The sun set no more than a few hours ago, the closing day of the Utah general season deer hunt. This marks the first year since I began hunting, that I have gone without killing a deer. For years I have anticipated it, not knowing when or why it would come. Every year I would tell myself; maybe this is the year I go without. But through some kind of blind luck, I have always managed to get a tag, as well as a deer to go with it. I wouldn’t have guessed that it would take so many years for it to finally happen, but the beautiful memories that took its place are even better.
2016 was a special year for me, for the first time in my life, I would be hunting with both my Father, and my Son. Surely we had been together many times, but this was the first time that all three of us would be carrying a rifle. I thought for sure we could find three bucks, and what a special hunt it would be, that three generations of my family could once again draw blood. If you read the first part of this story, you are likely to remember the handy little rifle that my son is lucky to have. A pieced together Remington 700, with a 16” .260 barrel, I had loaded it with some PVRI 120 Grain Match hollow points. And whenever the squeeze was good, this little rifle hammered.
After a few adjustments, to make the rifle fit him better, we spent as much time as we could practicing. I would have liked to have him shoot it a lot more, but keeping a twelve year old’s attention for more than a few minutes proved difficult.
But the calendar waits for no one, and so the practice we got, was all I had to work with. Because before I knew it, the deer hunt opener was upon us. I drove up the dark and winding canyon roads, my Brother and I discussing the plan for the day, while my Son sat quietly in the back. The day was as usual on public land general season, armies of orange covered every vantage point. But despite the state wildlife agency’s prognostication of a great season, we never got to put eyes on a deer with antlers. It did however give Jr. plenty of opportunity to practice his trigger pulls, and prepare himself for the moment that would surely come.
Practice, practice, and more practice.
Day after day went by, miles and miles of hiking, glassing, and chasing. But we still never got to put our eyes on a buck through a rifle scope. I had on several occasions had the opportunity to shoot a buck, but I had promised myself that I would do so only after my son had his chance. It was really starting to weigh heavy on my conscience, it had never seemed so hard to get on a buck, even the little ones seemed to be out of our reach.
Though the hunting wasn’t going as well as I had hoped, we certainly enjoyed good company. Like always, we hunt together as family, and for good reason.
After five days of fruitless efforts, I was beginning to loose my cool. As the weather finally turned sour, my hopes for success were peaking. But when even that didn’t provide us a good opportunity, I was quite frustrated. Luckily my Father was there to help me see the big picture, as well as the little guy who was watching me.
Ready to conquer the mountain
Just when I had lost hope, and the dreaded sun came out, threatening to send all the deer to bed, things changed. My good friend signaled me from the opposite side of the ridge we had straddled, and I wasted no time getting to him. He quickly pointed out a deer he had spotted across the canyon, and for the first time in a few days, the fire inside me was lit. I hustled back to where my son was waiting, we scrambled our gear together, and made our way back to a good shooting position across the canyon from the young buck.
His antlers shining in the mid-morning sun, picking his way down the steep mountain, the deer had no idea what was being planned for him. I helped Jr. get into a good shooting position, and pointed the deer out to him. One of the reasons I opted for the Minox 1-6 optic, was because of the often difficult task of getting inexperienced shooters on target. Less magnification helps easily spot distant targets by not taking away the big picture.
Jr. had on many occasions used the 6X to engage targets at 500 yds, and I had used it on targets to 800yds. Contrary to popular belief, huge magnification is not as big a deal as some people would make it.
After a few moments, Jr. picked out the distant buck. He steadied his little rifle, and I had him dry fire a couple more times, just to make sure it felt right. When I was convinced he was ready, a round was chambered, the bolt closed up tight. I watched as close as I could, barely breathing, listening, waiting. The deer turned broadside, giving us a perfect shot. My mind raced over all the steps we had worked on, steady the rifle, breathe out, squeeze. I could only wait now to see if it all stuck.
As I heard his breathing pause, the rifle pulsed into his shoulder, and the subdued report of the rifle hissed across the dry grass before us. I watched in suspense as the trace peaked across the 490 yards that separated us from our prey. The bullet struck the deer, right behind his left shoulder, perfect elevation. I watched the rippling waves of energy as they were soaked up by his body. His rear legs collapsed, and he fell immediately to the ground, and slowly slid down the steep slope. As he slid, I saw blood pour from the exit wound, flowing down his side. He slid some 20 yards into a large brush pile, where we lost sight of him.
The satisfaction of a perfect shot, that was so long in the waiting, a shot that I alone had been anticipating since the day he made me a Father. As I hugged my boy, I was reminded what made this year so special. It wasn’t filling three tags that made it special. It was standing next to my Dad, holding my son, having just made a perfect shot, on his very first deer.
After some high fives, and a congratulatory hug from Dad and Grandpa, we decided to empty our backpacks, and head down after him. I could see a different attitude now, Jr. had been along on who knows how many recoveries. But this one was his. He had been dying to try his brand new virgin skinning knife that his uncle gave him for his birthday last year, and finally the moment had arrived.
As we hiked into the brush filled draw, I happened on the blood trail where the deer had slid down. I stopped there to see what my Son would do. He quickly followed the trail down hill to the buck, I had already spotted it, but I followed behind to let him find it on his own, and feel that rush and sense of accomplishment.
Perfect shot placement, should be the goal of every hunter.
He was very excited, but I took a moment to remind him, the importance of respect and reverence for such a beautiful animal. We took pictures, and admired him for a time. Then quartered him up, and put him into our backpacks.
I was certain that there would be significant whining as we hiked the half mile back to the four wheeler. But to my surprise, he quietly followed me, he rested when I rested. When he did mention how hard it was, and how his legs hurt, I told him the truth; A week from now, you might remember how hard it was, and how much it hurts. But by next year, you’ll have forgotten, and want to do it all over again. And the memories, of all the fun we’ve had, are ours to keep forever.
So I sit here, listening to the thunder, and the winds blowing outside my door, as the storm I needed finally arrives. My melancholy has turned to a feeling of satisfaction, sharing one of life’s exciting moments with two of the most important guys in my life. What more could I ask for?