As a passionate hunter who loves the deer woods in ways hard to describe, it becomes equally hard to describe the thoughts that go through your mind when your young son shows that he shares in your love of hunting. The explosion of emotion when he killed his first deer, a doe, at age 8, can never be duplicated for its uniqueness, but nor can this story of his first buck season.
While it has been thankfully rare for us to run into significant rainfall during the first few days of buck season, this happened to be one of those seasons. Nicholas and I sat in steady rain that ranged from light to heavy for the first 2 days. And to make matters worse, even though my Dad, brother Tim, and sister Cassie were seeing plenty of deer (and getting some), we hadn’t seen anything. It’s hard enough trying to sit still for hours when you’re 11 years old, but a lack of deer action and steady rain was making for a really tough time. As the second day wound down, he was talking about heading home that night–he had reached his limit. However, that all changed in an instant at about 4:00 in the afternoon.
As we sat in the drizzle up on the bench looking over one of the big draws on our property, I was contemplating the crazy amount of driving I was likely going to have to do shortly to get him home, and then get me back for day 3. As usual we were sitting on nearly opposite sides of a big tree. Our eyes were working overtime, looking for the slightest movement, as a couple of days of heavy rain had rendered our ears fairly useless. All of a sudden, he turned to me and with wild eyes said he had just seen a big buck that had come around the point on his side, but it had seen him move his head and turned around and ran away. He said it was at least an 8 point. A couple of minutes later, we heard a shot not far away, in the direction the deer had run. Our heart sunk a little, but we had hoped that someone in the family got it. Turned out that Tim had been still-hunting down in the bottom by the creek, and saw the buck jogging from us spooking it. He couldn’t get it to stop and took a shot between some trees. He checked for blood, but felt confident that he missed. Well, now all of a sudden Nicholas was raring to go for the next day, and he wanted to go right back to the scene of the crime.
So the next morning, we headed back to the big draw. The rain had let up, and a little morning fog was lingering as the sun was coming up. We were able to walk quietly on our way to the stand, so we still-hunted our way in slowly, watching as we went. As we neared the point where we would start the climb up onto the bench, I spotted a deer, likely a doe, up ahead of us moving slowly into the draw. It had not seen us, but we couldn’t get a shot at that point (we had tags to take does or bucks and our seasons overlap). I realized that we could quietly walk up onto the bench, out of sight of the deer, and get above and possibly ahead of it. So we got up towards the edge of the top of the bench, and I’m straining my eyes into the fog to see where the deer went. I had gotten down on one knee and had Nicholas set the gun on my shoulder, as we scanned, but we couldn’t see anything. All of a sudden, a deer popped over the edge of the bench about 20 yards away, looking right at us. I could see the one large spike sticking out of its head. Without moving a muscle, I told him in a tense whisper, “Do you see that deer? SHOOT that deer!” The deer didn’t know what to make of us, but gave a nervous leg stomp. A couple of seconds went by, which of course felt like a million years, and the deer started to give a second stomp of his leg. My heart and experience told me the deer was milliseconds from running into the next county, and that galactic heart break was about to ensue at this oh so close missed opportunity. And then, the shot rang out into my ear drum, and the deer dropped out of sight.
We got over to it, and it was a perfect shot to the center of the chest. The little Ruger had done its job well. The one-sided spike might as well have been a wall hanger. Come to think of it, my first buck was looked just about the same. And we jumped around like crazy people. His first buck, and he did it the hard way, paying his dues in days of rain. Feelings of joy and relief flooded over as he put his hands on it. Everything you read and hear people say about the incredible feelings when you’re there with your child as they take their first buck, well I can confirm it is all true. I was trembling as we went about field dressing it. This seemed a storybook ending to a magical hunt. And it would have been, but the day wasn’t over just yet….
You see, in our neck of the woods (Hardy County, WV), you can take a second buck in a day as long as you check the first one in. So after gutting and dragging the deer to the road, we decided that the family celebrating could wait till the end of the day, and ran into the check station and took care of business.
We were both too exhausted to climb up to the top of the mountain for the afternoon, and so we picked a little pine thicket to hunt that was nestled close to an old logging road. We finally sat, and let the day sink in. It had been a heck of a 3 days, and Nicholas was tired. He talked about me taking the shot if we saw another buck, but I knew there wasn’t a chance in the world I wasn’t letting him shoot. He nodded off on my shoulder as the afternoon eased on. At about 4:30, I spotted a doe coming down the side of the mountain in front of us, to the right. I woke Nicholas and told him to watch to see if something might follow her, since our group had seen so much rut activity. Sure enough, I picked up the rack on the buck behind her clearly at over 100 yards. So we hustled the gun onto my shoulder again, and amazingly both of the deer came right toward us. I told him to be ready and I would try and stop the deer when they were in an opening. As they crossed the old logging road in front of us, I let out a grunt. Sure enough, they paused just briefly. And the gun cracked. As soon as the buck started to run, we could see the limp immediately. He went 25 yards or so, and fell in a heap. We moved up on him carefully, making sure he was dead, and saw the perfect shot on the shoulder. And then for the second time of the day we jumped around like a couple of crazy people. It was almost too much to handle. I thought I was going to have a stroke. He grabbed the perfect 8 point rack, which was wide with long tines, and it seemed bigger than him. Of course we can’t be sure, but from my son’s recollection and my brother’s memory, we felt relatively sure that this was the buck that Nicholas had spooked the afternoon before, and he had shot him not more than a hundred yards from the spot of that sighting. You know, If my boots could talk, they’d just be speechless.
Not many days, even moments, in his life or mine, will be better than this one. Sometimes when God smiles, he smiles big.