He was just a big 6-point.
A 3.5 year old, but built like a schoolyard bully with an attitude to match. One of those 6-point racks with a big, wide split on the end of his main beam that makes you wonder why on earth that it doesn’t carry a G3.
He surprised me, rounding a knuckle of locust trees to my right that bulged out from the brush-choked ditch behind me. He strode briskly along the dry dam between my tree and the cut bean field I was overlooking. Less than 10 yards below and to my left was a bathtub-sized scrape on the edge of the field. The scrape was super hot, and I knew that’s where he was headed.
Knowing I wasn’t going to shoot him, I leaned back against the tree, hung my bow back up and just studied him. As a wildlife artist, studying animals on their turf is invaluable. Not only will they surprise and entertain you, they’ll teach you. Knowing how a whitetail buck moves, acts and reacts to his surroundings helps me to portray them more accurately on canvas. In art, just like hunting, it’s often the subtle details that make all the difference. I want to get those details right.
As he stepped up to the licking branch, I knew I was about to get a glimpse into his frenzied, rut-crazed inner world. The big 6 didn’t disappoint. He proceeded to work that scrape longer and with more powerful, agile movements than your average Crossfit workout. He would get up on his hind legs and work his rack into the overhanging branches of a leafy oak. He’d paw out the scrape, rub-urinate, work his preorbital gland in the licking branch, look around for an audience, then start over. At one point he struck that athletic pose that we know and love so much, the one where a buck drops his hind-quarters low, thrusts his back legs rearward, leans forward on his front legs and stretches that swollen neck as far as possible to the sky to reach a licking branch.
It was then that I knew I had to paint him.
Returning back to my studio later in November, I started the process of re-creating the scene. I wanted to portray him from the ground-level viewpoint, so I worked with a variety of poses and photos before I found the right one from a great freelance photographer I’ve worked with in the past. I also wanted to make the buck larger, so I painted a heavy 10-point frame on him rather than the six he carried in real life (if only we could do that in the field, right?).
A week in my studio pushing paint on a 24”x36” canvas produced this, an original oil painting titled “Scrape Line.” It’s the ultimate man-cave piece: a symbol of pure, unbridled, untamed testosterone.
Deer are by far North America’s most popular big game species to hunt. And in the eyes of millions, nothing symbolizes our wild and great outdoors like a whitetail buck.
For those of us who hunt them, we know of a buck’s cunning and will to survive. He is perhaps the most reclusive creature in the woods, spending his days in seclusion and his nights in search of food and water. He knows no property line and moves about like the wind. Just when we think we have him figured out, he surprises us with a new trick or pattern.
Like a whitetail buck, there are those of us who aren’t afraid to live outside-the-box. We call them “free spirits” and most of us know one or two we admire for their carefree nature and unrelenting passion for life. They need no blessing from society to do it their way, for their way is the road less traveled and that’s ok when you’re wild...wild like a buck.