January 21, 2021
Shane had taken a 6-point buck earlier that morning, and he brimmed with pride as he and his father pulled into Bailey's Outdoor Store. The store always bustled with activity during Stonewall County's 10-day rifle season, and the parking lot was packed. Some folks were buying gear, others were checking in deer per game department regulations or bringing them to be processed, and more were just shooting the bull.
Shane and his father backed into the weigh station, and several men and a few boys walked over to the truck to peer into its bed. Bailey's was holding its annual big buck contest, and other hunters were naturally curious about the new arrival. Just then the store's owner, Ron Bailey himself, pushed through the front door and with clipboard in hand strode up to Shane and his father.
"Got one for the contest?" asked Ron.
"Nah, just checking one in," said Shane's father.
About that time, ole Jimmy Halburn, the town stumblebum, glanced into the back of the truck.
"Wipe the milk off that one's lips," he bellowed and laughed, "'cause someone done killed Bambi!"
Suddenly Shane's proud smile vanished. He put his bloody hands in his pockets and looked down.
Shane's dad glared at Jimmy, but Jimmy didn't notice. Ron saw it though, and he sensed Shane's disappointment.
"That's a fine buck, son!" he said boldly. "As it stands now, it'll come real close to winnin' Best 6-Pointer. You sure you don't want to enter him?There's no charge."
Shane looked at his father, who shrugged as if to say, "up to you."
Moments later another truck backed into the lot. Huge antler tips poked over the tailgate. In seconds, the crowd had forgotten about Shane's buck and was gathered around the jacked-up Ford. But Jimmy's comment remained fresh in Shane's mind.
"Thanks Mr. Bailey," replied Shane, "but I think I'll just check him in and we'll get outta here."
"Well OK," said Ron, "but how about a quick picture for the Wall o' Whitetails first?"
"Nah," said Shane, "I don't really think—"
Before he could finish, Ron clamped a hand on Shane's shoulder and looked him in the eyes.
"Son, were you proud of this buck when you got him?"
"Yessir," said Shane. "He's my best yet, and my dad said I made a perfect shot."
"Most times folks who put down others ain't never done nothin' themselves," said Ron. "If they had, their hands would be bloody and they'd know it ain't easy. Remember son, hunting ain't about other folks; it's about you and the animals God gave us. I hold this contest for fun and to get people in my store, but hunting ain't no contest. Hold yourself to your own standards, and don't let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn't be proud of. If that deer's a trophy in your book, then he's a trophy in the book. You hear me?"
"Yessir," said Shane.
"And I gotta say, he's a hell of a buck. I love tall 6-points like that. So if you don't mind posing for just one picture, I'd appreciate it."
"OK," said Shane, smiling again as he jumped onto the tailgate and held his buck's head up for Ron's ancient Polaroid.
"Hey Jimmy," hollered Ron so everyone could hear. "Come over here and get in a photo with young Shane and his buck."
Jimmy turned around, looking for the caller of his name as though he'd won something.
"You know, in 24 years of puttin' on this contest, I don't believe you've ever made a photo. Come to think of it, I can't recall you ever checking in a buck. Here's your chance to get on the Wall, thanks to Shane!"
Jimmy stammered a little but couldn't think of much to say. Shane's father let out a little laugh but quickly tried to hide it by covering his mouth.
And Shane just kept on smiling.