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The Beast by Mark Scheeren

Not every tracker begins his whitetail tracking career the conventional way. I didn’t have a dad or a hunting mentor that was willing to spend the time to teach me the outdoor skills necessary to become a proper woodsman. Consequently, my outdoor activities tended to be less organized than the average kid who spent his days in the wilds. My outdoor antics almost always included my partner in crime, best friend and schoolmate, Bob. We honed our hunting skills on cheap hand-me-down fiberglass bows and bb guns. And when they fell apart from relentless use we had no trouble resorting back to more primitive means if necessary. At these younger ages we focused on small game, so a stick, a rock, a wrist rocket (that’s the fancy name for a slingshot) or some other homemade tool of the hunting trade that we concocted in my Dad’s garage would suffice; it didn’t really matter. We just wanted to hunt, and since I wasn’t allowed to handle a real centerfire rifle in the woods by myself until I was thirteen (the Scheeren family unwritten rule), the more primitive tools were our stock in trade. That all changed when we saw The Beast.

The Inaugural Deer Hunt and The Beast

It was late November 1982, I was 12 years old. Bob and I got off the bus from school at my house as we had hundreds of times before. But this day was different. We were too young to hunt deer legally at that point obviously, but that wouldn’t stop us from making the decision to make a genuine go at it nonetheless. It was time to kill some big game, no more dead squirrels and rabbits; we were going deer hunting like the big boys. Like I said, by this point we were getting tired of the plastic Kmart bows and homemade contraptions, and we knew we needed something with real punch to hunt the more robust quarry. For months prior we had been eyeing an old handmade crossbow that hung in my Dad’s garage like a vampire. The contraption was better than anything Bob and I were able to cob together at that point; and so it called to us like so many of our “garage projects” had before. During those dangerous and volatile times, my Dad would constantly complain, “Every time I see you and Bob go in that garage I know there’s going to be trouble. Nothing good ever comes of it! Either the police show up, we make a visit to the emergency room, or something gets blown up when you guys start playing with your damn fireworks! It’s never good!” History would prove to validate that statement many times over; Bob and I together were what a match is to gasoline…but I digress.

The crossbow was a marvel of engineering. Bob and I called it “the Beast.” My step brother had built The Beast and now it lived in our garage, a constant temptation to Bob and I as we worked on our other “projects.” To us it looked like something out of Camelot…or the Road Warrior, or wherever really cool hunting things were conceived and hatched. We had already sampled its power on days when my father and older brothers weren’t around, and it never lacked in its ability to amaze our young impressionable minds. It shot bolts like lightening itself and this fact alone immediately conjured up images of a future and inevitable covert whitetail hunt, with The Beast at the helm. That day had finally arrived, the temptation too great, and our destiny with The Beast was now forged solid. We took it down from its lair and began preparing for our inaugural big game hunt.

At close inspection The Beast was constructed of a one piece rough hewn hardwood stock, (that constantly gave you slivers – which just added to the mystique) with a long aluminum channel inletted along the length of the top of the stock for the bolt to slide down. The trigger was a simple piece of lengthened thin square steel with a cocking device that held the metal cable in its cocked and ready to fire position. Yup, you heard right, a metal cable – no string on this here piece of precision hardware! The cable was necessary to hold the stretched modified truck leaf spring that acted as the bow itself. There were no compound pulleys and the like either – it was a very Spartan design. You don’t need those sort of ancillary things when the bow you’re using once moonlighted as the suspension in a Ford F350 Super Duty.

Over the prior two months whenever we were in the clear, we would sneak a shot in the back yard. We quickly learned that it took both of us and the use of a steel pipe as a lever to cock the unruly monster. It was just dumb luck that when we fired the first experimental bolts that they didn’t fully explode in our faces. But that risk was soooo worth it because my God did they fly! We quickly found that accuracy wasn’t high on the priority list when my brother engineered it. It didn’t balance well either. Heck we weren’t even sure if it was going to stay together when we released the makeshift jimmy-rigged trigger. It was downright dangerous. Based on these attributes our analysis brought us to the obvious conclusion that this was the absolute, 100 percent, perfect weapon for our inaugural covert whitetail hunt. Of course no one could know of this venture or we would be laid to rest by the backs of our respective Dad’s hands.

We didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of time that special November afternoon. By the time we got off the bus, scoped out the house to make sure my Dad was still at work, got The Beast cocked and ready, it was already starting to get late. So, in our typical safety-first attitude, we ran as fast as we could into the deep woods with the cocked and loaded weapon in hand making sure we were prepared should any opportunity strike. It had started snowing, it was the kind of snow that made for clear tracks; heavy, wet, and damn slippery. We were prepared for a long hunt adorned in our tracking attire: denim jackets, our “good” school clothes (no time to change into our “play” clothes), mullets, and of course our hi-top Converse Chuck Taylors.

For this first hunt I got to carry The Beast myself since it came from my garage and I was taking the most risk. Bob and I separated when we got closer to our neighbor’s corn fields. These were lands we knew like the backs of our Dad’s hands. He took the trail further down by the far corner of Czub’s field, while I caught some doe tracks headed to the middle section of the field closer to the road. The tracks meandered through the white pines, past the ping-pong table lean-to my brother and I set up a year earlier, and then I saw a bigger track join the doe tracks I was already following. It was a big buck’s tracks. My heart pounded in anticipation of what lie ahead. Being that I was in hunt mode, I stared straight down at those tracks like a magnet on metal. I don’t think I looked up once. I was so amazed and entranced by these fresh cut tracks that it was by some force of miracle that I didn’t trip and shoot the bolt straight through my Chuck Taylors and the frozen wet stumps of pale numb flesh that were in them.

Being that the hunt was on, I began running - I was so damn excited! Finger on the trigger, jamming myself through the brush, I was going to be ready. I was literally the poster child for the “what not to do while hunting” video at the local hunter safety course.

In full sprint I exploded out of the woods and into the cut corn field, hot on the track. And when I finally took a moment to actually look around, I realized I was standing in front of a beautiful, mature, symmetrical eight pointer. He wasn’t more than thirty feet away. Time stood still and all I could hear between my gasps for breath was the peaceful hiss of the snow falling. I was so unprepared and shocked that I just stood there shivering. My brain raced, then it hit me - “Oh yeah, shoot the bastard!” I pulled The Beast up to my shoulder looked down the bolt, put the imaginary sights on the buck’s chest and then, out of thin air, I thought of my Dad.

I kid you not, that was my first thought. Here I was, buck right there, and I’m freaking out thinking about my father’s fury should he find out about my soon to be dead, but illegal, whitetail. Damn it! Next thought: What am I going to do with the carcass and how will I hide it – this was no squirrel. Dad will beat my behind raw if I drag home a dead buck with no tag. Eventually I just knew he would find out I killed this buck with The Beast, and I would never be let out of the house again. As I contemplated my future torture and imprisonment, the buck and I did a stare down. He won – deer rarely blink when they are staring at a soaked 12 year old in denim and Chuck Taylors. I pulled the crossbow down off my shoulder and searched my mind for what to do next. I knew instantly.

I absolutely needed to prove to Bob that I had skills and stealth to have tracked down this buck! So I ran the ten yards back into the brush, making sure to be thoroughly out of sight from this wary buck, and proceeded to scream as loud as I could to Bob to “Come here! You gotta see this buck!” Just to check to make sure the buck didn’t go anywhere I ran back out into the field. Yup, he was still there…staring…still not blinking. One more yell to Bob from the field’s edge to make sure he was indeed coming was that one straw too many as they say; the buck tore off for places unknown.

Bob came running up with the same intensity that I had just moments before. Once together again, we ran after that buck like two stalking wolves after a sick caribou. Bob caught a glimpse of the buck’s back end running down the valley to the Mill Hollow Brook and was thrilled to death to have seen him. I too shared in his elation. We would always remember that deer as the first successful tracking job we did together.

Bob and I were close enough that I could tell him of my fears of my Dad and why I didn’t shoot. He understood, he was good that way. His home life wasn’t the model of stability either, so he got my trepidation. The lack of a trophy was the price we paid for having fathers who by their very presence made us terrified (by the way, that concept of terror when translated in German – my Dad’s homeland - means “love”).

When we got close to the house it was dark. We needed to sneak The Beast back to its vampire lair in the garage rafters. Being sneaky about it would ensure that my German dad wouldn’t have to express his love. But we needed to unload it first for safety sake. And so we unloaded the weapon in the usual efficient fashion; by firing it. Of course it was usually day time when we did that, so we were even more amazed by the sounds that came after I pulled the hair trigger and let loose The Beast’s shrieking fury. You see, in the pitch dark your sense of hearing is extraordinary, especially after a long calm hunt in the placid forest as we had just experienced. So the bolt’s release gave great auditory sensations with sounds akin to an F15 Eagle unknowingly slamming into the side of a pine covered mountainside. Where the bolt actually went and landed was anyone’s guess, but we were safe and that’s all that mattered.

We did successfully return The Beast to its hiding place, and then went inside to catch dinner, acting as if all was normal. When we got to the kitchen, we were quite surprised to bump into my Dad. He was home earlier than usual. There was a tense moment as he looked at both Bob and I in our soaked and muddy clothes. He then gave a stern look. He was about to say something, turned and stared out the window at the garage door and then just shook his head. There was another tense few seconds as we awaited his wrath, but it didn’t come, he didn’t say a word. Bob and I felt intense relief wash over us; ha, we had outsmarted the ole’ lion. It was the perfect way to end our inaugural whitetail hunt as we snickered to ourselves quietly, feeling proud of our secret expedition and our now vindicated skills as true big game hunters. This assured there would be more hunts, oh yes…many more.

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