by Samuel Schurkamp
Runestone, volume 3
Uncle Buck took up deer hunting within days of the accident that killed his wife. Sally and I had been calling him Uncle Buck ever since we met him— she was old enough to know the mounted deer on his wall didn’t at all match with the already-tacky floral wallpaper, and I was young enough to believe him when he said that it would bite me if I tried to pet it. I guess I never really wondered why he didn’t want to be Uncle Robert, and it didn’t matter to me back then— he had a buck, so he was Uncle Buck.
Maybe it was a need to feel power, maybe it was some convoluted sense of revenge, or maybe he realized that he had a deep-seated hatred for anything remotely cervine, but Uncle Buck took to deer hunting with the fervor of a man whose doctor told him he’d die if he didn’t eat venison with every meal. Over thirty years later and I still have yet to find a single picture of him after our aunt’s death where he isn’t wearing his weathered Stormy Kromer hat and some piece of hunter’s-orange clothing. When the Department of Natural Resources came to the public saying that the deer were overpopulating Big Rapids and they opened the season two months early, it took Uncle Buck four days before they issued another statement saying don’t worry, everything is fine now. Four days.
I visited him every Friday when school got out, and never once did he serve anything but venison soup. He would tell me that he was allergic to duck and that to kill a turkey was to put bullets in a rotten tire, and I’d never believe him but he’d wave his hands in front of his nose as if erasing a bad smell or a memory, and then we’d go out and he’d give me shooting lessons until we heard Mom’s Ford pull into the driveway.
“No, Woody, no,” he’d say. “You’re doing this all wrong.” Then he’d grab the gun, say something about how “You’ve got to look it right down the middle.” Then, steel-eyed, he would blast the decoy as if it had kissed his sister.
I only saw him kill a deer once. Mom was always nervous about me going with Uncle Buck on a hunt, but something about the way he looked when it was him asking her instead of me, made her give in. So, on a cold October morning before the sun caught up with us, we stalked through a mile of deer run before we hit his old foxhole. He unceremoniously dumped his pack in the corner, pulled out a deer call, and began blowing it with wild, deliberate intensity. It reminded me of the newspaper clippings I’d read of Louis Armstrong playing his trumpet. Within minutes, the graceful gait of a young deer could be seen tiptoeing towards us.
It was a scrawny young thing, with one antler missing and another looking like it was about to snap off. It’d be wrong to call it a fawn, but you couldn’t blame anybody if they did. I looked at Uncle Buck. The hint of a smile— no, a smirk— poked out the corner of his mouth. He stopped the deer call and went to get a gun.
He wanted me to kill it. He loaded his favorite deer rifle, the one with the butt visibly worn from time spent cradled in his shoulder and placed it in arms that were too small for it. I positioned myself exactly like I had been taught, looked deadeye down the center, aimed right behind the heart, and hit the safety. My arms shook. My vision was blurry. I stayed like this for several breaths, paralyzed. I watched the deer pace along the edge of the forest, silhouetted by morning sunlight.
“Go on, now,” he whispered. “Goddammit son, go on with it.”
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it, and he knew it. He seized the gun from me, thrust the rifle into the shoulder it knew all too well, and with one twitch of the finger sent an almighty crack splicing through the silent woods. The deer didn’t know what hit it; it was dead before its body limped to the earth.
“You’re doing this all wrong,” we both said.
Loyola University Chicago
Sam Schurkamp is a senior double majoring in environmental science and English/creative writing. A budding ecologist, he writes poetry that tries to make sense of and find solace in the natural world and its uncertain relationship with humanity. This is his first creative publication.