The man stepped into the dusty store and saw the keeper in the back looking over a large stack of pelts. He walked over for a closer look and could smell the fresh odor of the hunt upon the hides. He noticed there were several different species in the large stack. There were deer and beaver and raccoon and one he wasn’t sure of. He asked the shop keeper, who looked too frail to be a hunter himself, how he’d come upon such a magnificent collection of pelts. The shop keeper, whose name was Sablosky, answered, “Sold to me by the hunters from the river valleys up north, where they hunt their possum kingdom.” ~ Mineral Wells, Texas 1909
Dan Coulter took one look at Jax and knew he was trouble. A fledgling bow hunter, Coulter has a home on the shores of the scenic Possum Kingdom Lake in North Texas, and he’d been hoping to shoot one of the non-native axis deer there; and why wouldn’t he? After all, the imported deer species are bigger than the native whitetail deer, with a beautiful reddish fur and neatly lined white spots; plus the axis antlers are larger and prettier than their white tailed cousins. And if their beauty and size wasn’t enough, their venison is considered to be tastier than the whitetail’s by even the most hardened whitetail hunters. Luckily for Coulter, both types of deer wandered freely around the lake, including Coulter’s property, and with no season or license required to harvest the invasive axis, he had long dreamed of getting a shot at one with his bow.
Then Jax arrived.
Jax was a dog, of course, but not just any dog. He belonged to Ray and Brenda Hatton who had just moved in next to Coulter on the lake. More to the point, Jax was a very large, very loud and apparently a very excitable mutt that immediately took to chasing the local wildlife. The one-year old dog was part Rhodesian ridgeback, part husky and part bottle rocket, kind of like a missile with fur. And when the playful pup started chasing every squirrel, raccoon and deer in the area, Coulter hoped his new neighbors kept the dog under control or else he’d never have a chance at an axis from his property.
But it quickly became apparent that there was no way to contain the dog to the Hatton’s property, as the locals discouraged fences (they hinder fire fighters during the frequent brush fires near the lake). This meant Jax would have free reign of the entire point on which Coulter and the Hatton’s lived. At 80 pounds, he had a booming bark that could be heard up and down the peninsula, and it became routine to hear a commotion outside and find Jax chasing a deer. At first glance it probably looked menacing to see this large dog chasing a deer through the woods, that is until you realized that Jax just wanted to play (there’s actually a video somewhere of Jax playing with a doe). Most deer, however, would rather not play with Jax, and that’s usually when the chase began.
So what had once been a peaceful peninsula was now a sprawling playground for the 4-legged rocket with fur, not the kind of place an axis deer would be coming near any time soon. Coulter mentioned his concerns to the Hatton’s on more than one occasion, but there were no other options short of chaining the dog, and nobody wanted that. So Coulter would just have to put up with the crazy dog and hope that an axis might still wonder into his sights despite the newly self-appointed wildlife welcoming committee.
Then one day Brenda Hatton was out back getting ready to feed the dogs when she heard a familiar commotion. She looked up to see Jax chasing a large axis buck through the woods towards the lake. Once clear of the tree line, the deer bounded into the water and began paddling towards the middle of the lake, with Jax closing in behind him. Ray Hatton had also heard the commotion and came out in time to see his dog swimming after the buck. He immediately called the dog, which by then was probably starting to re-evaluate his decision to follow the deer into the lake because as soon as he heard his master’s call, Jax started paddling back to shore.
The axis paddled a few more yards before finally turning, but the large buck was a good 40 yards out and its paddling was becoming more erratic as it struggled to stay afloat. Before anyone could think of what to do next, the buck started to bugle loudly, and then it sank.
As badly as everyone felt for the buck, the first obvious question was: what about the meat? The good Lord saw fit to have this tragedy unfold before both families, and it was perfectly legal to harvest the meat. So the only real question was how to find the submerged buck in 12 feet of murky water.
As luck would have it, while Coulter and Hatton dragged the lake floor with a brick on a rope, the buck bobbed up to the surface. Mission accomplished. The dead deer was then unceremoniously hauled back to shore and quartered. Both families partook in the bounty.
Things are more or less back to normal on the peninsula, the new normal that is. Jax reigns over the local wildlife, and he still plays with the whitetail deer from time to time. So far, though, he has hasn’t gone back out for a swim with any of them.
Coulter, on the other hand, is still waiting to shoot an axis from his property. Until then, at least he can enjoy some good quality venison. Thanks to Jax.
Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish