The DOORWAY Buck
Author: CM Sackett

Chapter 7
In The Presence Of Monarchs...

The grunt came from behind us, from the overhangs, outcroppings, and thicket we had just trudged through to get here not thirty minutes before.  And it locked ol’ LogHorn up in mid-stride!  He answered immediately with his own long, low, growly reply, his head swinging up and high to his left, trying to catch the wind of this interloper. 

     Tuck wasn’t moving.  His breathing was slow and measured, and I could tell that the focus of his entire universe was still contained within the boundaries of some small crease or shadow on the shoulder of this magnificent animal before us.  I, on the other hand… had to get a look at the new boy!

     “Oh, my G……”  I whispered.  That’s all I could get out.  And a whisper was all I could muster. 

     Mr. Tuck slowly inched his head around to see what could have had me more bum fuddled than the scene below us.  “Well I’ll be damned… he’s alive.”  He breathed into the frigid air.  Seems a whisper was all either of us could come up with at the sight of THIS! 

     What came up that last incline in the trail and topped the southeastern rim of “Chimney Valley” (as I came to call it in later years) was the stuff of legend and lore.  Not just because he was as massive and glorious in armament as any creature of his kind, before or since him ~ and he was, indeed!  It wasn’t even that he was easily, utterly, the most unique looking specimen of full-bull BUCKHOOD to ever drag a hoof… and he most definitely WAS THAT! 

     It was his manner.

     His heft glided over that rise like an emperor, totally unaware of any other creature in the world, except the waiting doe.  It was as if LogHorn didn’t even exist… as if his own royal bearing and crown and power set a precedent beyond all challenge, beyond question.  Only thing was... ol’ LogHorn wasn’t that impressed. 

     It was fixin’ to get real interesting!

 

The new buck had been an incredible sight coming through the shadows of the forest.  Nothing about that fact diminished in the least as he marched into the sun-gleamed meadow.  He headed directly under us, on the opposite side of the chimney from LogHorn, and made his way toward the doe.  For her part, she must have been enjoying herself; her head was bobbing back-n-forth between these two suitors like a judge at Wimbledon. 

     I had never seen anything like him.  His rack was almost a twin match for LogHorn’s, with the addition of another massive tine coming off the left main beam.  It dropped just in front of the ear and curved like a great iron bar along his jaw line, ending in an ivory polished three-pronged “knob” just shy of his nose.  To call that headgear merely ‘impressive’ would be an affront to a grander truth!  But his rack was only the dark tip of the iceberg… almost literally.  For, except for a perfect star of Nature’s brown on his forehead, the beast was blinding white!  You could actually lose sight of most of him in the snow.  That is, until you got to his rump.  It was dappled with small spots of blonde and brown, like one of those Nez Perce ponies.  As a matter of fact, I learned that’s what Mr. Tuck had always called him, “Mr. App”. 

     I hadn’t been at this hunting thing all that long, but I knew this… being this close to either one of these creatures would have been the event of a lifetime.  But to see them both in the snow, now not more than fifteen steps apart (and no more than 10-12 steps from us), from this elevated stone cloud, sitting beside this man… was the stuff of dreams (still is…).

 

I watched Tuck for some signal to draw, but suddenly he relaxed and started just sitting there, with his hands folded on his lap.  I was just about to nudge him to see which one he was going to aim at when the simmering scene below broke to boil. 

     The appaloosa Monster had stopped to do his own lip curl, stretching his mighty neck high into the scent of the doe when LogHorn decided he had had enough.  His eyes narrowed, and his ears lay as flat against his head as a Georgia mule with a carpetbagger on his back.  He swelled his already massive chest and shoulders as he stiff-stepped straight at his rival.  Mr. App took his time gathering in the sweet perfume of the doe’s romance and then, almost as an afterthought, turned to look at LogHorn.  No ears back.  No eyes narrowed… almost as if he was mildly bored by the ‘intrusion’. 

     LogHorn was just beginning the move that would put him parallel to the other buck when the old white demon suddenly lashed out with blinding speed, power, and FURY! 

     Working on playing one last card of bluff, LogHorn was caught almost totally off guard by the charge.  He had just enough time to turn his rack and block the oncoming tines driving straight for his heart and lungs… but no time to get set against the bleached locomotive of muscle and madness behind them.  The attack drove his head back sharply against his own shoulder, knocked him off his feet, and sent him rolling through an explosion of flying snow.  The needle-tipped kogatana of App’s right antler probed and searched for an opening into LogHorn’s body as he continued to crowd and push.  For a second or two both animals literally disappeared in the crystal cloud their heaving mass had created.

 

Somehow LogHorn found his footing and pushed back with a power that stopped App like a wall.  He held him there as he came fully to his feet.  For several seconds the two strained to a standstill as they jostled for an edge.  From the set of their jaw to the last tendons of their powerful back legs, the valley lines of muscle and sinew showed in dark, stark relief to the highlighted bulges of determined strength in both combatants. 

     Suddenly, App gave way… and instantly hooked in and up, as LogHorn’s driving momentum kept his head moving up and forward, leaving his jugular exposed.  The tines missed their mark by a hair, but raked the chest and shoulder viciously, leaving four seeping gouges from the edge of the chest to the third or fourth rib. 

     The bucks stepped back then, both of them lifting their majestic heads and measuring one another with a downward glance.  And then they crashed together with such a mighty sound and so much force; it seemed to me that the very foundations of their souls must have been shaken!  For twenty minutes they thrust and parried with the skill of artisans and the red-eyed furry of last line defenders.  The meadow, our beautiful, peaceful meadow was now a torn, churned field of combat, the snow flecked here and there with the blood that each had drawn… and both were spilling. 

     It had not even occurred to me to raise my bow during this awesome, honorable, primal… private war.  I finally glanced over at Mr. Tuck.  He was sitting there, his hands on his knees and his head lifted.  The look on his weathered face was one of calm concentration.  Only his eyes showed any hint of what he might have been thinking… they were dancing with fire. 

     Both bucks had blood running from their noses by now, their breath coming in great shots of steam as they worked to keep the exhausted engines of their frames fueled with enough oxygen to meet the next onslaught… make the next charge.  Neither champion gave any indications of Quit. 

     LogHorn began to slowly circle to ol’ App’s right (that massive drop-tine had proven to be a formidable foil to any attack to the left).  App watched him with a wary eye, but made no shift in his position.  LogHorn stepped and feinted a low, driving plunge to the old Master’s chest… not so much as a twitch of a response did it bring.  But as the brown bomber lifted his own head to swing about App pushed off with one great heave and drove his rack into LogHorn’s left shoulder, knocking him once again off his feet.  And as the younger buck struggled to regain his footing, App picked and hoisted him into a complete flip… and dove in for the kill. 

     Suddenly, the white buck faltered, slipping or stumbling on some unseen obstacle.  His left leg skidded out ahead of him as he crashed to his knee on the other leg.  And in that instant, LogHorn gathered himself and lunged at the outstretched limb, his own amber weaver’s beam catching the leg at the knee and driving it back against itself with a sickening ‘Crack!’.  App grunted, but then hooked wickedly into LogHorn’s exposed neck as his momentum carried him past, driving his left beam tip deep into the muscle and then raking massive furrows into the flesh, all the way to the shoulder.

 

Even as LogHorn’s forward movement brought him full to his feet, and the appaloosa rose magnificently on the three good ones he had left, I knew the battle was over.  Both bucks were scraped, punctured, bloodied and battered… and PROUD. 

     And I was stunned and frozen by what I had just witnessed. 

     LogHorn shook himself free of some of the snow that had been forced into his coat, like a mustang clearing himself of a mountain rain... but didn’t take another step away from the one who had made him ‘earn’ his now undisputed title.  App coughed and blew his bloody nose, like a prizefighter who had just lost a fair twelfth-round decision.  Both champions stood there, just inches apart, breathing deeply, each gazing into the distance before them with the same look I had seen on Mr. Tuck’s face a time or two. 

     “It’s time son” he whispered, “send it true.”

     “Mr. Tuck, I don’t think I can…”

     He turned and put a hand on my knee, “This ain’t a time for thinkin’, or feelin’… focus, trust your eye, and put the CLOSED sign on him, son”

     I had already picked the path, almost unconsciously, a few minutes before.  There was a small but distinct puncture wound in the crease of the shoulder now facing me, and as my shaft streaked silently to it, I knew the shot was true… it was.

 

Neither animal moved at the shot.  After their own thunderous, tornadic storm this whisper of lightning didn’t even register in their thoughts.  But its effect was sure and swift, nonetheless.  The white warrior took two steps forward a second or two after the touch of the scalpel’d shaft, then another faltering move that turned him as he went down for good.  The doe may have seen us then, or perhaps it was the old monarch’s falling that broke the spell for her.  Whatever it was, she, who had watched the entire battle for her affections with almost an air of bored patience stamped her foot, gave a short, whistled blow and bounded into the cedars, with LogHorn trotting after her, nose to the ground, future generations in the makin’. 

     And the old king lay still.

 

 

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