The Adventures of Young Jake Savage
The Buck Hunter, Too
By John A. Hallock
The season's first snow moved in cold and quiet in the night and by the time the first milky gray streaks of dawn began to filter through the tree tops a blanket of white covered the forest floor. The big buck's tracks were the first to mark it, Jake's were the second. He stooped to inspect the tracks, then stood up and plunged through the thick and tangled underbrush. The going was tough, but so was he. With the stealth of a lynx and the heart of a wolf, the buckskin-clad lad in the hooded wool shirt, red blanket coat and warm, winter knee high moccasins stalked silently through the 1806 wilderness. For he was all business, and this was the business of survival.
The big buck he was tracking would go along way toward those ends ... surviving. But there was something else to this hunt. Something as important to the lad as the meat he would provide for the hungry lumberjacks in the logging camp a few miles away. Jake had a reputation of sorts among the woodcutters and local Indians. This buck, with a nice eight point rack, would enhance his reputation further. It was the Ojibwa who first began to call Jake, Ayaaabe Giiwosewinini The Buck Hunter.
Jake smiled a satisfied grin. He relished the adventure of the hunt. A race, a game of hide-and-seek through the wilderness. He was up to the challenge.
After an hour of tracking, he wasn't getting any closer to the wily, evasive buck. So Jake played a hunch, call it a hunter's instinct, as to where the buck was heading. He took his chances and left the tracks to cut cross-country through a wide, tick shrub swamp.
He moved quickly, but quietly through the clumps of speckled alder, willow and dogwood. He squeezed in among the brown, dying cattails and ferns, and the tall thin stems of long since wilted wildflowers. It was a dense thicket of cover over a slushy mire of mud and muck. And a perfect hiding place, he thought. But then he changed his mind about that as cold water rushed over the tops of his knee-high Ojibwa moccasins. The oozing mud pulled at his legs. The season was new and the swamp was not yet frozen under the cover of insulating snow.
It took Jake longer to cross then he expected. He breathed a sigh of relief when he finally made it cross and was glad to stand beneath the forest canopy again. His feet and toes ached for the cold but there was no time to linger.
Jake's muddy footprints soiled the pure white snow as he moved up the ridge side. He took a position halfway up the steep hill that overlooked one end of he swamp and knelt behind a thick, old jack pine to wait. The buck had been on the trail that circled the swamp. It was trying to cut the wind and pick up the trail of a doe in heat. It would probably stay on the trail until spooked off or until it picked up a doe scent. But if the buck stayed on the trail, a long shot Jake knew, it wouldn't be long before it would show up around this end of the swamp. In the mean time Jake wiggled his toes; they were already, oh so cold.
Soon, Jake saw movement through the trees near the edge of the swamp below and a doe appeared out of the swamp. She moved slow and cautious, but looked more curious than alarmed. Her head was up, her large cupped ears were erect and moved about in a constant search for the sounds of danger. After a minute or two, she dropped her head and began to browse on hazel brush and tufts of brown grass the stuck up out of the snow.
Jake was patient but ready. He sat statue still ... it was a talent he'd developed at a young age waiting for woodchucks to stick their nose out of a hole. He could sit quietly in this manner for hours. His dark buckskins made him look like part of the tree trunk, in spite of the snow covered ground around it.
That's when the doe's head came up. She turned to look over her back trail. Her tail went out straight behind her but she did not run as her ears swiveled and her nose searched the crisp air. Jake had seen this behavior before and knew what she looked for, experience told Jake there was a buck very near. He would position his rifle before hand and be ready when the buck did show up.
Jake brought the rifle up slow, careful to keep the maple stock and butt hidden before his body. Once the butt fit against his shoulder he brought the barrel up and rested it across a tree limb. The short fat pine needles concealed him. The doe turned back to her browse, unaware of his presence as she move ahead several steps. Jake kept his eye on the thicket near the swamp edge.
Several minutes passed. Far off over the ridge a raven called to its mate and Jake felt a gentle breeze blow against his face. His heart began to beat faster. The palms on his hands perspired in spite of the chill. He knew it wouldn't be long. It couldn't be. Then he saw it. At first just the tip of an antler ... he licked his lips and drew in a breath. Then another antler tine came into view, a long, thick spire, and then, just like that, the buck stepped forward into full view. Jake caught his breath again, then breathed out slow in an attempt to calm down. I was a big buck all right, with a solid body, wide muscular chest and a thick, swollen neck. Its dark brown back was covered with a sprinkle of snow. But it was the rack of antlers that Jake wanted now more than when he first caught a glimpse of the buck a day earlier.
Wide, thick beams curved out over the buck's head. They went around its ears a good 20 inches apart from tip to tip. There were eight tines, four on each side and all perfectly matched to the opposite side. This was a good opportunity and he didn't want to lose his chance now that he was so close.
Jake aimed down the long steel barrel of his 50 caliber Hawken rifle. But then the buck raised it's head and stomped a foreleg. Great clouds of frosty white air chugged from it's nostrils. Jake caressed the trigger. The buck took another step. Jake drew in his breath again. It was now or ...
Then to Jake's astonishment a rifle shot exploded from the opposite ridge. He flinched and spotted the fire blast from a rifle barrel and a cloud of smoke billow out of the brush from alone the swamp. The buck froze for but an instant then lunged ahead a step and a half and piled up, horns over hooves, dead on the forest floor. The bright red blood that spattered across the fresh white snow told the story.
Jake was dumbfounded. It all happened so fast. So unexpectedly. How? Who, he wondered? He wanted to jump up and charge down the hill. He would confront the intruder who had just taken the buck that he'd invested the whole day in.
It's my buck, Jake thought, after all, I'm The Buck Hunter.
Now he was anxious and mad and had all he could do to sit still and wait for the other hunter to show himself. And wait he did. Ten or fifteen minutes. His grip tightened around the stock of his rifle as he held his aim and waited. He'd show this this ...
"You waitin' for me. Lad?"
The voice was deep and steady and came from behind Jake. He jumped with a start, banged the barrel of his rifle against the tree trunk and dropped the weapon into the snow. His eyes bulged with surprise. He reached down to retrieve the rifle but ...
"Leave it lay, Lad."
The unmistakable 'click' of a rifle hammer being cocked rang in Jake's ears and he froze in his spot more than a bit frightened.
When Jake turned around he saw a broad shouldered woodsman, many years his senior, stood only a few paces away. He pointed a large bore rifle directly at Jake's chest. It was a scary sight indeed. How had he not seen this man, Jake wondered? And where did he come from?
The woodsman wore a bright red blanket coat, too that covered his body down to his knees. He wore knee-high moccasins made of shaggy, coarse grizzly bear hide and fur. A thick leather strap crossed his chest from shoulder to waist with an antler handle skinning knife in a sheath hooked at the center of his chest. His coat lay open and Jake saw he wore another belt around the waist with a large blade skinning knife hung from it. On his other hip was a wicked looking hatchet. A scalping blade, Jake thought.
Hanging from the coat's shoulders were many dangling red fringes to guide rain water off the coat. Four black stripes had been dyed into the sleeves over his forearms. His hat of coyote pelts was adorn with three long eagle feathers hanging from one side and a fan of grouse feathers on the other. He too, carried a 50 caliber Hawken rifle.
This woodsman's face was a leathery brown color and creased with the lines of age and hard living. His full beard was dark and bushy with streaks of gray. His deep blue eyes were steady and warm but unwavering. Jake knew in an instant this was not a man to be taken lightly. Certainly, no one to challenge.
"You surprise me, Lad." A mischievous smile crossed the stranger's face. "I figured for sure you'd get your shot off before I could get into position on that buck."
"What?" Jake was still surprised at this unexpected turn of events. "You ... you knew I was here?"
"Ha," the woodsman laughed. "I been avoidin' you for days. I declare Lad, at times you made more noise than a rogue griz. I saw you first thing this morning when you picked up the buck's trail. But I got to admit that was a right smart stalk, cuttin' across that swamp. Shows you know the ways of a buck. At least the ways of that buck. But the fact is, you chased a bigger buck outa' my range in doin' so. He was chasin' that same doe. That's why I figured at the least you owed me that little one down there I just shot."
"Huh?" Jake was even more surprised. "That buck yonder is a full eight pointer with thick, heavy beams, 20 inch spires and at least a 25 inch spread. It's the second biggest buck I ever seen in these woods and I been livin' here all my life."
Jake turned and spit into the snow.
"Besides ... just who are you?"
The woodsman laughed and lowered his rifle.
"Why I reckon Iâm you in another 30 years or so." Now the woodsman roared with laughter. "Name's Buck, yeah that's right, just like the deer. Last name don't matter. I ain't a friend and I ain't stickin' around long enough to become one. I just cut loose of that Northwest Company over on the Yellow."
Now it was Buck's turn to spit.
"I got me a teepee over on the Tamarack," he said. "I'm just collectin' a few hides and horns, big racks only, to take south down river to St. Louis."
He turned his head and spit again.
"Have you ever been there Lad? To St. Louis I mean," Buck said with a smile. "A sinful and rowdy a place as you'll ever want to see. A whole lot of fun, too. Anyway, those Frenchies who operate some the taverns and casinos down there are mighty impressed by big horns."
Buck looked past Jake at the dead deer laying below.
"Why, that boy down there is barely big enough to make my collection," Buck said. "Hardly worth my effort. But then, you did spoil my chances at the big one."
Jake couldn't believe his ears. He turned to look at the buck again. It truly was one of the biggest he'd ever seen.
"I'll tell you what Lad," Buck said. "You help me gut out that buck and get it back to my camp and I'll put you up, feed you supper and, most of all, show you how to take some really big bucks tomorrow."
It was a proposition that really didn't appeal to Jake. He didn't like the idea of anyone fooling with his kill and he was equally opposed to the idea of dressing another hunter's kill. He was also skeptical of Buck's claim there were much bigger bucks in these woods. If anyone knew of huge bucks he'd surely be the first. After all, Jake was the one know as The Buck Hunter.
But at the same time it was an idea that intrigued Jake. Bigger bucks, he thought? Yes, this interested him very much and since all he had to invest was sweat he figured why not?
"C'mon," Buck said. "I'll start a noon fire. You cut us a few steaks for dinner."
Buck brushed passed Jake and moved down the ridge side to the fallen eight pointer. Jake didn't have much to say in this, the matter was settled. He turned, retrieved his rifle from the snow and wiped it on his sleeve as he followed Buck.
The fire felt good against Jake's frozen toes and feet and he dried out his moccasins at the same time. The hot meal tasted good, too. Jake chipped in tea from his pack and even splurged by adding a pinch of sugar to both steaming metal cups.
"Much obliged for the treat," Buck said holding his cup up in front of him when they'd finished eating. "I'll tell you what. You're a lot younger than me, Lad. I'll take the rifles and packs you hoist that deer up on them broad shoulders of yours and just follow my tracks to that creek on the apposite side of the ridge. Then go north 'til you come to the river. My camp is at the crux of the streams."
Before Jake could respond or protest, Buck jumped to his feet, snatched up the gear, including Jake's prized Hawken rifle, and bolted into the brush.
"Make sure that fire is good and out," he yelled over his shoulder.
The buck was heavy and Jake had a difficult time getting it onto his shoulders in the first place. This was quite a feat. Most men couldn't even carry a small buck over their shoulders. But Jake was a big, strong lad. His shoulders, indeed, were broad and brawny. And he'd learned the knack of deer carrying from his Ojibwa brothers. It had as much to do with balance as with strength.
When he finally did get the deer picked up and had moved several miles through the forest he became peeved that Buck's camp was farther upstream than the tough old woodsman let on. It wasn't at the place where the streams came together but at least a mile farther upstream.
It was nearly dusk when Jake finally staggered through the heavy underbrush into Buck's camp. The grizzled old woodsman lounged by the fire and puffed on his pipe.
"Well now, there you are," he said. "I was beginnin' to worry. Thought maybe I'd have to come lookin' for you. Thought maybe you got yourself lost."
Buck's camp was close to the water. The teepee was large and made of dark moose hides. Two sets of wide, flat moose antlers were stacked with several enormous whitetail racks next to the tent. Jake could hardly believe his eyes. He dropped the buck he was carrying near the fire and staggered over to the antler pile.
Buck had been telling the truth. The antlers were huge. Never had he seen such thick, wide whitetail racks. There were eight pointers, tens, elevens, twelves and one with fourteen spires that Jake counted twice to make sure he wasn't seeing things.
"There will be plenty of time for gawkin' Lad," Buck said. "But you best get some grub and then some rest. We start hunting afore' sun up."
Jake moved back to the fire and sat down. He was barely finished with the plate of bacon, beans and sourdough biscuits that Buck had made for him before he took his bedroll into the tent and fell fast asleep. It had been along exhausting hike through the woods with that buck on his shoulders. Jake only wished the night lasted as long as the hike. For it barely seemed he'd laid his head down when he was awake and ready for the day's hunt.
Dawn found the two hunters stalking deer through a layer of fog hanging over the snow in another slough not far from camp. Buck was only three or four steps in front of Jake but the fog was so thick at the swamp's edge all he could see was the woodsman's red coat. And as bright as it was, it was barely visible in the thick curtain of white.
"Now you see," Jake whispered. "I've never wasted my time huntin' sloughs covered with thick morning fog. Ain't gonna see no deer in this pea soup, anyway."
Buck stopped and turned around to face Jake.
"Lesson number one, Lad," Buck said. "To disappear."
With that Buck took a step or two backward into the fog and forest and was ... gone! Jake stopped dead in his tracks. He had, indeed, disappeared. Swallowed whole in the cover of whiteness.
Jake turned in circles but could not see the hunter. He knew Buck was close. But Jake could see nothing. Not sight or sound of the spooky old woodsman. Jake moved through the fog slowly. Surely Buck must be crouched close by. But after several minutes without sight of the woodsman Jake began to get anxious. His stomach tumbled. His heartbeat quickened. Jake tried to choke back his fright. He was one with the forest, he told himself. He'd proved it to himself and everyone else for most of his young life. Nobody was going to out hunt or even out fox him. It couldn't be done he thought. Unless ...
Maybe Buck wasn't a hunter at all. It was a fleeting thought but one that Jake couldn't push out of his over active imagination. It must just be the quiet, foggy atmosphere he thought trying to console himself. Or maybe this outrageous thought was true. Maybe Buck was some kind of spirit. Jake had heard the Indians talk of the Hobernock, a mostly friendly spirit who actually ...
Jake felt something grab his shoulders from behind him. Something was coming out of the fog to ...
"Buck," Jake shouted as he wheeled around.
The hunter put his finger to his lips and shushed Jake.
"There are more advantages to swamp huntin' in the fog than you ever thought possible, Lad," Buck explained in a whisper. "You're not only invisible, but there's no wind down here to carry your scent to a buck's sensitive nose. The ground and bushes are damp, your moccasins are soft and quiet. The deer use fog to escape the hunter all the time. If you've scouted the area and blazed markings on trees close to the ground near the trial you can move along the slough edge for miles ... undetected.
Jake was impressed. But not enough to admit it, at least not out loud anyway. This went against every one of his practices. For up on the ridge is where you see big bucks, where you'll get your best shot. Any hunter knows that.
"Up on he ridge," Buck said as if reading Jake's mind. "Is where the biggest bucks see, hear and smell you long before you know they are there. You might luck into some of them smaller deer you been shootin' up on the ridge. But if you want to sneak up and find the big ones stay low and out of sight, smell and sound. The big boys grow, because they stay ... low!"
Buck turned and spit. Jake stood and stared. The old man made sense. Jake supposed to himself, though he didn't know how Buck managed to read his thoughts. But then, the lad reasoned, it must just be a coincidence and he wondered when the hunt would begin.
"We been huntin' here all along," Buck said as he sneered at Jake. "And we'll use this fog for cover as long as we can."
With that, Buck started down the trail again. They stayed close to the slough and Jake stayed close to the hunter. Once again, only his red jacket was visible.
They moved almost all the way around the oval shaped slough. Always hidden by the fog. Then Buck stopped next to a pine about eight inches around. Jake saw the rub mark on the trunk.
"There's a faint crossin' trail up ahead about 30 yards." Buck whispered. "It's the trail we want to hunt. It's the trail he uses."
"He?" Jake repeated. "Are we huntin' a certain buck?"
Buck looked over his shoulder at Jake.
"You bet your moccasins we are, Lad," Buck said. "This is his ruttin' trail. He's the one what marked this big pine with his horns. I ain't ever seen him but I know he's one of the biggest ever. Why look at the gouges his brow tines left in that pine."
Jake was perplexed. While he admitted it was an impressive rub, how did Buck know which deer made it without ever seeing it? Surely not from just a couple of marks in the side of a tree.
Buck smiled again.
"No Sir. Not just from tree markings or even footprints," Buck said reading Jakeâs mind again. "But there is surefire way ... the droppings."
Buck reached down and picked up a large, fresh deer pellet from a pile at his feet.
So? Jake wondered. All big bucks leave large piles of compacted droppings. One pellet looks just like another.
"It's not the look of the droppings what identifies the animal," Buck said as he put the dropping to his lips, and then to Jake's horror actually took a bit. "It's the taste."
Jake's eyes widened in disbelief. He even took a step backward. How could? He couldn't believe ...
"You see, Lad," Buck explained. "The little six and eight pointers you been huntin' all these years are what you call ridge runners. This time of year, before the rut, they gorge themselves on acorns. So their droppings also taste like acorns. But these big fellas, like the one weâre hunting now, rarely ever show their flags or racks on the ridge. They just don't feel safe up there.
Jake was still amazed ... spellbound.
"They're eatin' stuff out of the swamp," Buck continued. "A hunter can taste the skunk cabbage and willow leaves of the swamp in their droppings."
Jake's eyes were still wide with amazement. He unconsciously spit down at his feet.
"But ... but you ..." Jake couldn't seem to find the words.
"Here," Buck said raising his hand toward Jake's mouth. "If you want to use this trick you gotta taste for yourself."
Before Jake knew it, and could dodge away, the pasty, bland deer dropping was in his mouth. And, for just the briefest of instants, he did detect the bitter taste of willow leaves. He spit the offending nugget out on the ground.
"So now you see," Buck continued. "The sun is coming up and burning off the fog. But we made it deep into the buck's bedroom without him seeing, hearing or smelling us and we've positively identified him without ever seeing him. If we wait by this trial I'll lay you steep odds you'll soon be seein' a rack the likes of none you ever seen before."
They made their way off the trail and crouched beneath the thick boughs of a spreading spruce tree. Jake was still quietly spitting out the offending taste.
"He'll come from the south this morning," Buck whispered minutes after they settled under the tree. "The prevailin' wind this time of year is blowin' cold from the north or northwest. He'll be lookin' for us with his nose, not dreamin' we found him with our taste. You got to be two steps ahead of them, Lad."
Jake listened to the birds chirp their morning songs. Even with his eyes closed he could tell it was fall just by listening. The year-round birds were all around. Seed eaters mostly: cardinals, blue jays, grosbeaks and lots of chickadees were in the tree tops and along the swamp edges. But the summer birds had all taken their sweet songs and gone south.
Jake jumped with a start and opened his eyes when Buck gently touched his arm. He looked down at the deer trail thirty yards away. There was movement. Ever so slight ... ever so slow.
"You can fool them on hearing, seeing and smelling," Buck whispered into Jake's ear. "But you can hardly fool them on their ability to sense you. To read your thoughts, to know ..."
Buck abruptly fell silent.
Sensing? Jake said to himself. He wondered if it had anything to do with the way Buck was always sensing and reading his thoughts.
"It's about the same," Buck whispered. "So go back to thinkin' about the birds. If you keep thinkin' about this buck ... why he'll read that right outa' your head."
Jake was amazed again, but now more than ever, he was spooked.
A screaming jay took the lad's mind momentarily off the buck that was now sneaking along the trail.
At first Jake didn't even see the rack for its size. When the big buck did take a step into an opening through the brush Jake caught his breath. It was every bit as big as the largest rack back at camp. The buck turned its head quickly to its back trail. Then around to the front again. It raised its head and searched the air with its nose.
The body was enormous, 225 or 250 pound at the least. Its neck was swollen to the size of large a tree trunk. Its rack was almost brown but it shone like polished hickory. There were 12 points. Six long, thick, pointed tines; perfect twins on opposite sides of thick arching main beams. There were identical drop tines on each side both about 8 inches lone.
Shoot, Jake screamed in his mind. Why wasn't Buck SHOOTING?
At that very instant the big buck's head came around and the deer stared straight at their hiding place under the spruce. It stamped a foreleg once then turned and ...
Buck's rifle roared through the still morning air. Powder smoke filled the cavity under the tree where they sat.
"Do you think ... you," Jake stuttered in a hushed tone while his heart beat hard against the side of his chest. "Think you got him?"
"Oh I got him," Buck said, the irritation evident in is tone. "But it's no thanks to your screaming to ... SHOOT."
The older man jumped up and out from under the pine. Jake stayed put for a second or two wondering how Buck always knew what he was thinking.
"Ya-whooooo!" Buck exclaimed. "It didn't get but a step down the trail."
Jake followed his hunting mentor and barely gasped at the sight of the big buck and its mammoth rack. In fact, he was unable to lend a helping hand as Buck field dressed his kill.
The older woodsman used a large, thick blade, antler handle knife. It was a most impressive and beautiful tool. Buck had made it himself years before. He used white hot coals to mold and reshape a double edge and create the knife's thick shiny blade. The antler handle came from a buck the old woodsman had a most difficult time hunting. Buck figured part of its antler would give him some of that buck's wiles. The blade cut through the deer's skin with ease. Someday, Jake took note, he too, would posses such a knife.
Buck's head came up from his work and he looked over at Jake, though, he said nothing.
When Jake looked back at the rack he sighed for the sheer size of it. All the while Buck worked. Jake circled the fallen monarch still hardly able to believe that such a huge buck existed in his own woods.
"Well, Lad," Buck said finally as he stood up and wiped his bloody hands and the blade of the knife on his buckskin pants. "If you'll lend a hand hangin' this big brute in that jack pine yonder, we'll go get one of these big boys for you."
Both hunters strained as they hitched the buck up on a hemp rope that Buck produced from one of his large coat pockets.
They spent the next couple of hours cutting cross-country through part of the woods that was still a blaze of color even at this late date. Red and yellow leaves clung to the limbs, waving gently on a slight breeze born with the morning sun. Buck and Jake's red blanket coats actually blended with the colorful forest. The farther they went, the more interested Jake became with this hunt. For they were moving directly toward his homestead, and when they finally stopped on the shores of a tiny lake to rest they were within a mile of Jake's own cabin and a half mile to the bustling logging camp and trading post where Jake grew up and where he is the official meat packer.
It was the logging camp owner and trader Captain Jefferson Connors who first heard local Ojibwa Indians refer to Jake as Ayaabe Giiwosewinini The Buck Hunter. The Captain picked up on the name as he and all the lumberjacks also marveled at the big bucks Jake brought in. But none had ever seen a buck the size this hunter Buck had taken that morning.
"This is another great place to find big bucks," Buck explained. This lake had yet to freeze although snow covered the little sand beach. "Even though deer can swim right well they can't smell nothin' in the water and they're stuck way out in the open. And you know that much don't you Lad? Big bucks don't like bein' out in the open for very long. They'd much rather sneak through the woods and around a lake as swim across it."
That was fine with Jake. He was real familiar with the ridges surrounding this lake. In fact, he knew of a well used trail and a great ambush spot up near the top of the ...
"The main thing is to stay off the ridge top," Buck said interrupting Jake's thoughts. "Keep the lake at your back and sit as close to the water's edge as you can without getting your ass wet or bein' seen. That's because the wind swirls across the open water and if you do put off a scent, the buck don't know what way it's comin' from. Besides, a big buck will come down to drink right at dusk. He might stick his head out of the woods 80 yards away. But even on a tiny beach like this one, he will be visible for a second or two. And in the woods on the ridge top, at dusk, a buck will be all but invisible only 20 yard away.
It was all so new, so different, so opposite of he way Jake ever hunted. He doubted if this technique would really work. But an hour later, Jake spotted a big buck as it appeared on the small strip of beach more than 50 yards away. It just sort of appeared like the ghosts big bucks can be. Jake just happened to turn his head one way, then the other, and when he turned back there was the buck. A big ten point brute. It leaned its head down and drank deep. Jake's heart began to beat faster than ever before as he took a breath and then his bead. He aimed the rifle and squeezed back on the trigger. The rifle belched fire and smoke into the dull dusky light and the forest filled with thunder. Jake watched the buck drop in its tracks at the water's edge.
The ten pointer was the biggest Jake had ever shot. He field dressed it himself while buck stood close puffing on his antler pipe. The evening fog was already rolling across the glassy lake surface.
"Well Lad," Buck said. "You got your big buck and learned a thing or two ... even if you still don't really believe it."
Then the older man pulled out that big skinning knife, the one Jake had admired earlier.
"Here," Buck said throwing the blade into a stump next to Jake. "The knife is yours. Maybe it'll help you remember Buck, the buck hunter, too."
Jake looked down and pulled the beautiful knife out of the stump.
"Thanks!" Jake's surprise was apparent in his tone. "But I ..."
Jake's words dropped off as he looked up to see that Buck had disappeared into a swirl of fog at the forest's edge. Jake knew there was no use in trying to find him again. He put the knife in his belt, then smiled and shook his head. Buck had told Jake earlier he wasn't staying around long enough to become friends. But he was wrong.
Jake picked up the buck and laid it across his shoulders. It took him only an hour to trudge through the woods with his trophy.
Captain Connors and several of the lumberjacks were enjoying the crisp, cool fall night, lounging around a campfire drinking coffee from metal cups near the center of camp.
"Say now," the Captain said catching his breath. "If that ain't the biggest dang buck I ever seen. I don't know what ..."
The rest of the lumberjacks were impressed with the big buck too. The Captain bent low after Jake dropped the deer near the fire. The older man measured the girth of the buck's huge main beams against his thick, muscular forearm. The buck won this contest.
"Didn't I tell you boys," the Captain said to the assembled lumberjacks. "Jake Savage here is the best buck hunter in all these big woods."
He looked up at Jake.
"Ain't that so, Lad," the Captain said to Jake. "You are, The Buck Hunter, ain't you."
Jake smiled for he could still taste the bitter willow flavor in his mouth and he wondered if he'd ever see Buck again.
"Not hardly, Cap'n," Jake said finally as he shook his head and spit on the ground. "Not hardly."