Richard Aldinger had never seen his father fire a gun. In fact, the only real firearm in their house—until just a few years ago when his father purchased the handgun he eventually used to kill himself—was an ancient single-shot 16-gauge shotgun once owned by Richard’s great-grandfather. It was a useless relic with rusted hinges and spider webs clogging the barrel. His father, by all accounts, had been a woodsman and an excellent hunter in his youth, and on the wall of his study hung several plaques declaring him All-Service Champion Sharpshooter with a .45. After his tour in Vietnam, though, it took him more than twenty years to even think about stepping into a tree line. Then one day he came home with three shotguns and a box full of .58 caliber sabot slugs. It was high time, past high time, he said, to teach his boys a thing or two. A few days later they were climbing a ridge on the old Aldinger family property.
Richard’s brother set up a couple hundred yards below the crown of the ridge, while Richard posted up dead center at the top. His father said he would take the left flank. His instructions were to find a tree to prop up against and keep their faces to the wind. Then he stalked off down the ridge.
Richard studied his father’s back as he walked away, looking for any signs of trouble. He had been on edge since leaving the truck, expecting at any moment that his father would break down with some kind of super-delayed post-traumatic stress episode. But it never happened. What did happen: not long after his father had gone, Richard was struck with an unavoidable urge to piss and left his post. After all, his father had set him up in the perfect place with a view of the whole valley below him, and he did not want to relieve himself in the same spot he was going to have to stand on for the next few hours.
So, he Daniel Booned his way down the ridge about thirty or forty yards, emptied his bladder and, after buttoning his fly and heading back up the ridge, he looked up to see what he thought, on quick glance, to be an eight-point buck standing right where he had been stationed only moments before. Its fur was tinted the most extraordinarily vibrant reddish-brown he had ever seen. He wished it would have stayed there staring at him, judging him, forever—he did not care—as long as he could go on admiring it. But the buck’s fascination with him was not reciprocated. It bounded over the crest of the ridge, before he could even think about raising his gun, and disappeared without a sound—like the clouds of breath it had snorted from its nostrils, its dismissal of him dissipated into the crisp fall air.