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visit, but now he waits until Brilliant Mary is looking away and fires his 7mm magnum
into the base of her spine. The old gal crumples as if struck by instant narcolepsy. He
wonders softly if her twitching is reflexive, shoots again, and she goes still. Next he fixes
a strap around her neck, Greg and Cody hold her horns up, and they tow the cow be-
hind the truck several hundred yards into the brush. Then David saws off the head so
as to save her skull. We've watched two suffering mammals dispatched within twenty-
four hours, plus Greg's buck, all killed respectfully and without fanfare. After eggs with
venison chorizo, tortillas, and coffee, we make a fast trip to town for food pellets with
which to bribe the cattle into a corral tomorrow.
As our first day at the ranch rolls on I'm increasingly attuned to the songs of insects
and birds, hoping it'll warm up enough for Strecker's chorus frogs to begin calling. By
3:45 p.m. I'm in a ground blind constructed earlier this afternoon out of old boards
among a few scruffy oaks, closer to Lower Pond than its namesake tree stand and
within shooting range for me and the Winchester. A doe flushed into woodland above the
pond's far shore while I was walking down here, and now I wonder if there are others in
the vicinity. After an hour, a great blue heron alights and hunts the shallows—pausing,
peering, moving—as if to underscore the afternoon's ironic tranquillity with a question
or two. Can I be as effective as the natural-born killers who have long held my interest,
let alone carry out the task with equal grace? I scan for deer and marvel over the lush,
gray-green lichens that coat the ubiquitous oaks.
At 5:40 there's tan movement on the distant hillside that might be a bobcat, but
through binoculars I see a doe bend to nibble, take a few steps, feed again, and walk
slowly to the pond's dam, where she stops and looks toward me. Next she drops be-
low the earthworks and moves a bit faster, parallel to and below them, disappearing
in vegetation at the near end to my left. I raise the rifle and pull the hammer to full
cock, then assume a comfortable rest position against a tree limb. My body feels tight
all over, and I silently affirm this won't be my only chance; I must breathe correctly and
never make a bad shot, even if that means not taking one. Within a minute the deer
walks along the shoreline and stops about sixty yards away, head up. I sight just behind
her shoulder, slowly let out half a breath, and squeeze. As the Winchester explodes she
wheels sharply left and leaps awkwardly out of view. I've been taught to sit tight, allow
the deer to lie down and lose consciousness instead of pushing her into running farther,
but now I'm anxious about whether the shot was good. Darkness is falling rapidly, so I
lever in another round, put the rifle on half-cock safety, and zigzag in her direction.
Forty yards from where she was hit, the doe lies on her right side, head up as if
caught napping, and there's no response to my approach. White belly fur glows like
snow in the flashlight beam as I recall dazed looks of the gravely injured people I treated
as a young medic, then zoologist George Schaller's comment about a zebra, mortally
wounded by African wild dogs and appearing more witness than victim of its fate. 12 I
note a bloody half-inch exit wound behind the doe's left shoulder and ponder another
shot, but her head sinks and she doesn't react to a tug on one hind leg. Back up the
ridge I find David, who offers congratulations and help with field dressing. The deer's
entrance wound turns out to be mid-abdomen, meaning either she turned away at the
last instant or I flinched, and there'll be gut damage. “Not a problem, we'll clean her
up,” David says, handing me his knife. “She died fast, that's the key.”
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