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River Bottom Buck

December 11, 2012

A couple of years ago rifle season was exceptionally warm here in Minnesota. But nights were downright cold…temps dropped below freezing as soon as the sun went down. And because our hunters were out well before dawn and way past sunset, they dressed in layers; the required orange jackets and hats, plus two or three layers on their upper bodies, wool pants, long johns, wool socks, sorrels, and sometimes insulated bib overalls on the bottom. That way, they could add or subtract layers as needed.

It was one such morning when Jimbo was sitting in his deer stand and noticed a nice deer weaving his way through the brush. Jim could only see glimpses of the animal, so he couldn’t tell if it was a buck or a doe. He scanned the area and chose a small opening to shoot through. A second or two later, the deer stepped into that very spot and presented Ol’ Jimbo with a shot.

So with careful aim, he squeezed off a round, watching the animal as it stumbled. The shot was good. Maybe not his best work, but it did the job. Or so it seemed.

He waited a bit, then got down and checked for blood. And there was plenty, along with bone fragments. So Jim called his son. ‘I shot a big one…found good blood…just come to my stand; you’ll see me, I’m about a hundred yards to the east.’

A few minutes later, Jamie and his son Brady showed up. ‘Which way did he go?’ Jamie asked.

They began following the blood trail northward. But it became harder to follow; the bleeding was slowing. Soon, it became nearly impossible to track…

Jim and Jamie had developed their own version of sign language over the years. They used it during hunting season. Jim pointed to his eyes with two fingers, then point to Jamie. Translation: keep your eyes open. Then Jim put a finger to his lips:..and be quiet. He went on to indicate that they should split up. He wanted Jamie and Brady to veer to the right while Jimbo went left, toward the river, crawling on all fours through the brush.

‘There he is, Dad,’ said Jamie, pointing to the buck, who’d made it to the river and swum to an island. As Jamie approached, the buck jumped up and leaped into the water.

In that split second, Jim brought his gun up and got another shot off, hitting the buck just behind the left shoulder. But still, the buck fled, swimming to the opposite shore. Running dead.

As the five-pointer staggered out of the water, Jamie fired, hitting him in the back of the neck, dropping the animal partway up the steep bank.

The boy asked, ‘How’re we gonna get him, Grandpa?’

‘Well, now, I think we need to think about that for a minute.’

‘Maybe get your canoe?’ Jamie suggested.

‘Jim answered, ‘Yeah, that’d probably be best.’

They kept an eye on the buck as they debated their options…and it began a slow descent downhill…picking up speed as it slid. Into the river. Floating downstream.

‘What the Hell?’ They exclaimed in unison, along with some of the more colorful expressions in the English language. Expressions that won’t be repeated here. Use your imagination. Let it run wild.

And with that, Jamie handed his rifle to Brady and ripped his jacket off as he waded into the icy cold water. The current pulled at his overalls as he made his way toward the buck as fast as he could.

Now, the Cloquet River has a pretty good current in that area, it’s not too deep, but the current is strong. And it was quickly sweeping the deer downstream.

Acting on adrenaline, the guys were beyond conscious thought…they had a legal obligation to recover this animal.

With Jamie in the water, and Jim running along the bank, it must have been a quite a sight. A story that only Brady can tell…he was the only witness. And he soaked it in like a sponge. ‘Watch and learn,’ his mother and I told him…and he was learning plenty.

Like I said, the current was strong, and it pulled at Jamie’s legs, so he headed for calmer water. Which turned out to be deep. Much deeper. He’d been knee-deep in water and suddenly, he was up to his chest in the river.

He ignored the cold. Not letting the freezing water faze him…he kept after his prey. And he was gaining on it. The current swept the deer a bit closer to bank, and Jamie reached out with one hand and grabbed the buck by it’s horns. With no rope to hand, he quickly wrapped his belt around the antlers. Then floated the deer toward the rapids that separated Jamie from his dad.

Meanwhile, Jim had made his way to an island; a bit downstream from Jamie. And all the while, Brady watched from shore.

‘Now what?’ Asked Jamie.

Stepping back into the water, Jim said ‘Float him this way.’ As soon as he was able, he reached out and grabbed the other antler and both men dragged the animal onto the small island and field dressed him.

And the young teen watched from shore.

After they caught their breath, they got to their feet. ‘You ready for this?’ Said one. The other nodded, and they plunged back into the river and up the steep bank. Wet boots slipping in the mud, they grabbed tree trunks and whatever else they could, hauling themselves uphill.

Grunting with effort, Jamie declared, ‘I sure as Hell ain’t stopping before we get this bugger to the top!’

‘You got that right!’ Jim huffed.

At the top of the bank, they dropped to the ground to rest, each man keeping a tight grip on the buck.

Then, they dragged the buck, a real scrapper…five points intact and three more broken off, under cover of pine for safekeeping.

The three guys hiked the half-mile uphill to the truck and hoisted themselves in, after stripping off all they could, and headed for home. The rest of the gear could wait…they had their guns, and they were freezing.

As soon as they got into the house, they tossed their wet clothes into the washer and set it to spin. Then, everything went into the dryer. It needed to be dry for the evening hunt. It would take more than this to stop these die-hard hunters.

The younger kids and I had gone to church, but left breakfast in the oven…hash browns, scrambled eggs, and bacon. And fresh coffee in the pot.

The minute we got home, Brady exclaimed ‘Grandma, have we got a story to tell you!

After telling the story, eating their fill, and warming up, the hunters returned to the woods with Jim’s two-wheel cart to recover the deer. They loaded it up and pulled it halfway to the truck before Jimbo sent the two back to a deer stand to hunt while he finished recovering his animal before returning to the woods for his evening hunt.

A week or so after season closed, Jimbo received a notice from the manufacturer of his scope. A recall notice. As best as he could figure, that first shot, the wounding shot, was off a bit due to a combination of hair trigger and a defective scope.  

The scope has been replaced and the trigger adjusted.   

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