There's More Than One Way To Bag A Buck

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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Let me confess right up front that I have never been hunting in my entire life.

My father taught me how to shoot because he felt it was "important," but because he lost an arm in World War II he never took me hunting. Without that heritage it always seemed a whole lot easier to get my meat at the local supermarket.

Being somewhat averse to blood, I especially liked the fact that it was pre-bagged. Heck, I still do.

But growing up in Michigan, I remember the big hoopla that everybody made about deer hunting season. It ranked right up there with the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry.

Most of the men in the state would tromp off into the north woods for a week or two every fall, and it wouldn't be long before the southbound freeways were dotted with bucks proudly slung over the hoods of cars.

For our neighbor, Ed Imlay, the annual hunting trip was a major production, and probably the highlight of his year. Since we didn't go hunting, my family participated vicariously through Ed.

Each year, my mother would make a wager with Ed that he wouldn't get a buck. After bidding him a grand farewell, we would spend the week while he was gone wondering how he was doing, and imagining the great adventures he must be having.

But if there was one thing you could count on just as surely as the sun coming up each morning, it was Ed coming home empty-handed every year. Mom would collect on the bet, and we would return to our daily routines until another hunting season rolled around.

The fact that Ed came home bleary-eyed and sporting a full-week's growth of beard made him a hero in my mind -- obviously the result of tramping through the woods day and night in his relentless quest. I didn't learn until years later that Ed's bleary eyes were most likely the result of hoisting beer cans and playing poker with his hunting buddies long into the night.

Most of my friends eventually joined their fathers on the front lines of the great deer wars. There were times when I felt cheated out of this rite of passage, but somehow being able to live the hunt through Ed made up for it.

Ed's only child was a girl, and in those days real women didn't go hunting. So the adulation that my brother and I heaped on him was probably something Ed needed as much as we did.

Then came the year that Ed finally got his buck. I was an impressionable 13; my brother was 10.

We heard the news when an excited Ed called ahead on his way home to tell my mother to have her money ready. Needless to say, the call created a frenzy of excitement.

We waited with great anticipation for Ed to come down Huron Street with a buck tied to his hood. His accomplishment was, after all, a wonderful testament to all the great values that hunting instills -- determination, perseverance, tenacity and resolve being the ones that come immediately to mind.

Finally Ed turned off Fenton Road onto Huron, driving ever so slowly the entire three blocks so all could see that the mighty hunter had, at long last, bagged his prey.

It seemed an eternity, but Ed finally pulled into his driveway so his immediate neighbors could get a first hand look. While I don't remember how many points it had, Ed's buck was a magnificent animal, certainly a worthy foe and a tribute to his hunting prowess.

As mom paid off her bet, I moved in for a closer look. That's when I noticed that the underside of Ed's buck, the side against the car hood, was soaked in blood and appeared to be seriously traumatized.

"What did you shoot this thing with," I asked, "a torpedo?"

Ed leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Don't tell your mom, but I found it by the side of the road. Must have been hit by a car."

I looked up at Ed and he winked -- the manly wink that men have forever shared with other men, the unspoken sign that there are things men must keep from their women. I winked back knowingly, and at that moment I knew I had undergone the rite of passage into manhood.

Today when I see a bull elk lazily munching away on my neighbor's pear tree on the edge of the Tonto National Forest, totally ignoring the frenzied barking of his very mean-looking, but obviously toothless dog Cujo, my thoughts turn to Ed Imlay and hunting seasons past.

I'll bet even he could bag this bull.

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