, pine, nor oak. Don’t even think about trees; think about deer.”

        “Yes sir.”

For extra security, Ty scanned the woods again. Perhaps a hungry bear was lurking behind a nearby tree. Held tightly in his hands, he carefully transported the prized Weatherby 30.06 bolt action given to him by his father earlier in the year. Not just the gift of weapon but the skill to use it. Long summer days of shooting silhouetted targets until his father was satisfied with his son’s marksmanship. The expensive rifle did make Ty feel more secure being deep in the woods. Brogan had told his son countless tales about hungry bears living in these woods and what they were known to do to unsuspecting humans. Ty hoped they would not run into any wayward bears but if they did, he was ready.

Coming around a sharp turn, the threesome were unexpectedly blocked by an immense toppled oak tree that left a formidable array of stout branches. Passage through the branches would have been difficult enough without carrying any extra gear. The bulk of packs, guns, and coats, made it clear another path would have to be found.

        Ty stopped before the thick cluster of branches and restrained a smile. The path to the blind was clearly blocked from what he could see. Recognizing this cheered him. Perhaps they could go home. The nylon support straps of his pack cut into his shoulder and he was longing to lay aside his load. All this fuss and effort for something he really did not want to do. He had never directly told his father though he had made a few indirect hints that he could think of better things to do on a Saturday afternoon: Ride his bike to the nearby 7-11 for candy and gum, hang out in Calvin’s basement, or watch television in the comfort of his home.

        “So I guess we have to go back?” gambled Ty. Perhaps he could have another shot at climbing the elm.

         Brogan let a slow and long sigh showing his distaste. “Son, this is nothing. Just a dead tree. It is only in the way if you allow it to be. Now this might stop you if you were here by yourself but it will not stop me. Learn by my example.”

        As expedition leader, Brogan turned the assembly around to retrace their steps. Around the previous curve they found a deep ditch coming down a steep incline. All trudged up the ditch filled with dried leaves crunching under their feet. Hidden underneath the layer of leaves were rocks, some pointed, some flat embedded hard in the dirt. One step done without due care could twist an ankle. If that did happen, the journey back would be a slow and long one for the injured person. They were almost at the top when the leaves got their deepest. Having the shortest legs of the three, Ty had to take twice the number of steps. The higher they went the further he lagged.

        First to climb out of the ditch, Brogan gently took hold of Zinnman’s well-polished Remington .270 bolt action making sure the slender barrel was pointed away from him as he lifted it. After finding a secure spot for both his hands on the edge of the ditch, Zinnman propelled himself atop with a single thrust. He continued slapping his hands to remove the moist dirt.

        A few feet below his father, Ty hung on to a coarse tree root protruding into the ditch. He saw in frustration he was too short to get out of the ditch after several lackluster tries. He stopped himself before using the rifle like a cane to boost himself. His father would thunder in disapproval if he saw his son abuse the expensive weapon.

        Zinnman reached down and lifted Ty’s gun gently up and over the ditch. Then, with a single motion he lifted Ty up and set him down gently.

        “Here’s your weapon,” said his grandfather with warm assurance in his eyes.

        Ty took the weapon and gently slung it around his shoulder under his father’s watchful eye. The trio then proceeded to descend the hill to get back on the path.

        A dangling pine tree branch pushed aside by his father recoiled and smacked Ty hard in the face. He fell over backwards and dropped his weapon. Immediately he picked it up to avoid his father’s wrath. He tried to rub the sting out of his face while watching his father and grandfather continue without noticing. Ty briefly considered using the opportunity to head back to the truck but he knew he would be caught. Like it or not he knew he had to go through with this. He had anticipated this day with the enthusiasm of his last dental visit. Three deep cavities his father attributed to all the bubble gum he consumed. ‘Remember how much you enjoyed that chewing gum when you taste the hot drill dust in your mouth,’ chided Brogan when a nervous Ty was ushered out of the waiting room by the smiling yet firm-handed hygienist.

        After another long hour of trudging through the woods, the trio reached the deer blind. Obeying his father’s directive, Ty stood guard constantly scanning the surrounding woods for any sight or sound that a buck might be approaching. He resembled a trainee terrorist clad in camouflaged pants, shirt and jacket with weapon loaded and ready. His hunting cap itched and he wanted to remove it. Instead of taking a chance of angering his father, he remained quiet. He would only take off his cap if he saw his father and the grandfather do the same.

        He was poked by his father and a piece of scrap paper was held in front of him. Ty looked up in surprise.

“Pay attention, boy!” whispered Brogan. He shook the paper again and Ty understood what he meant. The piece of grape bubble gum Ty had been chewing was placed within it and disposed. The look from his father meant ‘that’s two’. Three infractions and the belt would be assuredly be used in the woods or back at the house.

“Yes sir,” softly answered Ty while turning around to resume his watch. In his heart, he hoped nothing would appear that day that would present a legitimate target for him to shoot. All during the preceding summer he had pretended to be excited about the upcoming event of his first hunt. A day his father promised Ty prove himself a man. But now that day was at hand. The walnut gun stock in his grip reminded Ty the decisive moment was upcoming shortly.

“Where is my mother?” he quietly asked of his grandfather with  eyes of wonder. “You said this would make her proud.”

        “Where is your mother?” mused  Brogan with a sigh. “She is right were we left her at West Athens Memorial Garden Cemetery . She is at the same exact spot but right after the funeral ended they lowered her three thousand dollar dark mahogany coffin into a twenty gage lead vault with a thirty year warrantee about six or so feet in the ground.”  Brogan reached upward to adjust his wide brimmed hat. “They put the lid on the vault with the thirty year warranty and piled dirt atop it and later we got a bronze marker complete with a built-in vase for flowers. That is all that is left of her except for pictures we have at the house and our memories. There is nothing more than that.”

Ty exhaled a silent sigh with his head down. The passing of this mother had been an emotional roller-coaster year of shock and hope at the initial diagnoses until the stark reality of the funeral. First had come the family conference with the stern-faced doctor with new words to learn: hematologist, biopsy, acute myeloid leukemia, and prognosis. Then came chemotherapy in a small hospital room with an array of tubes stuck in her thinning arm. Ty learned the hope of remission when all seemed well for two month and optimism reigned in the Brogan household. But his mother collapsed one morning and he learned the meaning of relapse. Radiotherapy followed, optimism faded, followed by two final words: terminal and hospice.

“So I’ll never see her again?”

“No. She’s gone for forever.”

The answer darkened his mood. Though it had been almost a year since the funeral the finality was still not accepted by Ty. Running through his mind was the thought that her death was not permanent and as soon as it was over his mother would call from the cemetery. They would go pick her up, go out for a celebration dinner, bring her back home, and life would be as it was before this all begin. He waited in vain as the phone call that never came.

“Ty, your mother’s death was a new beginning for her,” assured Zinnman. “After her body died her soul departed and she went to her judgment for which she was well prepared. She had lived a full Christian life and reaped the benefits of doing so in her physical life and is now reaping the benefits in the after-life. You can one day join her as well as I plan to. I do miss her and as her parent I would have preferred for her to outlive me but those decisions are in the hands of the Father. You can take comfort as I do knowing that your mother knows only joy as pain and suffering have passed away for her.”

        “Judgment?” sneered Brogan. “There is no such thing. Neither is there an after-life.”

“I assure you there is,” answered Zinnman. “Just because you choose not to believe does not mean you are exempt. You, I, Ty, and all will face our day of reckoning. For most it will be sooner than expected.” Zinnman checked his silver pocket-watch. “So why the change of heart, Wesley? You did meet her at church.”

“After seeing what my wife endured extinguished any hope of a loving God,” sneered Brogan. “I have decided that I have nothing to fear. I live my life as I see fit and will answer to no one when it is done. I suggest you consider doing the same.”

“I see. Perhaps one day you will change your mind again.”

“I suppose,” shrugged Brogan. “If I faced impending death I would think about it again. Until then I won’t.”

        Rubbing his head back and forth on a tree trunk, the buck marked his territory by rubbing his antlers on trees. Known as ‘scrapes’, hunters as well as does and other bucks looked for the markings to show the presence of male deer. The females left their scent on the scrapes the buck would periodically check. Upon finding the telltale signs of a rutting buck The hunters would hide themselves and wait.

        A slight breeze from the north led the buck forward in his search for the exact origin of the powerful scent of doe urine. His hooves were almost noiseless as they glided across the carpet of dead autumn leaves. Battle-tested fourteen point antlers lifted high in the air as he paused to sample the air. The scent of an unknown female was driving him onward in search of her. During the mating or rutting season the buck was on patrol almost twenty-four hours a day as it pursued all does around for mating. He was tired but the scent was too overpowering. Soon he would have another. The source of the scent was getting near.

        For as long as Ty could remember there had been different animals stuffed and mounted on the den walls in the wood frame house where he was raised.

        “Where did the pig come from?” he would repeatedly ask his father when he was little. Ty was fascinated by the ornery-looking beast with dirty white tusks hanging high on the wall above the stone fireplace at home.

        “I shot that one down in south Georgia,” Brogan told his four-year-old son sitting in his lap. “I thought it was going to get me when it came charging at me.”

        “Was I there?” exclaimed Ty.

        “No, you were a bit too young,” consoled his father. “Still are now. But don’t you worry. Soon as you come of age, we’ll load up the truck and go in the woods for a few days and let you bag something.”

         Brogan picked up the small boy sitting in his lap and turned him to the opposite wall. “Ya see that space?”

        The little boy would wildly shake his head in recognition.

        His father beamed with approval. “Well I’m saving that space on the wall for your first deer. You’ll catch it soon enough. Maybe even a twelve-point buck.”

        “Twelve point buck!” shrieked Ty though he did not understand what it meant. “I’ll get one!”

        And many years later came his first chance. Bored, and with his butt almost numb with cold, he watched a lone hawk lazily circle the western sky. He looked at his watch with a silent yawn. Fortunately, the autumn days were short and the trio would be forced to leave within a few hours to make it out of the woods before twilight fell. What a wasted day, he thought. He remembered he could be watching channel 34. Farnum’s Flock, Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island were in the afternoon lineup of shows he liked to watch. Sitting in his pleasant, warm living room, munching on snacks, and doing nothing was his idea of an ideal weekend afternoon.

        His leg was stiff prompting Ty to squirm slightly in the blind. A pair of curious black eyes below an extraordinary large set of antlers stared back at him as he glanced directly in front of him. The buck was less than sixty yards away.

        Observing the deer startled Ty. He had seen them in books, mounted on walls, dead on the roadside, and at the petting zoo his grandfather had taken him to visit. But never one in the wild. He was enlightened at the sight and wanted to tell his father and  grandfather. However the steel rifle barrel and stock numbing his hands reminded him the deer had a standing death warrant issued by his father and to be witnessed by his grandfather. The job of pulling the trigger was left to Ty, a feat  he never wanted to do.

        Driven by the scent the buck moved about another twenty feet toward Ty and paused. After confirming his father and the grandfather were not watching him, Ty mouthed ‘GO AWAY!’ and waved his hand slightly to try to scare the buck away.

        An afternoon shadow over the blind prevented the buck from seeing Ty. The breeze was blowing north prevented the buck from picking up their scent. The only scent the buck could smell was the lure placed near the blind designed to excite the animal. It was working.

        Trying to make some accidental noise, Ty waved his hand again intensely at the buck that had moved even closer. His grandfather grabbed the rifle before Ty could bump the rifle into the side of the blind.

        “Look what just came your way,” rejoiced  Brogan in a faint whisper. He rolled around behind Ty, his large form overshadowing his son. “This is  it,” he whispered in delight between quiet chews of tobacco. “Aim your weapon but wait ’til he gets a little closer to fire.”     Heart pounding and with reluctance, Ty slowly positioned his rifle so as not to catch the buck’s attention. The cold metal gently stung his bare hand as he held the rifle tight. He stood silently, hearing only his breath as the thin crosshairs affixed directly on the buck. There was an inevitable thrill in knowing a live piece of ammunition was chambered in his weapon. Ty knew he was more than capable of hitting the buck, if he wanted. But he saw no real reason to pull the trigger. After all, they had proven their point. They had tricked the buck with a lure after waiting all day in a shelter that would hide them from the buck. Man had proven his superiority once again to an animal. Shooting it was not necessary and would prove nothing more.

        “I think it might be fourteen points,” whispered Zinnman. “I can’t quite count at this distance.”

         Brogan was astounded at the luck they were having. About the most magnificent buck he had ever seen in the wild barely fifty yards before his son’s telescopic rifle sight.

        Ty’s feelings about what was going to happen were changing as fast as his heart was beating. All the customers down at his father’s sporting goods store assured Ty this was something every boy had to do to be considered a man: Learn to use a gun, go into the woods, and track down a buck to kill it. After killing the buck, the ceremonial blood drinking would follow. Ty assumed they were kidding him about that part.

        The tension focused on him was overwhelming. His father was right behind him breathing on his neck. Ty recalled he had not been pressed this close to his father since the funeral of his mother in the tight fit of the chapel. All his mother’s distant relatives had come and the seating was limited in the small chapel. That day had been also a ceremony of death. And this day would be another ceremony of needless death – if Ty pulled the trigger. He didn’t.

         Brogan glanced at the gun and was alarmed to see the safety engaged. He did not dare speak as the animal might hear.
Tapping his finger lightly on the safety made Ty aware of the fact.

        The buck heard the sharp click as Ty reluctantly disengaged the safety on the gun’s trigger. The buck looked in their direction unsure of what to do.

         Brogan gently elbowed his son to fire as Ty stared through the scope. The deer was looking right at him with its head tilted slightly to the side. Big innocent eyes gazing at Ty in wonder and curiosity. Its breath was marked by the visible vapor emerging from its jet-black nose.

        “Fire the weapon,” breathed Brogan in a tense, almost silent whisper. He knew the moment of opportunity was about to be lost.
        Ty lowered the crosshairs to the area below the buck’s throat. His telescopic sight still showed the animal looking back at him. He wished it would go away while it had a chance.

         “Fire,” whispered the Grandfather. “Or you’re gonna lose the shot.”

         Brogan was aghast. “Ty, all you have to do is squeeze the trigger.” He nudged his son. “You got him. Don’t blow this one. Fire.”

        Ty’s trigger finger refused to budge at his father’s command. This did not make sense to him. He never questioned his father’s hunting nor his father’s friends for what they were doing. It was fun to sit around the store and listen to the stories and go down to the rifle range to practice with the different guns. After killing a buck like this one, Ty knew he would be welcomed into the circle of his father’s friends. But it all came down to this one moment. Ty was hesitating.

        His father nudged him harder. “Fire the weapon.”

        Ty firmly shook his head. Perhaps his father didn’t get the message. He didn’t want to shoot the buck and that was that.

        A gray-tailed squirrel scampering out of its nest to collect more nuts for the upcoming winter spooked the buck. A finger jammed down on Ty’s finger in the split second before the buck decided which way to run. Ty stumbled back at the gun recoil going off when he didn’t expect it.

        The full impact of the hollow point 30.06 shell in the left side of his neck threw the buck toppling into a half forward somersault. Crashing to the ground, the buck landed on his side kicked into futility to try and get away. He couldn’t.

        “You got him!” yelled Zinnman scrambling to get out of the blind.
        “Good shot!”  Brogan congratulated his overturned son with a vigorous slap on the shoulder. “Come on out, it ain’t over yet.”

        Ty sat dazed on the blind floor after being pushed aside in the scramble out of the blind by the others. The loud gun roar still rang hard in his ears and the smell of burnt gun powder was in his nostrils. After getting to his feet, he looked out to see the buck laying on the ground writhing in pain and shock.

        Running as fast as he could with the gun in hand, Ty could see his grandfather already kneeling at the buck. Almost out of breath, Ty arrived to see the buck looking up at him, its gentle eyes staring at him, wondering why? Legs twitching in protest as blood spurted out from the raw wound. Ty felt sick looking at the appalling sight.

“You were off a little,” observed Zinnman examining the bullet hole. “Should have gone for a heart shot instead of his neck.”

        Ty could plainly see his shot had not accomplished what he should have done. The buck flopped in agony, its breathing very heavily between grunts of pain as it eyed Ty.  An innocent animal was suffering because of what he had done. He circled the animal horrified at what he had done: Unnecessarily shooting and critically wounded the most extraordinary animal he had ever seen in the wild.

        “Let’s take it to the vet!” clamored Ty near tears. “I mean it’s still alive. I’ll bet we could save it and give it to the petting zoo. Or let it go.”

        “Boy, what kind of talk is that? We came here to kill it so now it’s up to you. Finish the job.” The father pointed firmly to the gun Ty was holding.

        The buck bled and panted for breath uncaring of the three hunters surrounding it. It was slowly dying. But not fast enough.

        “Ty, take your gun and shoot it one more time,” reiterated his father. “This time go for a heart shot like we practiced. Let’s get this over with. The animal is suffering because of your poor aim.”

        Ty stood back in horror at his father’s request. “NO!” he screamed backing off with his gun in hand. “It’s already dying. I’m not going to kill it. We should take it to the vet. We had no right to shoot it in the first place.”

        Seeing that Ty was totally unmoved, Zinnman took the gun away from Ty. “If you won’t do it, I will. This animal is in pain.”

        “NO!” objected  Brogan. He threw his hat at his son in anger at his son’s endless procrastination. “Ty will finish the job for a change! An animal is suffering because you were off a little. If you had concentrated more on the shot like we practiced at the range, then it would only have been one shot. Give him back the weapon!”

        The Weatherby was placed back into Ty’s hands.

        A brief moment of silence except for the buck still struggling against the inevitable. Each accelerated beat of his heart pumped a little more life out of the buck.

        “We can still save it.”

        “No we can’t. The animal is in pain because of you, Ty. So we will sit here and let it suffer until it bleeds to death which might be a while or you decide to finish what you began.”

        “Ty, kill the animal,” gently urged his grandfather. “Don’t ruin this moment any further. Go for a heart shot.”

        As if a trance, Ty backed away a few feet, crouched on his knees, and pointed the barrel. It took three tries for his trembling hand to successfully chamber another round. The buck watched Ty intently. Death was not new to the buck who had killed and badly injured many rivals in his past. But those contests had been fair and both opponents had been willing. This was not.

        As if in protest of the final moment, the buck grunted to plead its case. His death sentence was upheld with the second slug fired into his chest. The buck jolted and lay dead as the task was finally finished. Ty had taken his first buck and was a man. At least that was what was intended.

        “There!” rejoiced the Grandfather. “That wasn’t so bad was it?”

        Showing his disagreement, Ty dropped the weapon and collapsed in tears. The buck was still staring at him. The crime he had unwillingly committed would not be easily forgotten. It wasn’t hunting; it was premeditated murder.

         Brogan scowled in disapproval at his son’s behavior. “C’mon, son, now you are going to finish the second part of your first kill even if you didn’t completely do the first.”

        He took the sharp knife brought just for this occasion. Grabbing the buck by the antlers, he cut the buck’s throat  with a course sawing sound. Ty felt the knife cut into him. A bright red blood stain began to trickle forth.

        Taking a cup from the small pack on his side,  Brogan filled the cup with the buck’s blood. Steam rose in the cold air as he handed the cup to his son. The taste of blood from the first buck, a ritual of a deer hunter.

        “Stop your damn blubbering,” demanded  Brogan. “C’mon, be a man and take your first sip of manhood.”

“Let me show you, it’s not bad.”  Brogan took a sip of the salty liquid and smiled showing the bright red blood staining his mouth.

“Look, Ty, I’ll do it,” encouraged Zinnman. He took a sip from the cup.

Ty looked at his father in near shock. He assumed all his father’s friends down at the store were teasing him about drinking the blood to complete his first kill. The sight of two grinning men with blood stained smiles hovering over a freshly butchered deer was too much for Ty. His mind raced with indecisive thoughts. To be a man and follow in his father’s footsteps? Or to do what he believed was right and object to the act? No matter how many of his father’s cronies bragged about how much they loved it, Ty could see he would never enjoy the ugly slaughter of an innocent animal.

        “It’s better to drink hot,” laughed Brogan holding the cup up for Ty.  “Wait any longer and it’ll get cold.”

A sip of triumph, the approval of his father and the Grandfather would not change the fact of what he had just done. An act sure to bother him for years to come.

Eyes afire at being forced into what he had just done, Ty took the cup. The men smiled as Ty lifted it to his mouth. His father was finally pleased, Ty would be joining the crowd. Instead of sipping, Ty flung the cup contents splashing both his father and grandfather in their faces.

Blinded by the blood, Brogan stumbled reaching for a handkerchief. He pulled one out and cleaned both eyes. His rage surged at what his son had just ruined what should have been a long remembered and happy day.

“DAMN YOU!”  Brogan popped open his belt buckle and pulled the heavy brown leather belt free for a strapping Ty would not forget. “You will remember this day, boy,” growled Brogan standing up to administer the lashing.

Ty stood quietly twenty feet from his father. He was relieved to have at long last made his father fully understand how he felt about hunting. He openly smiled only further enraging his father.

        “BOY, you will remember this day!”  Brogan slowly walked to his son slowly snapping the belt to terrorize Ty. “You will be the one to be carried back to the truck. I doubt you’ll sit for a month.”

        Ty allowed his father to walk a few feet toward him and expertly slammed the bolt of his rifle back and forward to chamber another round like his father trained him to do. He stared blankly at his father and kept the gun pointed in his general direction.

        Both men froze in silence as Ty backed several steps. They remained silent seeing they had pushed him too far.

        Backing a safer distance away, Ty snatched the hunting hat he was wearing, another gift from his father, and tossed it back at his father. The cap spiraled fifteen feet before landing in the mud in front of his astonished father.

        On an emotional surge, Ty flipped the rifle around and held it by the barrel. Swinging it like a baseball bat, he was able to break the rear of the stock off with the second hit to a nearby oak tree. He repeatedly beat what was left of the costly rifle into a bent steel rod in trying to work out his rage at what he had just done. After venting most of his anger, Ty flung what was left of the rifle high into the air. The gun smacked a tree and landed into a thicket of bushes.

        Breaking the gun didn’t change the fact the buck was dead. In death it still watched Ty and wondered why. A question Ty could not answer.

        Ty looked at the shock and disappointment of his father’s face and took off running for his father’s truck. As he ran, he stripped off the hunter’s jacket and other gear his father had recently purchased for that anticipated, special day to be remembered.

Twilight was approaching as Brogan and Zinnman reached the pickup-truck. Opening the camper top hatch in the light mist, Brogan expected to find his son sulking but the bed was empty. He turned to Zinnman and shook his head. Zinnman’s face flashed with alarm.

“Where could he be?”

“He must’a walked up to Route 29 to see if he could get hitch a ride,” guessed Brogan with his fatigue evident. He leaned against the lowered tailgate and lit a cigarette he knew he should not be smoking. “I’m sure we’ll find him a mile or so up the road. He’ll be quite tired by now and should be settled down somewhat.”

“I hope that you will accept that he was not ready for this day.”

“I don’t know,” remarked the father with a long draw of smoke. He was still shaken on the inside for having his son indirectly threaten him with a gun. “I sensed he was a little apprehensive but figured he would like it once it was done. Ty likes shooting things in video games. You’ve seen the living room many a time with him and Calvin shooting at all sorts of targets. Where does he think hamburgers come from? He eats enough of them. Part of life is death. The sooner he learns the better. A little blood from a deer! When I was in the war, I saw a lot worse than an animal get shot; people and many of them.”

        “There is quite a difference between a video game and a real animal.”

        Not wanting to debate, Brogan drew a lengthy draw and tossed the cigarette aside.

        “What do you want to do with the carcass? This is quite a buck.”

        “It’s a beauty all right,” agreed Brogan as he eyes swept the fourteen point antlers. “I plan to take it in town and have the taxidermist work on it. That’s the biggest buck I have ever seen anyone get in person. Help me get up into the truck would you?”

        Zinnman took one end of the crude tarpaulin made from branches. Giving the signal to lift, Brogan gently slid the deer into the truck. Crawling carefully, he secured the corpse with twine and placed blankets for padding under the crown of antlers.

        Zinnman’s stomach churned in fear as he rotated to see if he could catch a glimpse of Ty in the distance.

        “One thing Ty got from his mother was a total lack of direction. He could be lost.”

        “Fine, let him get lost,” shrugged Brogan. He rolled off the tailgate onto the damp ground. “Then maybe he’ll look to me for direction and realize he needs a father for guidance.”

        “Wesley, you do have to make him go the right direction but also have to consider that he can make some of his own choices. He knows not what he is doing. He clearly demonstrated he was not ready for this day. Perhaps in time he will have a different outlook on hunting.”

        “I will see to it that he is always reminded of this day,” vowed Brogan. His irritation was apparent. “I will mount the head of the animal right in the living room where I always said I would. When Ty wants to grow up, he can come hunting with me again. Maybe the sight of this buck on the living room wall will remind him everyday until he does.” Brogan walked over and picked up the remnants of Ty’s rifle stored in a blue trash bag. “I spent so much time with him. Long weekends at the range training to respect and use this expensive weapon. Then he has a temper tantrum and destroys it.” The shattered remains of the telescopic lens trickled out as he lifted the weapon out of the bag. Part of the stock was left. The barrel was bent well beyond repair. “And more money to have my son come out for today. He is not going to walk away from this.”

        “We best go find him,” suggested Zinnman. “If you want he can spend the night at my house so cooler heads can prevail tomorrow.”

        “If you want,” conceded Brogan. With a hard push the tailgate slammed shut. “We’ll find him shortly but I sorta wish he could spend a night alone in the woods. It would teach him a lesson.”

        So it would.