Spirit Deer 3

He hid his bike in the manzanita a hundred yards from the campground and took his rifle with him. Then he slipped a few cartridges into the magazine, just in case.

He walked into the woods. It was late October and the Sierra Nevada mountains of California were beautiful. The aspens were gold against the deep green of the firs and the air was clear and cool. As the morning slipped by he occasionally heard the shots of other hunters, but he didn’t see any deer.

By mid-afternoon, Tim reached a high valley, cut through by a small, swift brook. There he lay back with the sound of water in his ears. The rifle was across his stomach as his eyes searched the edges of the trees.

Five deer came out of the woods on an eyebrow of trail fifty feet higher up the slope and a long hundred yards away. A four point buck led the way, followed by three does and a yearling. Tim sat up and brought up his rifle. He took up slack on the trigger and squeezed gently, just as his father had taught him.

In the moment that Tim fired, the lead muley caught sight of him and pulled up short, then stumbled. His forequarters failed him and his chest hit the trail as his back legs struggled for balance. Then he was up again and running up the trail.

The other deer were gone. Tim’s attention had been all on the leader and he had not even seen where they went after they disappeared into the forest.

Now he was in a panic. Until he had fired that shot, he had not really admitted to himself that he was out hunting alone. He had just been “taking a walk”. If he turned away and went back down to the campground now, his parents would never know the truth. But Tim would know, and in the hunter’s code his father had taught him, leaving a wounded animal was unthinkable.

Tim plunged into the stream where it ran shallow across a bar of harder rock, holding his rifle high. He scrambled up the talus slope, using rocks and juniper as handholds. When he reached the point where the deer had been, he found the manzanita covered with a fine spray of blood.

Tim turned up the narrow, winding trail in pursuit of the wounded deer. Near the stream there were vines and underbrush, but as the trail climbed, it became more open. The muley was nowhere in sight.

There were a number of tracks on the trail, but only one set going in the right direction. Tim studied them for a moment, looking for some distinctive feature, but he found none. The deer held a grueling pace for more than a quarter of a mile before his tracks showed that he had slowed and begun to limp.

The situation didn’t look promising. The deer had run into an area of broken granite and stunted firs. It was not a place for an inexperienced tracker.

The sun was low, filling the land with shadows and strange suggestions of shapes. It was beginning to get cold, and Tim’s jacket was back at the campground, tied to his bike.

Tim sat down on a rock to scan the slope ahead of him. Finally, almost lost in the tangle of roots at the base of an uprooted ponderosa pine, he thought he saw a set of antlers.

Tim started up the slope and the muley broke from cover. With surprising speed, it went up the slope on three legs. more tomorrow

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