Cletus was 15' up in a Black Walnut tree and had been all day. The walnut was in the crotch of a "Y" formed by two drainage ditches that came together and then flowed west. It was generous to call them drainage ditches but they were too wet to plow, filled with skunk cabbage and marsh marigold in the spring and mosquitoes in the summer.
In the fall they became prime conduits for deer traffic.
He was hunting deer with a bunch of shirt-tail relatives and a few of the property owner's neighbors.
One of the neighbors was Ken and his two, teenage boys, Ben and John Joseph.
Ben and John Joseph were 16 and 14 respectively and they were just starting to acquire that cynical, know-it-all attitude that makes teenagers repulsive. Cletus did not find their behaviors attractive.
Ken had been a hell of a hunter in his youth. Hunting became a lot harder for him after a kid T-boned him while Ken was riding his motorcycle. By all rights he should have bled-out on the pavement but the mangled strand of flesh that connected the one leg to his body had been twisted enough to crimp off his femoral artery.
Ken survived but the leg did not. Ken's days of going on 10 mile hikes through the swamps of Michigan hunting deer were over.
Money was tight in Ken's house. The first half of the month they ate a lot of potatoes and chicken. The second half of the month it was potatoes and dried beans. Balony sandwiches were a luxury. They really looked forward to adding venison to the menu.
Ken, Ben and John Joseph were on one arms of the Y. They had posted up in a ground blind since Ken wasn't climbing trees. Ben and John Joseph had chairs. Ken was standing on his one leg, leaning forward on his two crutches, .357 at the ready.
With fifteen minutes of legal light left, Cletus heard a "BANG!" from their direction some 300 yards away. From his vantage point he could see a deer streaking through the denuded elderberry bushes and dogwood.
50 yards out from his stand he saw it get woozie.
Its chin hit the soft, black, peaty soil fifteen feet from the trunk of the Black Walnut.
Ken, Ben and John Joseph waited for 30 minutes. By then it was full dark. More deer are lost by attempting to track them to soon. As the Great Doug Smith once observed, deer and off-roaders with automatic transmissions don't go anywhere after the transmission has had enough time to leak down to dry. Both blood and transmission fluid are red.
Cletus climbed down 45 minutes after dark. It did not look like the shooters were going to claim the deer but he figured he better go to the cabin to verify the fact.
K,B,JJ had beaten him there.
Ken said they had looked and looked and looked. They found hair right away but no blood.
Then Ken asked, "Can you guys give me a hand. More eyes might find the blood trail."
Cletus don't talk much and the tiniest germ of an idea was rooting in his head.
They all piled into trucks and drove the 1/2 mile to where K,B,JJ had been standing.
Ken talked through where they had been standing. The gap in the fence the deer had come through. Cletus went over and the ground was beaten bare with deer tracks. There would be no possibility of sorting out one from the other.
K,B,JJ had marked where they found the hair and Ken pointed out the general direction the deer had run off. It was about 30 degrees off from the straight line between where the deer was shot and where it ended up.
Ken was standing at the hair to give the trackers a base reference point.
The best trackers with the best flashlights started making concentric arcs trying to cut the trail.
Ten yards: Nothing
Fifteen yards: Nothing
Twenty, twenty-five: Nothing.
Things were looking pretty bleak for K, B, JJ bringing their deer to bag. Ben was starting to make snide comments.
Then Cletus said, "Kenny, I reckon you are going to have to track this one by scent, just like the one you shot in '87."
Ken hadn't known Cletus in '87 but had a quick and playful mind. 'Sides, Ken didn't have anything to lose by playing along.
"Yeah. That was pretty exceptional." Ken said.
Cletus got up right next to Ken's side. "I remember you sticking your head way down and taking a big sniff" Cletus demonstrated "and thinking WTF!"
Ken imitated Cletus. It was dark. Nobody saw Cletus give Ken a poke with his duck-wing to direct him forward and a bit to the left.
"Damned if I can't smell this one!" Ken bellowed in a "Praise the LORD!" voice.
The party zigged-and-zagged their way across the swamp grass. Ken tended to drift too far to the left when Cletus was on Ken's right side and too far to the right when Cletus was on the right. But every twenty yards or so Cletus would blow his nose or adjust his flashlight and then reappear on the other side of Ken.
When they were 75 feet from the big walnut, Cletus said "The other thing that impressed me back in '87 is that you air-scented the blood when you got close. Moving another 15 feet closer, Cletus raised his head and started sniffing the air like a pointer hunting for quail scent.
Ken was highly attuned to Cletus by now. Ken did the same but in a much bigger, stagier way. "YUP! I smell him now. He's gotta be close." Kenny announced.
Ben and John Joseph started scanning through the sparse stems of the elderberries with their Malice Green commemorative edition Maglites and damned if the biggest doe ever shot in Sunfield township wasn't slumped on the ground within a stone's throw of the tracking party.
Two drops of "transmission fluid" were found next to the deer. The other 5 quarts had bled out internally.
Ben was a much sweeter kid after that.