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The Slut Buck

by Nathanael Green

Andrew didn’t know that he’d killed the slut buck. He’d just settled to one knee, trained the crosshairs on the broadside and squeezed the trigger.

And with that, he thought he’d finally done it.

Now, the buck was in the bed of his truck. The sun was drooping past its highpoint and the other guys were waiting for him. The rubber of his tires crunched in the gravel up the drive to the lodge. Clint, Gabe and Steve all sat outside. In their hands, beers cold with November air. Rifles leaned against a stained wood wall like soldiers on a smoke break.

Andrew slipped it into park and hopped out. His cheeks tugged to form a smile, but he fought them, trying to keep it this side of sheepish.

“Heard some shooting your way,” said Steve. Steve’s camo coveralls hung off his shoulders. The butt of a cigarette disappeared toward lips hidden by a beard.

“Yeah.”

Andrew forced down a trill of excitement and reached for a beer.

“How’d you boys do?” he asked. He popped the top and tipped it to his mouth, the can cold against his bare lip.

Gabe shrugged, old shoulders lifting a belly thick and hard with suet.

“Shot a doe just after dawn. We got her cooling off in the shed.”

Clint, a mirror image of Gabe, but thirty years thinner, shook his head. “Saw a few young ones. Babies. You probably would’ve shot ’em, though.” Clint winked and Steve and Gabe chuckled.

Andrew took another swig past a smile. “Nah. A man’s got to have pride,” he said.

He thought then of the buck. He’d seen it step out from behind a bush, regal with slow, sinuous movements. A look over its shoulder at him with brown eyes before he took it. His first buck.

Clint scratched at his beard and nodded to Andrew’s truck. “Well, what’s in the bed? You get something this morning, or were you just firing one off at nothing?”

“Got a buck,” he said. Another gulp.

“Shit!” said Steve with a smile that finally separated his mouth from his whiskers. “He’s popped his buck cherry.” He held out one hand and Andrew shook it.

“Your first?” asked Gabe. The old boy grunted as he pushed himself up from the picnic table.

Andrew nodded. “Got a couple does before. But this is my first buck.” He bit his cheek.

“Just five years late.” Steve pushed at the inside of his mouth with his tongue so a lump of wiry hair bristled on his face.

“Just been waiting for the right one. And he’s better looking than yours.”

Everyone laughed and Andrew tried to cool the warmth he felt with another swallow of beer.

Gabe shook his head. “You can’t eat the horns anyway. But that first one’s something special.”

Clint pointed to the truck with his beer. “Well, if you got one of your own, let’s see him.”

Andrew used his thumb and forefinger to twist the hasp on the bed cap then dropped the tailgate. He squinted into the dark and reached in. A soft hiss of fur against the bed liner as he pulled the body out.

“Nice rack on him. Eight points?” asked Steve.

“Nine,” said Andrew.

The memory came to Andrew in frantic, urgent flashes. The deer peeking out behind the scrub. The tremors in his chest. Trying to stifle his heaving breaths. The jolt of his rifle. Thrusting one fist into the air and choking back a yell of triumph when the buck rolled onto its back. Feeling a warm amazement wash over him at the softness of its fur.

Clint took the antlers in one hand and lifted the head to examine it.

His thumb ticked against a chip in one antler. He turned a smile to Gabe.

“Recognize this?”

Gabe squinted and stepped closer. “Well shit. You got the slut buck.”

“The what?”

Clint clapped Andrew on the shoulder. “The slut buck. He makes his rounds and goes home with a new guy every so often.”

Gabe pointed at the chip in the antlers. “He would’ve been my first if I hadn’t been so goddamn nervous. I was shaking so bad I fired off a shot before I should have. The bullet nicked his antlers and spooked him off. Got him about five years later, though. Got this exact rack hanging up on my wall.”

“My cousin got him a few years back up in New Hampshire with a bow,” said Steve.

Gabe took the antlers in both hands appreciatively, nostalgia in his voice. “They say he’s been around since before the Indians. Gets laid out and taken home by somebody, then shows up again later. But I haven’t seen him in a few years.”

“I killed a buck that’s been killed before?”

Clint chuckled. “He just doesn’t like to settle down.”

Gabe lifted his beer from the tailgate, motioned cheers to Andrew and drank. “He’s good eatin’. Trust me. I know.”

Andrew looked back to the deer. It lay on its back with its belly open and legs splayed wide.

Steve stepped in close and pulled the deer sideways on the tailgate.

“Let’s get him hung up in the shed,” he said.

Andrew swallowed and took one hind leg in each hand. They carried the swaying body between them. Steve said, “Don’t worry about it, pal. It’s still a hell of a kill.”

“Yeah,” said Andrew.


 

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