Archive for December, 2022

King for a Day

Monday, December 12th, 2022

 (Circa 2004) It was a bright, sunny fall day as we made our way down Rt. 7 along the Ohio River. Although it was 80 degrees, we were giddy with hopes and expectations of what might happen in the coming days. Being early November, we knew bucks would be on their feet in the daylight and looking for does, even if the heat hung around. 

  As the day ventured into midafternoon, everyone began getting hungry. Without many dining establishments to choose from, we decided to stop at a Burger King in one of the depressed coal towns along the river. The blackened houses, sidewalks and street signs cast long, dreary shadows, and there was an uneasiness that couldn’t be avoided as two young men, one wearing a white wife beater and the other in a torn red-and-black checkered flannel, sat at a picnic table outside the establishment and passed a cigarette back and forth.  

  We made quick work of our lunch and got back on the road. A few miles down the road, Doug broke out the Burger King crown that had come with his meal. He put it on his head, and we all shared deep belly laughs… Doug would be the new king. 

                                                                    The Hunt

    As the days wore on, we had some encounters and punched a few tags, but Doug was still in search of a good set of antlers. Looking in the back seat, he spotted the crown and threw it on his head. He exclaimed, “Today is my day. I’m going to be the king.”

   After a few minutes, he headed into the woods at the end of a dead-end road with a school bus turnaround at it. The locals had put posted signs along the parking area, but we knew the land was open to the public. 

  Doug threw his stand on his back and began making his way through a maze of rose briars along an old logging road. After breaking out of heavy brush and thick pines, he found himself on a hardwood ridge with oaks that were raining acorns. He quickly picked a tree and climbed it. He would be able to see a runway that ran along the side of the hill and another one that came down a finger and crossed the gut in front of him.     

   A few hours into his sit, he sent an arrow through a beautiful 8-pointer. The king had spoken. He was the ruler of the kingdom… and the tradition came to life: wear the crown and become the king for a day.

  Unable to fill my tag that week, I decided to return to Ohio for the first two days of gun season in early December. While rushing around in the motel room and packing the truck, I noticed the crown in the backseat. 

  I grabbed it and placed it on my head. I smiled at Dad and said, “Today is my day. I’m going to be the king.” 

  We laughed and Dad said, “C’mon, do you really think that thing has another day of magic in it?”

  “I most certainly do think that. Do you want to wear it? We can double up,” I snickered.

  A few hours later, gunfire starting echoing off the southern Ohio hills, and I was wishing I had brought an armored suit for protection. Then, a stick snapped and three does appeared on the hill in front of me and began trotting down the hill. Watching them, I heard a buck grunt. Within seconds, he was hot on their trail with two things on his mind: escaping hunters and finding a lady to breed.

  I shouldered the gun, found his front shoulder in the scope and fired. Stumbling, he continued following the does, and I quickly sent two more slugs in his direction. Seconds later, I was standing above the giant 10-pointer that many locals had named Bullwinkle… the crown had produced a new king, and I got my first taste of what it felt like to be the king for a day. 

                                                                    Twenty Years Later

 The tradition has become a staple of our hunting excursions since that day in the early 2000s, and occasionally, a new cat comes into the fold to try its luck at jumping from peasantry to royalty. Well, that happened this year. 

  Shortly after returning from the Midwest this year, I headed to camp. Sitting at the kitchen table, I glanced at the crown hanging above the sink. A few minutes later, I took it off the nail from which it was hanging and placed it gently on my head.

  I looked at Brian and Dad and said, “Today’s the day.”

  They both rolled their eyes and laughed… but I believed. I believed in the power of the crown, and I believed I was going to kill a buck later that day. 

  As I trudged through the darkness to get into an area where I thought deer would be moving at daylight, I thought of all the great times I’ve experienced after wearing the crown for a couple of minutes. I killed a high-tined 10-pointer one year after we almost killed ourselves on icy roads one morning. I killed a thick beamed 10 that had bladed tines another year. Then, another year, I put an arrow through a giant buck after passing him up for having a couple of broken tines before changing my mind and making good on the shot. The crown had brought me luck on more than one occasion. Would this morning me another one of those mornings? I made sure I didn’t wear it too long the night before. I just had it on long enough to let the aura of the crown soak into my body.

  When the woods began getting gray, I slowed down and poked my way through the thick beech-whips. I could smell a buck’s hocks, so I knew he was nearby – or had he already passed through and made his way to the next mountain or swamp?

  While tiptoeing through the thick cover, my gut told me to stay focused. Scanning to the left, then to the right, I tried making a deer appear. After a few minutes, the woods lightened up, and I became more relaxed and settled into my surroundings, blending in with the trees around me. Continuing my journey through the area, I took three steps and stopped, five steps and stopped. I knew I would walk up on something if I remained in the moment and paid attention. 

 Forty-five minutes later, I got a look at something moving. What first looked like a branch moving on one of the small beech trees suddenly became an antler on a big buck. With his head down and nose on the ground, the gladiator had no clue I was in his arena.

  Seconds later, the gunshot echoed off the surrounding mountains, and the buck fell in his tracks. He never knew what hit him. Although kings feel superior when they grasp victory, sadness quickly found its way into my core. 

  I reached down and ran my hand along his wet hide as the beautiful white snow quickly became stained in red. He had been the king of his kingdom a few minutes earlier, but I had quietly gotten past all his guards and crossed the moat. I killed him in his palace. Now, I could be the king again, if only for a day. 

                                                                         The New King

  Unlike many years, my kingship only lasted a few days, but I was a hero throughout the countryside. My fellow peasants shared meals and told stories. I thoroughly enjoyed the festivities. Then, Caleb Gates, the new prince of bucks, showed up at camp. He escaped his own kingdom, where he and his children had been battling sickness on and off for the last month. Finally, he felt well enough to try his hand in the big woods. Even if he didn’t get anything, he would be able to get some fresh air and escape into another kingdom that so few others ever get to experience. 

  The night before the hunt, my father took the crown down and put it on his head. He left it on while he cooked and ate dinner, finally taking it off before sitting in front of the wood stove. He was ready to become the king. 

  The next morning, everyone scurried around while getting ready. The joking revolved around the crown and people started making a mockery out of it, including my cousin Kyle. However, Caleb stayed in the back and didn’t say a word. 

  When he was ready to leave for the day, he turned around and said, “Let me put that thing on.”

The crown was on and off his head in less than a minute. Watching the events unfold, I knew the luck of the crown would be on his side. After all, he didn’t make a big deal of it, and he put it on and took it off to enter a buck’s kingdom… or invite one into his own. He knew the power of the crown and didn’t neglect what it had to offer.

  Shortly after daylight, a deer began sneaking down the hill behind Caleb. Handcuffed, Caleb couldn’t turn around to shoulder the gun and prepare himself for a shot. Straining his eyes to look behind the tree at the oncoming deer, he could see that it had a rack. Then, the deer stopped.

  As the wind hit him in the face, Caleb knew the buck was going to bolt, but he didn’t know things would develop so quickly. After the deer’s first few bounds, Caleb jumped up and spun around. In the chaos, the deer stopped in some thick cover. Wasting no time, Caleb centered his aim. A thunderous roar echoed through the forest, and the creatures inhabiting it knew a new king had been crowned. 

  Standing above the fallen deer, Caleb smiled. In the short time he had known about the crown, he never imagined he would become the king so quickly after wearing it for the first time. Unlike Wags, the pauper who disrespected the crown, Caleb relished in the opportunity to wear it. 

  The rest of the season passed quickly, and Caleb remained the ruler of the kingdom. His kingship will last at least until next hunting season. Long live the king and the power of the crown.