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2150 words
Submitted by-
Rob F. Sanderson
724 Edgewater,
Portage, WIS

Last Day Buck
Rob F. Sanderson

           “Still want to try for that second buck tomorrow?” one of our party asked me in a discouraging tone as the small group of hunters sat around a blood warming campfire made from the hardwood of gnarled desert trees.

           I wanted mighty badly to take my legal quota of two bucks out of Mexico that trip. I had number one, a good-sized rascal with a creditable head. But I had talked so expansively to my United States friends about the abundance of the Sonoran whitetails (they really are plentiful) that I almost felt ashamed to bring home a lone buck and face all the good natured razzing I knew to be forthcoming.

           “We won’t have to lay over until Monday to go out”, was my theory. “I can get out early in the morning for a short hunt and be back by noon. That’ll give us just time to get there and get our export permits before the border closes.” The next day being Saturday, if we didn’t reach the border before 5p.m. we’d have to wait until Monday morning before we could cross our deer. And there were a hundred and a half miles of desert trail between our camp and the border.

           “Go if you will,” was the consensus of opinion. “But the responsibility of delaying the whole party until Monday is on your head.”

           Had it not been for an unseasonable rainy spell, we’d have been out with our two bucks apiece several days past. The rain was just one of those things, mala suerte - likely wouldn’t be another rain for the rest of the winter in sunny Sonora. However the rain had come, and we’d watched the drizzle and played black jack until all our matches were dirty from handling and the last of the carton of beer was gone. But as this last afternoon the sun had been out for several hours, I felt confident the morrow would be clear and that the bucks would be moving around the hills like ants after the rain.

           “Los caballos muy temprano, manana,” we instructed our vaquero guides. Ordinarily they turned the horses out to graze during the night and ten o’clock in the morning rolled around before they had the string of ponies herded into camp. That night we made arrangements to have four (Irish and another guide were going with me in the morning) of the best mounts kept in the corral and fed all that was left of our grain supply instead of being turned out.

           “Very early,” forecast one of the party, “ means about nine o’clock, I suppose.”

           And so we were caught unawares the next morning at a trifle before seven, just climbing into our boots. Irish and I downed a hasty breakfast, filled our cartridge pouches, and joined the waiting Mexicans to ride away into the rising sun, which was just chinning itself over the Desert Mountains to the east.

           The air in the canyons was frosty, in the sun, warm. I pulled the brim of my sombrero lower to shade my eyes from the new sun, and carefully explored the nearby mountain slopes for moving deer. They were apt to be on the sunny slopes, getting dry and warm from the wet and chill of the night past.

           We put our horses toward the best deer country in the whole range of desert mountains, where the thorn brush was thick and big bucks were known to range more frequently than in the surrounding sierras. Our route was mapped out with speculative precision so we would be back in camp by noon sharp - not an easy schedule to meet when riding through the rough, cone-like mountains separated by deep canyons.

           The sky was the blue I have seen only in Mexican desert skies after a rain. Even the distant mountains had a clean, washed look. The day was ideally made for deer hunters; nine o’clock brought us only fresh deer sign and not the sight of living deer.

           We pulled up our mounts on a high ridge commanding a broad sweep of slope, and as the sun was rapidly warming the still air I gulped a few swigs of water from my saddle canteen. I was twisting on the cap, the threads of which were bent slightly on one side and needed persuasion, when I saw a movement on the slope about two hundred yards distant.

           “Venado!” I warned the others and was off the saddle in a hop.

           “Una embra,” (a doe) said my vaquero, and soon a second doe followed the first into the brush and around the hillside.

           Disappointed that one hadn’t been a buck; I consoled myself that for once I had spied deer before the sharp eyes of my guide had located them, and hoped a buck would show up soon. Down in Old Mexico the population of bucks to does is far higher than in the United States, and one rarely sees many does without catching sight of a buck around somewhere.

           Nine-thirty was time to turn back if we were to get to camp on schedule. I began to feel thoroughly disgusted, deeply regretting that I had gone against the wishes of most of the party by not staying in camp for an earlier start. Nothing would cure that feeling but a buck.

           We had climbed well up the side of the largest mountain in that area - a massive-sided geologic sugar loaf capped by a rim rock, and were talking in broken Spanish to the guides about turning toward camp, when I pulled the second royal flush on the guides by seeing the second herd of deer for the morning - five of them scampering up the slope toward the rim rock. The range was about three hundred and fifty yards.

           The guides were silent, meaning they didn’t know whether there was a buck among the herd or not. I watched the deer carefully for a few seconds and some hunch told me there was a buck. Simple arithmetic would tell anyone that there was at least one buck among any five deer in Mexico.

           “I think the second deer from the top is a buck,” I announced to Irish. “I’m going to open up on it.”

           I flopped to prone position with my .270 and opened fire. My first two bullets struck high, a common over-compensation when using the flat-shooting .270 at long ranges. A report from one side told me Irish’s .257 had joined the barrage.

           Bullets struck all around the dodging deer. We had the animals running back and forth on the slope to escape the stinging sprays of fine rock exploded into the air by the impact of bullets. I drew a very fine aim and pulled - when I looked again I saw the deer no more.

           “I think I got him,” I optimistically told Irish, who had stopped shooting a couple of minutes past.

           “I sneaked over the hill in the brush and from the way it held its head I think it was a doe,” came the consoling reply.

           “Wounded,” the vaqueros told us, so over we rode to the scene of the escape.

           The last morning of a long-planned hunt, and here we may be chasing a wounded doe, I thought bitterly. I chastised myself forever leaving camp that morning. I brought my quirt down heavily on my horse, who had evidently caught my despondent mood and was lagging behind the others.

           There was blood, all right, but not a lot. Irish and I decided to let one of the vaqueros follow the trail if he could, as it was getting later by the minute and we had to hit for camp.

           Irish was just getting this complicated masterpiece of phraseology across in Spanish when we heard a whoop from the guide just over the hill. Spurring my horse to the crest with Irish just behind me I saw a deer loping away within easy shooting range.

           “Doesn’t look badly hurt from here,” I observed, and not seeing any horns, I added, “looks like a flesh wound. Let it go?”

           Irish nodded assent and we watched the deer run up toward the base of the rim rock cliff, which at this location was configured to the shape of a hollow horseshoe. The vaqueros, seeing this, untied their riatas from the saddle horns and galloped recklessly across the loose rock and into the mouth of the horseshoe, which was only about two hundred yards wide.

           “They’re going to lasso the critter,” I shouted, spurring my horse forward. “Here’s where I get some good action movies!”

           I stationed myself at the center mouth of the giant horseshoe amphitheater and was adjusting my movie camera when I heard shouts from the guides who had jumped the deer at close range while I was obscured behind a huge boulder.

           “Cabrito! Cabrito!” They cried (a cabrito is a form of small white-tail).

           I rode around the boulder camera in hand and saw not a hundred feet away from me the cabrito coming straight at me on the dead run.

           I had to make a split second choice between camera and gun, and I started grinding away the movie film. When the running deer was within forty feet of me, he saw me and veered. As he veered I saw horns for the first time - long ones for this type of deer. They were long, curved single spikes (cabritos always have either spike horns or some small prong to form a tine “Y”). I wanted that little buck and I jumped off the saddle to grab my carbine from its boot.

           My gun-shy caballo realized fully what my grabbing the rifle meant and started to gallop away before the gun was out of the boot. Something caught and I bounced along for twenty feet after the cowardly horse before I freed the rifle. Turning, I saw my cabrito go downhill out of sight about ninety yards away.

           I ran forward, breathless after my tussle with the horse. Clambering up a huge rock that had evidently rolled down as a fragment from the high rim rock into the grassy basin, I saw the leaping deer - almost out of sight. The rock was steep and as I scrambled up with my hands full of camera and gun and questionable hand grips, I managed a snap shot, and before I could regain my hand grip my feet slipped from under me and I fell some twelve feet to the ground, breaking a spur strap on the way down.

           I looking around but there was nothing in sight. Nothing - Irish, horse, or guide. Then I remembered the camera, which I had borrowed from a very particularistic friend. Waist high in the gamma grass, I tried to visualize where the horse had been when the camera fell. But in the excitement I had noted nothing, could not reconstruct a single location, and felt like a small lad hunting for a shilling in the king’s forest. For five minutes I poked around, when Irish rode up to console me, leading my runaway horse by a braided rawhide rein. I was about to give up the search when I almost stepped on the camera at a place thirty feet from where I had supposed it to be.

           “Anyway, I got some good kodachrome,” I said, trying to cheer the atmosphere as we trotted toward a clump of oaks where we could see one of the guides horses. “Been trying to get a shot like that for years.”

           We rode into the small mountain oaks to find the vaqueros exposing wide expanses of smiling teeth.

           “Cabrita,” one of them said, pointing toward his horse, and behind the saddle was tied the little deer, all dressed out.

           My snap shot had done the work!

           Wherever the terrain was level enough on the way back to camp, we pushed to horses at a brisk trot. As we rode into camp at two minutes to twelve by my watch, the little brother of my guide gave a shrill cheer in Spanish. In Nogales it was five minutes to five, and I confess I felt a little let-down when no cheer was forthcoming from the customs officials as we crossed with our quota filled by the little cabrito shot that very morning!


© 2003 Chronicles of Bob