The search for Jake Anderson’s body was finally over. His death rocked the small farming community and traumatized his young family. A week earlier, the hunter’s wife Linda, had filed a missing person’s report when her husband of nearly fourteen years did not return from his annual deer hunting trip.
At first it seemed as though Jake’s death might have been intentional…a bullet through his left shoulder. But after an autopsy report and a letter written by Jake himself, the mortal wound was ruled accidental.
On the early morning of their departure, Jake’s best friend Buddy called, “Hey, man, I’m really sorry but we had to bring Noreen to the hospital here in Butte for an emergency appendectomy. The doc said she’ll be ok but will likely be in here for the next day or two.”
Jake protested silently. Of course it was only reasonable that Bud would stay with his wife, but this was their trip…their annual male-bonding hunting trip.
“Jake, are you there? Hello, did I lose you?”
Disappointment oozing all over his reply Jake answered, “Yeah, I’m here. Hey, sorry to hear about Noreen, give her my best will ya?”
“Sure. Man, I’m really sorry to have to bail on you. You know how much I look forward to hunting with my best friend. I’m just…”
“Hey, nothing you could do about it. It’s fine. I’m really glad Noreen’s gonna be okay, that’s what matters. There’ll be other trips. Hang in there, Buddy, I’ll be thinking about you.”
With the moon hanging low on the horizon and his red, ‘63, not-so-classic Ford pick-up all loaded…Jake decided to go for it. Knowing Linda would protest this solitary outing, he snuck out before she became aware of his new plan. In his haste, he forgot to leave a note letting her know where he intended to hunt.
Later that day, when Linda found out that Noreen had gone to the hospital and Bud had not accompanied Jake, she was furious. A call to her husband’s cell phone went unanswered. He’s gonna get a piece of my mind when he gets back here.
In lieu of Buddy’s absence, Jake dedicated the trip to him by hunting the ridge just above Lonesome Creek. He and his pal had discovered this great spot a couple of years earlier but had never taken the time to scope it out. On the third day, he parked his truck in some underbrush by the creek and followed an old deer trail up the ridge. Fall colors richly enveloped giant pines, reminding Jake of his Creator and the blessings bestowed upon him and his little family.
An instant later, he was shaken by a blast. A piece of bark flew off the tree behind him, about twenty feet over his head…obviously caused by a stray bullet coming off the hunting rifle of someone on the ridge.
From his blocked vantage point, Jake yelled at the top of his lungs, “Hey, down here – don’t shoot!”
His words were drowned out by a second blast that ripped through his red and black plaid hunting jacket. The sharp pain knocked him over and ironically, he slid down off the trail into a small grassy den, the possible home of one of his own intended victims. With his jacket soaked in blood and his rifle lost in the bushes, the unwilling victim tried to stand – but fell back, overcome by dizziness. Knowing he might pass out shortly, he retrieved a pen out of his shirt pocket, and a napkin containing a couple cookies out of his belly pack. He wrote:
I’m so sorry I left without telling you what was going on. I would never do anything to intentionally hurt you, but I so wanted, so needed to go on this trip – with or without Buddy. Now I realize what a stupid thing I did, and how you and the girls will have to pay for my selfishness for the rest of your lives. Please tell Annie and Trish how much I love them, how much I cherish the ground they walk on, and how I’ll watch over them as they grow into beautiful young women. And you, my amazing, loving, caring soul mate…please forgive me for making the most self-centered, brainless decision of my whole life. I never thought it would end this way…I never…thought…
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