I had just started writing and illustrating The Sporting Life column for Wyoming Wildlife News. My new Lab pup Maggie was ready to be trained. I was recovering from rotator cuff surgery on my right shoulder so throwing training dummies for her was out. That’s how I came up with one-armed retriever training…indoor version.
Bruce Cochran Sept./Oct. Wyoming Wildlife News
I was in full fishing mode and the female voice on my GPS commanded me to go through Buckville on the way to a secret stream that only I and several thousand other people knew about. I’ve been married over fifty years so I’m used to doing what a female voice tells me to do.
I had heard of Buckville. Never been there. As I drove into town I couldn’t help noticing the billboard that proclaimed Buckville the deer capital of the Universe. The only café in town was right on the highway and the parking lot was jammed with eighteen-wheelers, usually a sign of edible grub, so I decided to stop for lunch. Several weary truckers were eating in an area marked DRIVERS ONLY. Not being a trucker, I wondered what would happen if I took a seat there. I decided not to chance it.
The waitress brought a menu and I ordered the chicken fried steak for $8.95. I glanced around the café and wondered why there was anything else on the menu. Everyone seemed to be eating chicken fried steak.
While waiting for my food I browsed through a local newspaper. The first baby born in Buckville this year was christened… you guessed it… Buck. And she was a girl. I noticed the rest room doors were marked Bucks and Does. Looking at the high school girls basketball schedule on the wall I saw their colors were blaze orange and camo and they were called The Daring Does. Staring out the window I noticed for the first time the MacDonald’s up the street had golden antlers instead of arches. That was the clincher. I was definitely in deer country.
I finished my chicken fried steak, paid up, and ambled toward the door. Outside I stopped to talk with several old men in overalls who were seated on a bench, whittling.
“I’ve heard this is the deer capital of the universe. Are there really a lot of deer around here?”
The old men stared at me like I was from another planet, then looked at each other as though trying to decide which one should field this absurd question. Finally one spoke.
“Are there a lot of deer around here?” he croaked rhetorically. “Why Son, they come into town at high noon, walk right down Main Street, and pee on the school bus tires!” The others nodded in agreement and continued to whittle.
“The dang bucks rub the velvet off their antlers on the lamp posts!” added another old-timer.
I decided right then, come October, I would definitely be back in Buckville.
It’s much cooler now, the hardwoods have taken on their fall colors and most are shedding leaves. The aspens are school bus yellow and some are starting to fade. The population of Buckville seems to have tripled and most of the newcomers on the streets are wearing blaze orange. A huge WELCOME DEER HUNTERS banner is stretched between two lampposts above Main Street. I wonder where they keep it the rest of the year. Probably in a closet in city hall with the WELCOME BUCKVILLE HIGH ALUMNAE, WELCOME TROUT FISHERMEN, WELCOME SHRINERS, and WELCOME ELK HUNTERS banners.
The streets are crowded with SUVs and pickups, most with camper shells or dusty ATVs in the beds. I finally find a parking spot and walk several blocks to the café where I see scrawled on the window in huge blaze orange letters OPENING DAY SPECIAL!! CHICKEN FRIED STEAK! ONLY $15.95.
The same waitress waddles toward my table. This time she’s wearing a blaze orange vest, and perched on her old gray head are a pair of floppy velvet antlers. She hands me a menu and I ask for a cup of decaff coffee. The room goes silent. Other customers – especially the truckers – stop eating, put down their forks and stare at me. The waitress rolls her eyes and stomps back toward the kitchen.
Reading from the top of the menu I see “SCOPE OUT OUR DEER HUNTER SPECIALS!” Ms. Antlerhead brings my decaff and I order the Opening Day Special.
“Don’t let it scare you”, she says, scribbling on her order pad. “It’s blaze orange but that’s just food coloring.”
It’s comforting to know that no one will draw a bead on my chicken fried steak, mistaking it for a trophy muley.
I finish my meal and leave a couple of bills on the table. I notice most of the other customers have already left and there seems to be a crowd gathering out front. I walk out and see the same old men, still sitting and whittling, now waist deep in a huge pile of wood shavings.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“You must be the feller who ordered decaff,” says one, without looking up.
“Parade”, answers the more informative one.
I hear music in the distance, growing louder. The local high school marching band in all their blaze orange and camo splendor is approaching, all wearing antlers on their heads. The band is followed by a pickup truck with a deer stand in the bed, and seated high on the stand is an attractive young lady, waving to the crowd and tossing out little sample packets of doe-in-heat scent. She’s wearing a blaze orange formal with a sash proclaiming her to be Miss Opening Day.
I pick my way through the blaze orange crowd, past the face-painting booth and the pony rides, past the petting zoo, to my truck. After buying a deer tag I head out of town in hopes of finding a place to hunt tomorrow. On the way I swerve to miss a nice four pointer loping along the highway toward town.
He seems to be heading straight for Main Street and the school buses.