Clear Conscience

This article was first published in the June 2019 issue of North American Whitetail magazine.

I found the right side of his rack in his bedroom. Situated on a southwest facing slope, allowing him to soak up as much of the afternoon sun as possible, the buck lounged under a Spanish style roof of thick sumac, bright and brilliant blood red. A near impenetrable mass of stunted salt cedar stood as his back privacy fence.

His left side was lying in what must’ve been his pantry, a swath of switch grass, dropped as he nosed through fallen leaves looking for a late afternoon snack. I didn’t find it till the following spring, long after the sun had bleached away its color and the squirrels had gnawed away the tips of its tines. But I knew the buck it belonged to before I even picked it up. There was no doubt about matching this set.

I’d seen him wearing this particular pair of antlers with my own eyes. Late November of the previous year, I’d dropped my brother off at a blind and was driving back to park near my own stand when the buck crossed the two-track in front of me. He wasn’t in any hurry so I had plenty of time to admire his headgear. What he lacked then in width and mass he more than made up for in height and tine length. Another year’s antler growth, and this buck was going to be a beauty.

The minute I picked up that second shed antler, a plan was hatched. Every time I climbed a tree that fall, those shed antlers would be nestled in my backpack. Every time I sat a stand, they’d be crashed together, waiting for the day the buck decided he’d heard enough and came over to investigate.

The more I plotted, though, the more I wondered. Could a buck really be rattled in with his own sheds? Might the clatter of those antlers sound familiar? Would the buck be able to recognize his own DNA? Like Haman’s Gallows, would this whitetail actually have a hand in his own demise? And then came another more pressing question for my conscience. Was rattling a buck in with his own antlers even an ethical tactic to attempt? I didn’t debate the morality of that dilemma very long before I decided I’d give it a try, ethical or not.

October came and went without a sighting of the buck. I rattled a time or two every sit, but I didn’t have much faith in it. Evidently, neither did the deer I was calling to. Early November, though, saw a change in their attitudes. I rattled in two bucks that first week, but neither of them had any business being there. Both were bringing knives to a gunfight, so to speak, as their main beams wouldn’t even qualify as brow tines on a big buck. It wouldn’t be long, though, before those mature bucks would be answering the call.

I started slowly that fateful morning, just tinkling tips together. After a few minutes though, I was crashing those antlers against one another with such force that I wondered if they’d shatter. I was raring back for another collision when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. There the buck stood, hardy and heavy, with a confused look on his face. And was that a hint of recognition in his eye? Regrettably, we’ll never know for sure because what I thought might’ve been a hint of recognition winked out the second my trigger broke.

Turns out, my conscience was completely clear.

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