In New Hampshire, hunting season is in full swing. Some might not know this about me — especially those who read my books and wonder what goes through my crime writer’s mind — but at heart, I’m a sucker for animals. Large and small, with fur or feathers, I love them all. As such, I don’t condone hunting. I’m also not blind to the fact that it exists around me.
Every time a gunshot echoes through the woods around my home, I cringe, knowing full well some poor furbaby won’t see his/her family again. In my mind, the scenario goes something like this…
Clayton, a young whitetail deer, gallops through the woods. For hours, he and his older brother, Bucky, play tag and antler wrestle (gently, though; Clayton only has make-believe antlers at this age).
Mom says, “Boys will be boys,” and Clayton titters. “Love you two. Be sweet.” Without waiting for a response, she turns and trots back to the den.
Now out of earshot, Bucky whispers, “Cover for me, will ya, bro? I’m running down the stream for a sec.”
“Okay, but hurry. You know how Mom worries.”
“She’ll never know I’m gone. Promise.” Bucky skips down a dirt path in the forest.
Clayton could go for some cool water, too. Allowing some distance between them, he follows. Bucky’s the best brother on the planet, even if he doesn’t let Clayton tag along when he leaves the yard around their den. As long as Clayton stays downwind, his big bro will never know he’s behind him. The young fawn suppresses a snigger. Being naughty is fun.
Before stepping off the makeshift bridge Bucky’s head volleys left and right, checking both ways like Mom taught them. The trip to the stream is a bit of a hike, but it’s the only fresh water for miles. Clayton darts behind a wide oak tree, cranes his neck around the trunk. Is he really going to the stream? At night, while Mom’s sleeping, he’s caught Bucky chatting with Doe-reen outside the den twice now. They weren’t just talking, either. They were K-I-S-S-I-N-Ging. If Mom ever finds out, she’ll ground him for life.
Vibrations from the gunshot rumbles the earth beneath Clayton’s tiny hooves, and the hairs on the scruff of his neck snap to attention. The bullet strikes Bucky dead-center in the forehead, blood splatters a nearby conifer, and he crumbles to the earth, the snow crimsoning beneath his face. Dead.
Oh no! What should he do? A sob tangles in his throat as he bolts in the opposite direction, his heart thrumming faster than a locomotion. How can he tell Mom? Why didn’t he tell Bucky how much he idolized him? Should he go back, or head home? He’s too little to make these decisions. In the wild, life isn’t fair. In a voice barely audible to humans, he cries, “I want my mom.”
When Clayton rounds the corner to his den, Joe Hunter storms the area with Bucky’s limp body over his shoulders. Mom’s inside. He can’t leave her. What if something happens? With Bucky gone, he’s the man of the house now.
Clayton charges toward the entrance. Mom gallops to meet him halfway.
“Mommy! No,” he shrills, his heart shattering like a bullet through a windshield.
Blood trickles down her forehead.
What now? He’s too young to start a family. Hell, he’s too young to survive on his own. But did Joe Hunter care? No. He thirsted for venison.
An invisible strike to the gut buckles Clayton in half when Joe Hunter strings up his precious family and guts them down the middle. His baby buck-eyes pool with tears. Hanging his head, his insides twisting in desperation, he slogs into the forest. Alone. No idea what to do, or where to go.
Later that night, Clayton meets an ugly fate. The details of which remain sketchy because Smokey the Bear refuses to comment on an open investigation.
So you see? My heart breaks more and more with each round of gunfire. Some of you might argue that hunting is necessary to keep animal population in check. I get that; I really do. But still, I can’t help the sorrow that bubbles to the surface when I drive by a truck with a dead animal on the tailgate. I even make my husband promise to catch-and-release when he goes fishing. Which he does. He can’t cause animals/fish/birds harm, either.
Regardless of my views, I’m writing this post so Joe Hunter doesn’t shoot anyone’s beloved pet while he tries to add another bust to his Wall of Fame.
Know your prey. Stalk your prey. Track your prey.
In the first image below — top left — is a whitetail deer print. Next to the deer is a moose track (I love moose by the way. Just sayin’).
Next row down are dog prints. If you see these in the snow/dirt, please go the other way if you have murder on your mind. That’s someone’s baby you could be getting ready to shoot. If you’re aiming for a coyote, make sure you know it’s a coyote. To the right of the dog’s paw prints are coyote tracks. Notice the slight difference? They’re not easy to spot, but please take the time to learn. Print this chart if you need to.
Third row down (left), we have red fox and gray fox. Also similar to dog prints, they’re usually smaller with more space between the pads.
Row one (top right): Bobcat, Lynx, and house cat. Notice the pad shape? Learn it. Memorize it. Poor Fluffy did nothing to deserve a bullet to the– I can’t even finish that sentence, not outside fictionland.
Row two and three (top right): Otter, Fisher Cat, Minx, Weasel. Not even close to any of our pets’ prints, but to an untrained eye baby Joe Hunter might confuse them for something else.
Below (left), you’ll find snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit. I didn’t realize there was a difference, but clearly there is. If you know the difference between a hare and a rabbit, let us know what separates the two. Second and third row down (still left) is gray squirrel, white-footed mouse, crow, turkey, and ruffled grouse.
On the right (above): Raccoon, Striped Skunk, Porcupine, Beaver. Next row down is Black Bear. Now, even though a black bear devoured every single stalk of my butter-and-sugar corn one summer, and I’d envisioned strangling him, I would never want them harmed. Ever. Would I want to come face-to-face with Mr. Bear? Or worse, Mrs. Bear with cubs? Probably not. Although, if there was a way to safely rub their furry ears, I’d be all over it.
Opossum is in the third row (right): Granted, these animals aren’t the cutest animal on earth. As a kid, my mother babysat domestic and exotic pets for folks who went on vacation. Why, I have no idea. It was fun, though! Anyway, for an entire year we took care of an opossum. That thing was vicious, too. Still, I don’t condone their slaughter. If you must shoot them, or any other animal on this list, please don’t share your hunting stories with me.
Woodchuck (last row — right image): Over the summer a woodchuck strolled in front of my office window, raised up on his hind legs, and I swear he smiled at me. The face on that sweet, little fella was so stinkin’ cute! Lastly, we have Muskrat. I don’t know much about muskrats, but their tracks are pictured above.
So there you have it. If you’re writing a story about Joe Hunter, you’ll have a visual aide. If you are Joe Hunter, perhaps you’ll have a better understanding of what you’re tracking to eventually murder. For non-hunters, comparing prints in the snow is a lot of fun, and a great way to clear your mind.
In other news, I’m thrilled to report that my publisher loved CLEAVED (MARRED‘s sequel). In my acceptance letter they used the word “intense” and “love” about six times. LOL Also, as my Facebook friends are aware, I’ve been invited to write a novella for New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Elle James’ Kindle World, BROTHERHOOD PROTECTORS. My story releases as part of the Sept. 7, 2017 launch. Exciting, right?