Tim started up the slope and the muley broke from cover. With surprising speed, it went up the slope on three legs. Tim sighted quickly and squeezed the trigger – but nothing happened! He had forgotten to work the lever after his first shot. He jacked a shell angrily into the chamber and fired, but the deer kept right on going, and he knew he had missed.
Tim topped the skyline fifteen minutes later. Below him was a broad, shallow valley, now lost in shadow, and behind him the sun was setting. The deer was nowhere in sight.
* * *
Tim was in trouble, and he knew it. It was too late to find his way back to the campground before full dark, and he was growing cold, so he built a fire near a circle of junipers. He had slept out many times with his father, but never without a sleeping bag or jacket, and never without food. “Serves you right,” he told himself, bitterly. He fed the fire and squeezed close to it.
Tim could imagine his mother coming home from work, past midnight, and moving about the silent, empty house. She would see his note. If he was really lucky, she would assume that he had decided to spend the night at his grandfather’s house. It would be late, so she probably wouldn’t call. It would probably be morning before she knew he was missing.
If he just had his cell phone he could have told her what happened, although he cringed at how lame the story would sound.
It was a miserable night. Tim dozed in snatches on a bed of dry ferns and needles. Before is was fully light, Tim had already stamped out his fire and started off, but even exercise did little to warm him.
He had a decision to make. Within an hour, his mother would be calling his grandfather, and would find out that he wasn’t there. He didn’t want to worry her, but there was no way to avoid it now. The question was, should he go back immediately and face her, or should he spend a little more time to bring the muley in. He decided to spend one hour looking for the injured muley, then he would have to go back.
The ground was too rocky to take tracks, so he headed for the stream he could see at the base of the valley. It was rocky with only a few patches of dirt, and he found no tracks there, so he worked his way downstream, looking for anything to indicate that the deer had passed that way.
Just when he was about to give up and turn back, he found three-legged deer tracks.
Now Tim was really in a dilemma. He didn’t want his mother to worry, but he didn’t want to leave his wounded deer either. And he certainly didn’t want to have to tell his dad that he had left a wounded animal.
“Just a little longer,” he decided.
Tim followed the tracks down the valley. It was slow work; the tracks only appeared at scattered intervals where the ground was soft enough to hold them. Several times he lost them altogether, but always managed to pick them up again.
The sunny morning was turning into a very cloudy day. Up here snow would be dangerous, and even rain would be a first class misery. At least he had the survival pack his father had helped him put together. It held matches and a plastic poncho, and he never went into the woods without it.
The stream roared in its bed, and towhees darted about, showing him their red sides as the flitted by. Tim was watching them, when he saw his deer. more next week