Late one night while drinking camp beverages at the card table, the crazy hunting stories began. Passing the time until some of the other guys told their wild stories while the cards were being reshuffled, snack trays reloaded, and poker chips restacked; I waited for the quiet pause after the cards were dealt to methodically lay out my own story.
With the opening day deer season fast approaching; Greg had decided to ask his mother to take the day off school.
“That’s fine by me.” Greg’s mother, Loretta, said. “After all, every male in the county old enough to hunt will be taking the day off school or work.” She paused taking a drag off her eternally lit cigarette. “Putting meat into the freezer for the winter is our culture.” His mother finished in her matter of fact demeanor.
Greg was just happy taking a day off of classes to hunt, and get his chores done before to late at night. Greg’s mom was proprietor of their small farm, and being the only male of the house meant he took on most of the heavy chores. He did not mind the work a bit, because it helped condition him for football season, and with his sophomore year behind him, he knew that he would be called up to the varsity squad in1986 if he kept his edge.
He woke in the morning to a big breakfast. His mother had gotten up extra early to cook. Something she rarely did because her work shift at the factory started so early. Since he was going out to provide meat for the family, she wanted to make him feel extra special, and cook him a hunter’s breakfast. As Greg ate his fill, Loretta reminded him of the pot of chili she made the day before that he could warm up for him lunch. “Just put a scoop or two of chili in the pot and place it on the stove to simmer.” She reminded him. He nodded in understanding as he shoved another fork full of biscuit smothered with gravy into his mouth.
Finishing breakfast, he put on his gear and began to head out the door to the blind he had built over the summer months with his buddies. His mother stopped him to bid him good hunting, and reminded him to be safe.
“Watch out for those city folks at that camp down the road. She glared at him. They will shoot at anything.” She kissed him on the cheek as he went off into the darkness toward the wood line out behind their cow pasture. As he neared the barbed wire fence, one of the young bulls from the herd began to follow him.
“Morning, Merle.” Greg said to his bovine friend. Then, making a move toward the fence, he stopped, reached into his pocket and pulled out a couple sugar cubes. He then slipped his hand over the fence for Merle, who used his long tongue to gently scoop them out of the palm of his hand. It was an old game they had played since Merle was a young calf and had just come to the farm.
When the calf first arrived to the farm it had become Greg’s job to feed the calf a combination of powdered milk water and vitamins twice a day, but Greg quickly began taking treats to his new friend who just as quickly learned to anticipate them with every visit. Greg would laugh, and rub Merle’s large forehead between his eyes.
It was only after a couple days of the feeding routine that Greg ran to his mother saying that he had named the young bull and how happy he was that Merle was a guest at the farm. Loretta could feel pangs of guilt, and kicked herself for not mentioning to her son that farm animals were not to be named. It made for certain difficulties later on. She made a mental note to have a conversation with her son about how farm life works later on. 3 years later, and the conversation had not yet taken place.
Greg got situated in the blind and settled in, while listening to the sounds of the morning. Then, as light began to brighten his surroundings, gunfire began to erupt along the countryside. It seemed as though there was a gunshot every minute or two. He was keeping a mental checklist of where all his neighbors and friends hunting blinds were, trying to figure out who was getting their deer. The gunshots continued for the rest of the morning, some quite nearby; with the only signs of wild game near him being those rustlings of a hungry squirrel searching in the dead fallen leaves looking for treats left behind, and little birds flitting about from branch to branch looking for a meal, or someone to talk to.
Checking his watch, and seeing the time was near ten, Greg knew the deer would begin hiding out, waiting for the setting sun before feeding again. Pausing to listen for any hint of an approaching deer, and hearing none; Greg decided to head to the house for a spell, and perhaps make some lunch while waiting for the sun to set. He flinched when three shots rang out in quick succession on the other side of the pasture. He thought his neighbor’s blind was on the other side of the road. He shrugged it off, knowing that hunters sometimes build multiple blinds.
Once in the house, he turned on the television and was warming up the chili, when suddenly a knock came at the door. Odd, he thought to himself. All the friends and relatives he knew just walked in and made them selves at home. He opened the door to see a stranger all decked out in blaze orange who seemed quite agitated. He could not help but notice the creases in the hunting clothes, indicating that they had just been taken out of the wrapper only this morning. Greg looked at the man quizzically, and then asked, “Can I help you?”
“Yes, can I use your phone? I have to call the police.” The stranger said.
“I am sorry,” Greg answered honestly. “But we do not have a phone.”
His mother found phones to be nothing more than a nuisance, and refused to have one.
“If anyone has anything they needed to say to me, they can just come over and say it to my face over a cup of coffee.” She would say in response whenever the phone question came up.
The stranger seemed perplexed at the notion of anyone not having a phone in the house, but snapped out of it quickly when Greg spoke up.
“Is everything okay? Is anyone hurt?” Greg asked the stranger with concern, remembering what his mother had said after breakfast.
“This is unbelievable.” The man said. “I have never seen anything like this before.” He continued. “I need to get in touch with the newspapers; I think I have just discovered a new species of deer.”
“What?” Greg said in confusion.
“Come with me, and I will show you something totally weird.” The man said.
Sensing trouble, Greg grabbed his shotgun from behind the door, put a couple slugs in the chamber and said,
“Okay, let’s go.”
It seemed strange to Greg that he would be so willing to go with a stranger, but since he was armed with a weapon of his own he felt the odds were even.
The man was rambling about specie types of deer or some such non-sense as they pulled out of the farms driveway and began a slow trip down the road parallel to their pastureland when the truck began to slow up for the driveway leading along the back of the farms pasture.
Greg eyebrows began to furrow in concern when the truck stopped and the driver got out, waving his hands with animation in the direction of the fence. Greg unloaded is shotgun and leaned it against the wooden fence post, crossing the barbed wire fence and stepping into the pasture near the man as he pointed down to the animal in question, and heard the man as he asked,
“Have you ever seen anything like this before? I mean a black and white deer? I will be in all the paper’s, and magazines when they see this creature. And this is my first year hunting.”
“Yes.” Greg answered sadly. “It’s Merle.”
“Oh, My goodness” the man exclaimed, as if he had just won the lottery,
“I shot a Merle!” The man paused for a moment, his eyes shifting left and right, thinking about what a Merle truly was.
“Say, is this one of those creatures they have been trying to capture to show that they actually exist like Nessie, or Sasquatch?”
Greg looked at the hunter with a confused look.
“Because if that’s the case, then this will be huge news,” the hunter said.
Then the hunter said more to himself than Greg.
“It took three shots to bring down the local legend.” He spoke these words with haughty bravado, as if he just shot the state record buck. “Three shot to bring down, ‘The Merle’.” He said with a flourish with his hands.
“Yes, Sir,” Greg agreed mockingly. “Three shots to bring down my bull.”
At this, the hushed camp erupted into raucous laughter as they all raised their drinks and sang out in unison, “Three shots for Merle!”