The Jury Returns, Finally
This is a story of heartbreak.
A story of loss.
It is also the story of a treasure, seemingly out of reach, that comes home.
Oh, it takes its sweet time, but come home it does.
This is also a story about friendships that can develop from the strangest of circumstances, some of which that are destined to become strong and true. I am talking about a type of closeness that is built on mutual trust, recognition of the true honor and goodness that is in another man’s heart and the willingness to give, unconditionally.
We will talk about and try to learn patience from our friend Chad, which is a virtue in any regard.
This story spans years, almost a decade.
This is a long time to wait, but Chad had time, because there was no other alternative.
Let’s go back in time - way back to late October of 2000 and watch now as a young man of 21 - who has literally hardly ever taken ANY deer - hunts in the piney woods of Washington County, Georgia. Just a week short of Halloween, this is one of the golden times to be hunting in this area... there are giant bucks about with some serious romance on their minds.
For those of you who that have never been to this area of Georgia, it is a treat, to say the least. Rivers with names like the Ohoopee... or Ogeechee... miles of pine plantations that give way to lush, greeen fields of peanuts and soybeans - which then give way to semi rolling fields of corn and then the land turns back to pines before you reach the dark edges of mature hardwoods that stand sentinel over black water rivers and swamps.
This is a land of genteel people, like the old days - where the little towns have a town square in the center of town and people wave at each other as they pass, even if they do not know you.
But, I digress - back to our young hunter... Chad is sitting on an very distinct edge, where a 5 year old stand of pines meets another set of pines that are then 13 years old - the old logging road splits the two sets of trees - making a great place to watch as the deer cross from one section to the other.
We know this is a great area, because during a very exciting but frustating bow season, the club members have seen roughly 15 mature bucks in this area and have not been able to get a shot on any of them.
In the stand with Chad now, just moments before sunup... sitting on the logging road with what will soon become a long view down the length of the road, we wait.
We do not wait long, however.
Just past daylight, as the last vestiges of the long night still hang heavy on the earth, a mature doe steps out in the road. Our hunter judges the distance at 250 yards - she is way out there.
With antlers on his mind, Chad knows he will wait... but he raises the rifle and sights the doe... at that moment, a much larger deer emerges from the woods behind the doe...
Heck, Chad thinks to himself, you can not even tell a fawn from a doe... the first one I thought was a mature doe is actually a fawn and that is the mama doe that just walked out behind her... some kind of hunter I am!!!
The fawn turns toward the stand and walks slowly forward and the doe falls in behind her. Meandering slowly and totally unaware that 250 yards away, a hunter patiently watches through the scope... wishing that a buck would step out and "join the crowd"!
Chad lowers the rifle and watches as the two deer make a few more steps further and an amazing thing happens - in the murky half light of that Georgia morning, a chill passes through Chad.... doe and fawn have just become doe and buck - and a giant buck, at that - particularly to a young man who yearns for his first trophy!!!!!
We see with clarity that his eyes nearly bug out at the sight of the deer, one that easily eclipses any that our now highly excited hunter has ever harvested.
We observe, riveted – as the Browing A-Bolt in 30-06 is raised in a fluid motion - ragged breaths are taken and the mind tells the body to slow down, slow down and be true to my hunter’s soul… do my bidding as I have trained you to do. We know repetition, body (the mind commands), do as we have done all summer at the range: breathe, find the form, cheek weld, perfect circle through the scope, the sassy “snick” of the safety going to the fire position, the finger that now caresses the trigger, applying a steady pressure – two pounds… now two and a half… now three.
The laws of physics are inexorably placed into motion…. somewhere in the back of his mind, Chad feels the softest of clicks as the sear is released… the firing pin is thrust forward by a spring that has waited for just this command… it strikes the primer and now - what was a fairly simple exercise in cause and effect becomes a controlled explosion that can microscopically distort the barrel – along it’s full length, as 130 grains of handloaded Barnes X leave the muzzle at well over 3000 feet per second.
Chad is totally unaware – or just does not really need to consider all of this right now – as his mind is totally absorbed on the task at hand.
Directed at the white patch at the base of the buck's neck, the projectile strikes the buck and without a single other movement, he is instantly felled!!!
250 yards away, Chad is reduced to a quivering mass of nerves... so badly that he fears the stand will shake loose from the tree!!
Man, I have just taken a massive buck!!!!!
He looks again, through the scope, the buck is anchored, right there in the road - just waiting for the photos.
With less than a minute passed by, our young hunter can take it no longer... shivering, shaking, about to bust with excitement and adrenaline, Chad starts down the ladder sticks, headed to terra firma and a serious buck celebration!
The party is cut very short, ruined in fact, before the first boot hits the ground.
Chad glances toward the buck - to see him thrashing in the road - and before he can do anything about it - the buck gains his feet and is gone in a flash.
Dread, regret, remorse - call it what you will - these hang like a cloak over Chad as he walks up the road. The sun has not even broken the horizon yet, but our hunter feels now as if that golden orb may have already set on this particular hunt.
Chad reaches the spot and finds only specks of blood along with the thrash marks in the road and his heart sinks even lower. The fortitude of our hunter, just out of his second decade of life, is shaken.
Trembling yet, Chad walks into the woods... hoping against hope... only to find dry leaves and no sign of the now departed buck.
A new low is reached as he realizes the extent of his errors.
Pressing forward, though, Chad spots one solitary drop of blood on a small holly bush.
Bright red, it shines now, like a gem found in the light of a new day...
Further, another drop, then two, then ten fet ahead - a pool of blood over a foot in diameter! Bright red blood!
Fifteen feet ahead now, more drops and then - on the side of a tree, a spray of blood along the trunk. The buck is bleeding and bleeding heavily!!
Ten yards further, another large pool of blood and beyond that, several sprayed areas on the underbrush.
Bouyed now, Chad presses forward on the trail - 50 yards into the job - he knows that his trophy has JUST got to be right ahead.
The blood begins to peter out now... the splotches are now gone, replaced by small specks.
20 yards further, there is none.
End of the line... Chad searches over and over again, and the path ends there. Every time.
He loops around, in a grid pattern now... searching the area - with no results.
Chad backs out now... and tries to think... what to do NOW?
Three tracking dogs are called in.
They can not find the deer. The handler states that the blood tells him flesh wound. Give up, son, you gave it a good run, but that one is gone. Sorry.
Three day pass, Chad searches every inch of the 300 acre lease.
Waist deep in the black water of a beaver swamp, he wades, searching, until on the final day, he is a broken young man. Standing in three and a half feet of cold, black water, leaning on a 4' tall concrete marker that is the corner marker for the property, the search is abandoned.
Several years pass.
Our hunter learns.
He meets a cautious neighbor and land owner, Mike K, who is a deadly deer hunter, but Chad can not know this, yet. He will know in time, however.
There are other things that Chad can not know yet, too.
The previous folks that had this lease were bad news. Trespassers. Damaging property, including Mike's feeders. Hell raisers.
Mike is cautious, for good reason. He will wait and watch and judge this young hunter. The jury is out on Chad and only time will tell.
Mike talks of QDMA, of food plots, of managing deer - and not shooting the first buck you see. He visits from time to time, testing the waters.
The jury is still out and will be for some time. Years, actually.
Chad and his lease partners begin a food plot program. Is is expanded as the years pass.
Smaller bucks are passed by.
Does are harvested, per QDMA standards.
Larger bucks begin to get taken.
Our young hunter with the broken heart has emerged - changed now - into a responsible hunter.
Move with me now, to a phone call in August of 2008.
Hey Chad, it's Mike.
Hey Mike, how ya doin?
We are good - when are you coming back down to the lease?
Gee Mike, it will be a week or so before I can get down there - do you need something?
Naw, not really - just wanted to run something past you.
Sure - Mike what is it and what can I do for you?
Heck, I don't need anything... just wanted to chat a while... hey, do you recall when you guys first got on this lease? What was it - back in 99 or 2000?
Yes, of course I do, Mike... heck I was just a kid. Man, I feel like I have learned so much about deer and a lot of it from you - you know I appreciate it, too.
Yes, of course I do, Chad.... I want to ask you something... did one of you guys shoot a big buck back in 2000?
Well.... yes, Mike, I shot a giant one... in October that year - made a bad shot and a couple of rookie moves and the short story is that he got away from me... I hate it and I am kind of embarrassed about it now. You know me, I take my shooting very personally - but hey, I was a kid and just screwed up.
Yeah, Chad, I know how it goes. What can you tell me about the deer?
Lord, Mike, that was eight years ago.... I recall he was huge, looked like a horse. I was so shook then... I would estimate him now at 18 or 19 inches and 125 inches or so - but heck, at that time he looked like a Booner - you know how it is for a kid.
You think he could have weighed 250 pounds?
Mike, man, that is a tough one... looking back now, I would say so,
Ok Chad, enough time has gone by. You ready for this? I have something for you...
Something for me... what the devil are you getting at, Mike?
I have a picture of your deer, I am pretty sure. The picture is from 2000 - a trail cam photo of a buck that was easily 250 pounds... I was catching pictures of him regularly and then he just disappeared. I heard one of you boys shot a big one over here.
Wow - you think it was the same one?
Man, I would love to see that!!!
Sure, no problem, I will give you the photos when you get the head and antlers.
Head and antlers, Mike, what are you talking about???
A cold chill seems to pervade the room now and Chad feels as if he is in a dream - a twilight moment, for sure....
I have your buck, I have had him since 2001. I found him in the beaver pond in April that year while I was turkey hunting. He was about 20 feet out in front of that big concrete marker in the beaver pond - the water was down and I saw some antlers out there - went and got my waders and dragged the carcass out. I knew which buck it was as soon as I saw him... he was in the water all winter so the critters did not get to his antlers at all, they are perfect. I am going to say he will go 130 or 132. He is a great buck. When you want to come get him?
Chad had stood, with a genuinely broken heart, no more than twenty feet from his trophy in the cold water of that swamp, all those years ago.
The story winds fast now.
Two weeks later, Chad has the skull and antlers.
A cape from a giant midwest buck is obtained, the mount is completed and the rest is, now, history.
I said earlier that this was a story about friendships that can develop from the strangest of circumstances, some of which that are destined to become strong and true.
I stated also that we might discover a type of closeness that is built on mutual trust, recognition of the true honor and goodness that is in another man’s heart and the willingness to give, unconditionally.
Those that can doubt that would do well to look toward Chad and his friend from Washington County Georgia.
The jury has returned, finally.
PS: The shot was measured at 248 yards.
Writing this story has been one of the greater pleasures of my literary work and I am sure my writing skills did not do the tale justice.
All errors are mine, the story is crystal and pure.