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Excerpt from Lives Less Valuable

Father and Son Hunting (p. 74)

From chapter "Part Three"

Man and boy now breathe heavily. It has been a strenuous morning. They’ve already walked a couple of miles in the slow pace of the hunter: step, pause, listen, step. Gordon leans toward his son, then points to the trunk of a tree. “A rub,” he says. “A buck has been marking his territory, rubbing the velvet off his antlers.”

Stewart nods.

Now Gordon points up a grassy slope to where a boulder, framed by two large pine trees, provides cover. “We go up there.”

They climb the slope, then crouch behind the rock, leaning against it and cradling their weapons. Soon they see a chipmunk, then sparrows. Quail, and eventually a cock pheasant. They wait. Gordon’s muscles grow tight, and his joints began to stiffen. Stewart begins to shiver. The fog never lifts. Gordon is proud of his son for sitting still. He’d come hunting with a nephew once, and for three hours the child didn’t stop humming and playing imaginary drums. For three hours they hadn’t seen a living creature.

Gordon and Stewart wait. And then they see it, through the fog. A slender shape, a darker gray coalescing out of the mist, lightening in color to tan, the edges sharpening till they see a deer. Gordon whispers, “Probably a doe. The big boy sent her out to make sure it’s safe.” The doe—Gordon’s right—cautiously makes her way up the draw. A step. A step. Nose up. A white-tail. She looks their direction, but neither freezes nor bolts. She begins to trot. They’d not been seen, smelled, or heard.

They wait. When he was younger, Gordon would have given the buck ten or fifteen minutes to show up. Now he knows better. They wait a half-hour, then forty-five minutes. In the far distance they hear the blast of a hunting rifle, the only sound that has made it through the fog. The fog deepens.

Another deer materializes. A big one. It moves slowly up the draw. Is it a male? Gordon whispers, “If you see bone on the head, shoot.”

Stewart slips his carbine over the rock, aims. The deer comes closer. Gordon’s senses become acute. He hears and smells and sees everything. He sees bone. He says, softly, “Squeeze, just like I taught you.”


“Do it.”

Still nothing. Gordon looks at his son, and from the side sees him squinting down the barrel. He sees his son’s finger tight on the trigger. He says, “Shoot him.” Nothing happens.

Gordon shifts, and slowly brings his own rifle over the rock. The buck moves cautiously. There’s still time: if the old boy bolts he’ll live. Gordon aims for the upper neck so that if he misses he won’t wound the animal—his father taught him early that there’s no worse sin than to gutshoot a deer—and he fires. The buck falls. Gordon pumps out the spent cartridge and pumps in a live one. He picks up the shell and drops it in his pocket.

Below, the buck struggles to stand, then falls back to the grass. Gordon looks at Stewart, who is ashen. “Come on, son,” Gordon says, and begins down the slope.

The buck looks at them. He no longer struggles, but watches almost disinterestedly. He seems to know and accept what’s to come next. Gordon stops at about twenty paces, raises his rifle, aims for the forehead, and fires. The buck collapses, like a marionette whose strings have all been cut.

Gordon ejects the cartridge and pops in a fresh one. He says, “Our first kill. What do you think?” He looks at his son, whose face still reveals no emotion, still holds no blood.

Gordon bends to pick up the shell, and his son walks past him. The boy approaches the buck, then leans to touch the soft muzzle with his fingers. His father rushes up to step hard on the animal’s neck. “Watch it, Stew! If he’s alive he’ll kill you.”

The child stands, and now at last Gordon sees that his son is crying. He pauses a moment, then turns to his son and holds him close round the shoulders.

His son only stares quietly into the fog.