( MS )
Years before, he had made the discovery. Now the knowledge gave him the ability to access the Caney Creek Wilderness at places other than the trail heads on the East and West sides.
The secret was the old logging railroad’s tram lines. The rails and ties had long been removed but the railbed remained in many places. Damaged by flooding, blowdowns and overgrowth, yet the tram lines were a good travel route.
Not comfortable “road trip” travel but instead,”huntin’ Mule” travel. Sometimes climbing steeply, sometimes not so steep, but always up, up towards the “saddle” of Porter Mountain.
Daylight was just a promise, yet unkept, when he slid the old Winchester into the scabbard, tightened the girt and swung up into the saddle.
They moved up the old tram line at a brisk pace, accompanied by the sounds of an occasional limb sliding over a stirrip or the gentle click of a hoof on a rock.
As the sunrise that pre dawn had promised arrived, he could see in the distance, the dim outline of the saddle they were journeying toward.
Leaning forward beside the mules neck while they passed under a large limb, he quietly said, “easy boy, the steepest part is yet to come”.
The black gelding mule knew the route for he had been here many times before. He also knew that when he got to the deer stand high up on the side of Porter mountain there would be a small treat for him, then a quick rub down and unsaddling.
A large white oak had fallen across the tramway causing a detour out onto the steep rock strewn mountainside.
When they stepped out onto the loose rock, a small stone rolled noisily down the mountainside.
That is when he saw the movement, way up ahead, on the trail. A soft “whoa” froze the mule in his tracks, as he silently pulled the binoculars from the saddle horn pouch.
A careful look revealed nothing. They moved from the loose rock back onto the trail. Travel was quieter there on the trail as they resumed their pace. Now they both watched up the trail for movement. Before they saw the movement, the mule flared his nostrils slightly, blowing gently. The mule had been at this for long enough to know that the smell of a deer usually meant a loud report of the Winchester followed by packing a deer out to the truck. They were both anxious.
Light was improving rapidly and they could see further up the steep trail. That is when they saw the movement again.
No “whoa” was needed this time. The mule froze in place. The binoculars revealed that it was a wide seven point buck. He was looking back over his shoulder down the trail toward them. The mule’s ears were pointed towards the buck like a radar antenna, his focus was unflinchingly on the deer ahead.
That’s when he remembered. His wife had said as he went out of the door, “I don’t want to hear a “trophy hunt” story when you get back, we need the meat in the freezer”.
The buck was presenting a low percentage shot that he was reluctant to take. Without a word he gently nudged the mule forward, slowly closing the distance. The buck’s tail, now plainly visible, though tucked tightly, twitched a bit. The buck moved slightly ahead and turned sideways for a better look.
When the binoculars were put away they had been replaced with the old Winchester 30-30. It had been laying in the crook of his arm. As he reigned the mule a step to the right and a bit sideways, he brought the rifle to bear on the buck. The mule “kind of tightened up all over” in anticipation of the shot that he knew was coming.
Gently, smoothly, he pulled the trigger. He was thinking, ” he ain’t no “wall hanger”, but he will sure fill up that “empty” in the freezer”.
As the buck went down he felt that age old hunters satisfaction, knowing that he had made the proper shot placement, insuring a quick humane harvest of the deer.
Stepping from the saddle he tied the mule quickly to a nearby tree, approaching the deer carefully. Satisfied that the bullet had done it’s work, he returned the rifle to the scabbard and retrieved a rope from the saddle. After placing his “tag” on the antlers and making a quick “dally” around the deers hocks, he used the mule to pull the deer to a more level place to work. When he was tied, the mule seemed to snort a reminder to him that said, “hey did you forget my treat ?” ” I did good too !”