The small doe came into the clearing that Randy’s father had made with a chain saw and stopped, picking her head up from the trail.
The doe smelled something, and she seemed to be looking right at them. “Easy,” Randy’s father said in a whisper. “Get the gun to your shoulder slowly. No sudden movements here.”
The deer stood maybe forty yards away. An easy shot. She put her nose back down to the ground and began to slowly walk.
Another ten feet or so and she would be clear of the shooting lane.
“You’ve got to go for it,” Randy’s father whispered with more urgency than before. Randy secured the butt of the rifle tightly to his shoulder and peered through the scope. He was careful to keep the gun tight to him because the first time he fired his rifle at the shooting range, the gun was loose and the scope came back from the recoil and hammered him in the eye, bursting a few blood vessels. His eye looked like a tomato for two weeks, during which time his friends called him the Terminator and he secretly relished the name. After the white of his eye resurfaced, the skin underneath gave way to deep purple and yellow.
Randy breathed in, put the crosshairs over the deer’s heart, exhaled a little and held his breath, just like his father had showed him. He gently squeezed the trigger, waiting for the gun’s kick and the tremendous bang that would leave his ears ringing.
The deer dropped, but wasn’t dead. She began thrashing and screaming on the ground. “Quick,” his father said. “We need to get down there and finish her off.”
They climbed down the ladder of the stand and made their way across the snow-dusted ground. Snow, leaves, and twigs crunched and snapped beneath their boots. There was still a humming in Randy’s head from the blast of the rifle, and when his father told him to take the knife his voice sounded muddied and distant.
She continued to thrash, and the guttural cries emanating from the deer’s throat filled Randy with remorse and rendered him silent and still.
He had missed her heart. The bullet had crashed through her left side, severing her spine and leaving a gaping wound resembling a small, open mouth. She had scooted nearly ten yards from where she’d dropped, leaving a trail of blood staining the white ground.
“Take the knife, Randy,” his father said again, jarring him awake. He looked at his father but said nothing. “Well, then shoot her if you don’t want to use this.” He held up the knife.
Randy looked down at the rifle he held in his hands, barrel pointed down. He grabbed the bolt of the gun, cranked it toward his chest and pushed it forward, ejecting the shell and sliding another one into the chamber. He put the butt of the gun in the crook of his arm and fired another shot.
The bullet went over her head and into the ground a few feet from her.
“Jesus Christ,” his father said. And before his father knelt down on one knee and plunged the blade into her neck, Randy looked into the dark eye still teeming with life.