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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A kids first buck (January 2011)

With the season winding down we went for a late-season chance to get Tyler a deer this weekend. Two years ago he took his first doe. Last year he hunted hard, and he passed on some smaller deer, but he never got a shot off.

This year he again hunted very hard. He’s on the swim team, so many weekends he can’t hunt due to swim meets. This weekend he got up at 0515 Saturday morning for a swim meet, then his momma drove him down to meet us for the afternoon hunt. What seems to be typical for the weekends he hunts is sub-freezing temps, wind, and precipitation…it’s a wonder the kid keeps coming back. This weekend the weather ranged from snow and temps in the 20’s to rain and temps in the upper 40’s.

 Saturday afternoon he almost got a shot off on a doe but right when the deer was about to walk into his shooting lane it started to trot and denied him a good shot. We finished out the evening hunt with no luck. We then did a long hike back to the truck over some difficult snow/mud covered terrain. No complaints from the kid…he did ask to stop once because his fingers were “burning” from the cold. We took a minute to warm them up then we marched on.

 Sunday morning we hunted a big corn field on a two-man ladder stand. This would enable us to sit side-by-side so I could provide guidance. I thought we’d see a small doe and let him bloody his new rifle. We got to the stand about 0630…this was a little later than I wanted but it would work as we still had 5 minutes before legal shooting time. The first few minutes on stand were spent alternately scanning the dark expanse before us for activity and getting his gear set up. After roughly 4 minutes I saw a large bodied deer emerge from the standing corn on the left side of the field. It was clearly a much larger bodied deer than I normally see so I was excited that this would be a good shot opportunity. I leaned over to him and whispered “deer”. At that moment the adrenaline began to flow into his blood stream like jet fuel into an afterburner and the shaking began.

 I pulled my rifle up to get a look at the deer through the scope and while I couldn’t tell how big or small the rack was I was confident that it was a buck. Trying to pick out antler mass against a wet cornfield in low light conditions is a difficult proposition…especially as the range increases. This deer was 142 yards away and standing there in the dim early light of an overcast winter morning. It was late in the season and the kid needed a deer and I was sure this was a big bodied specimen and it has some headgear so I leaned over to him again and whispered with a sense of urgency “kill that deer.”

 Now the shaking really kicked in. He was shaking so violently that it was like sitting in the stand with a running jackhammer. I swear you could have cracked walnuts between his knees they were knocking so hard. From my perspective it seemed like an eternity. Once I gave the order to shoot I felt very exposed…like that deer was about to figure out exactly where were and would bolt. I knew this deer wouldn’t stay long on the field. He was still just barely out on the field…he was so close to cover that it looked like his tail was still in the standing corn…two steps and he would be gone. Two steps and the kid gets nothing for the year. Two steps and three years of hunting goes by with no shot on a decent buck.

After about 5 seconds (felt like days) Tyler told me that he was shaking too hard to get a shot off. Despite the urge to scream “HURRY UP AND SHOOT!!!!” I did the proper thing and calmly told him that it’s OK…just take your time…calm down…focus on the fundamentals…and when you feel like you’ve got a good sight picture just do your thing.

Another few seconds goes by with me alternately watching this deer and watching my son’s body violently shaking under the load of moment. I glanced over and noticed that his finger still wasn’t on the trigger…I’m stressed at this point. All I can do is watch.

 When I see him take the safety off and engage the trigger I look downrange and wait. His rifle cracked the silence of the first legal minute of shooting light and set in motion a chain of events that he will never forget.

 I was shocked with the quickness of the deer’s reaction. It turned around and bolted into the corn so quickly that it looked like it was under rocket power. It didn’t exhibit any of the signs of an animal that was hit. It made a terrible racket as it busted through the standing corn and took off to parts unknown. Tylers first question to me was “do you think I hit it?” All I could tell him was that it didn’t look like he did but we won’t know for sure until we get down there and check. It was everything I could do to keep him in the stand…he really didn’t like the fact that I was going to wait 20 or 30 minutes before we started tracking. Interestingly enough Tylers perspective on this chain of events was perceived much differently than my own. As is often the case in high stress situations the brain reduces the tempo of your perception to slow motion. When I asked him what he thought of the deer’s reaction he said “it just turned around slowly and walked off.” I had to laugh at that…he was definitely in the pressure zone.

 Ultimately we got down and didn’t find any sign that the animal was hit…no hair…no blood. I set off in the direction I thought it went and over the next 30 minutes we found no sign that the deer was hit. We then went back to the scene of the crime and I asked him how he felt about his shot. He said he felt very good about it. He said he had a good sight picture, his breathing was good, and he had a good trigger pull. The kid can shoot and I trust his judgment…so I went back to tracking. I pushed further up the field and ultimately found a corn cob with blood all over it. At that point I told Tyler we’ll get this deer…if you leave blood I’m going to find you. His spirits lifted immediately. I can only imagine the sense of hopelessness he must have felt as he was relying on someone else for everything and it was all turning up negative until we found that blood. Once I showed him the first sign of blood he exclaimed “ I KNEW I hit him!”

This turned out to be one of the most difficult tracking jobs I’ve ever had. The deer left very little blood which concerned me. Tyler got a great lesson in tracking and was a very good helper in this process. The blood trail died after about 50 yards and we were left to doing some very basic search patterns until we found the next sign. Ultimately I found a single drop of blood that filled in a 100 yard gap that had no sign at all. We got our big break when I found a track in a creek bottom that led my eye to a single drop of blood in the snow. This was good…the deer was running straight toward a snow covered corn field. Even the slightest of blood would show up easier than in the mud and leaves we had been tracking him across earlier.

I called Tyler up to my position, put him on the blood trail, told him to keep his rifle ready, and to track that deer down. We had gone about another 50 yards toward some woods when the trail dried up again. I searched for a moment then announced “there’s another drop of blood” and he answered back “and there’s a dead deer.”

 After more than 2 hours of tracking I couldn’t believe the words he had uttered. I bent down and looked into the woods and sure enough there he was. Laying in the snow with a bloody corn stalk that he had dragged the whole way.

It took three years of hard hunting in some difficult conditions but the boy got his first buck…and a dandy at that. I couldn’t be prouder of the kid for his hard work and his great attitude…and I couldn’t be happier for him that he put this deer on the ground. That night he got to tell stories and feed the guys at camp with fresh venison tenderloin.

That was a great weekend…neither of us will ever forget it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Crappie fishing in Feb


Fishing season is almost upon us and this year I have big plans for going after the South’s number one game fish…the Crappie.  This fish is known around the country under such aliases as the “paper mouth” or “sac-au-lait” or “calico bass” or even “speckled bass”.  Whatever you prefer to call them crappie are tremendously popular because they are fairly easy to catch and they are delicious.

Crappie fishing in the south isn’t just popular…it’s a way of life.  Many people save up their vacation all year and use it to go crappie fishing.  They monitor forecasts and local reports and they use historical data to try to time the best two-week period for fishing success.  They want to be on the lake during the crappie spawn when the fish all come up shallow to mate.  If you don’t know anything about the crappie spawn picture a high school dance where there has been some drinking going on.   Picture Barry White songs, some slow dancing, some romance, and if anyone gets in the way of it there will be a fight.

We are still a month away from the high point of the spawn though, so the fishing is a little different.  It’s late February and the fish are still hanging out in deeper haunts.  A buddy of mine from our firms IT department and I decided that we’d hire a guide to take us crappie fishing so we could get up to speed on current gear and tactics.  This would enable us to optimize our entry into the sport.  With a good education up front we wouldn’t have to waste a lot of time trying to reinvent the wheel.

As our day drew near our hopes soared higher but the temperature forecasts all dropped lower.  In a week’s time the forecasts went from low temps in the 40’s to a low of 32 degrees on the morning of our departure.  By the time we actually got to the ramp it was 29 degrees and there was a thin coating of ice on the boat.  One mis-step could send us slipping overboard.  Now might be a good time to say that I am a fair weather fisherman.  I DO NOT fish in the cold.  I define “cold” as any temperature where I need to wear gloves.  This was cold.  With ice on the boat this was looking more like one of those Alaskan crab-fishing reality shows more than a crappie fishing trip in central Mississippi.  As far as I see it the word “Ice” should never enter my fishing lexicon.

As we boarded the boat I noticed that my partner looked slightly under-dressed for the conditions.  He assured me he’d be fine.

The Dam

Without any fanfare we launched the boat, left the marina harbor, and blasted toward the middle of the lake.  A word about Sardis reservoir is in order here.  This is an Army Corps of Engineers flood control lake.  It has a huge earthen dam at one end that is covered in rip-rap and the lake itself stretches 13 miles from the dam to the other end where the Little Tallahatchie River feeds into it.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, “rip rap” is the term for a collection of big rocks that you line the shore with to prevent erosion.  By “big” I mean they are stones that weigh perhaps 20 lbs and each the size of a small watermelon.  Now picture millions of these rocks piled up along the dam.  These rocks form a wall 100 feet high by two miles wide in front of us.  By now you should be picturing the Great Wall of Mississippi.   It is a massive amount of stone and there is no way you can look at it and not wonder how long it took to get all those rocks in place.  As you move up the lake it transitions from the deep open water near the dam to a middle section that starts to have some standing timber (picture tall telephone poles sticking up from the middle of the lake), to the upper end that is almost entirely full of old dead standing timber with logs and debris under the surface.

Since the crappie were still hanging out in the deeper water we’d start near the dam.  As we motored to our spot the first thing I noticed was the crowd.  There was an armada of boats perhaps 40 strong all huddled up on one spot just up the lake from us.  Our captain had us away from the crowd where he had caught a bunch recently.  With any luck we’d catch fish here and not have to deal with the armada.

The technique we would use today would be “spider rigging”.  This involves arranging 8 rods in holders that fan the rod tips out around the front of the boat in an arc of about 180 degrees.  The rods start off with the first rod pointing straight off the left side and they go all the way around the front of the boat and to the other side until the 8th pole is sticking straight off the right side.   With the poles arranged like this you simply ease along at ½ a mile per hour and when a fish hits one you simply lift it out of the water.  It’s so easy a caveman could do it.

Start fishing

As we were getting seated behind the rod holders I noticed that the sun was coming up but the temperature wasn’t.  Adding to the problem was that the wind was now picking up.  Before we had caught our first fish the wind had built to perhaps 15 MPH out of the east.  15 MPH was bad…but “from the east” was far worse.  From that direction the wind is able to push down the length of the lake with no interference.  With nothing to break its momentum it whips the lake into a heaving fury of white caps and rollers that rock the boat, play havoc with bait presentation, and cut through your clothes to chill you to the bone.  It seemed as though the wind would first turn us to ice cubes and then smash us into the rip-rap covered dam, breaking us into smaller ice cubes...crushed ice if you will.

I was dressed in most of the heavy hunting clothes I had so I could tolerate the weather.  The guide was dressed warmly too as he is out there all the time and keeps a range of clothes on hand.  My buddy from our IT department however hadn’t dressed as robustly.  If there had been no wind he might have been OK.  But with the wind we had today it was clear that he could be in for a very rough morning.

After perhaps 15 minutes we had our first line get hit.  I quickly jerked the rod out of the holder and there was a nice eatin-sized crappie onboard.  This weather might be turning rough but I was optimistic about the fishing.   Another 20 minutes went by with no activity but the wind.  The wind was relentless.  It had the whole lake frothing.  After a while another rod bent over and I snatched another fish from the cold rolling waves upon which we bobbed.  My buddy froze in silence next to me keeping a vigilant watch on the rod tips.

It seemed as though we were being tortured.   We were sitting side-by-side in chairs on the bow of the boat so we bore the full brunt of the rocking motion.  It was as if were on one end of an aquatic see-saw.    The waves were coming from behind us so when they hit the back end of the boat it would lift, because we were on the bow it would send us down into the trough left by the previous wave.  Then as the wave passed under the boat it lifted us high into the air.  Over and over and over we rode up and down those waves.  All the while the wind whipped and we watched the rod tips like hawks watching a field mouse.  We ignored everything around us and watched the rods with laser-like focus.

No luck vs. Bad luck

After an hour or so of riding this freezing, windy, see-saw with little action our focus began to slip.  I had been silently watching a boat ramp about a mile and a half away.  There was a mid-size four door car sitting in the middle lane of the launch ramp and it had been there for a long time…much longer than it would take to launch a boat…and there didn’t appear to be a boat over there anyway so I had no clue why he’d be parked there.   After a while I saw a small figure to the left of the ramp…right down where the water meets the rip-rap…and there were flashes of white crossing him diagonally perhaps every two to three seconds.  Amid the howling wind my brain was slow to process things but my logic circuit eventually completed and I realized what I was seeing.  The guy I was seeing in the distance was bailing water out of his boat with a white bucket.  He’d dip the bucket down into his boat and then swing it up to the right as he tossed the water out.
When I announced this to my fishing partners the captain immediately laughed and pointed out that the reason we didn’t launch from that spot this morning was that the three foot rollers that were making our life so difficult were smashing directly into that boat ramp.  Through ignorance, lack of thought, or perhaps inexperience this guy had backed his boat into the maelstrom.  I’m guessing that he took water over the back of the boat in the process of backing it in, and when he managed to get the boat off the trailer it promptly sank.  The wind and the rolling waves then pushed his boat up against the rip-rap and concrete like a piece of flotsam…where it was currently trapped.

I could imagine the sound it made each time the waves smashed and ground his hull into the concrete and rocks.  He was bailing as fast as he could but it wasn’t looking good.  Mother nature had 50,000 surface acres of water to use against him and he had only a ½ gallon bucket with which to defend himself.  Ironically he was bailing water back into the lake so mother nature really had an infinite supply of water to throw back at him.  From our vantage point it looked like he would lose this battle.

Since the fish still weren’t biting and we were tired of watching rod tips riding up and down three feet on the waves…the guy on the boat ramp became our only entertainment.  Nobody’s life was in danger and there was nothing we could do for him so we just watched.  He’d bail water until he got tired and then take a break, during which I imagine mother nature filled the boat back up.  At one point I saw him start unloading gear from the boat in an attempt to lighten it or perhaps save what he could from a lost cause.  I quickly checked on David to make sure he wasn’t frozen yet.  Then we all looked back toward the boat ramp guy.  Even from this distance you could see his frustration as at one point he threw his bucket violently to the ground.  It was too far and too windy to hear any of the activity but I had a real good idea of the words he used when he threw that bucket onto the rocks and none of them are fit to print here.   We weren’t having any luck…but I realized that this is what they mean when they say that having “no luck” is better than having “bad luck”.  We had “no luck” fishing…the guy on the ramp had “bad luck”.

It’s easy to laugh at your own misery if you know there is someone else suffering worse.  So we bobbed up and down in our arctic climate and laughed at the only thing we could find humor in…that dudes sunken boat.  As we laughed amid our suffering another line got hit.  We pulled it in with no fanfare, re-baited the hook, and redeployed it.  Our hopes of a fun day of fishing were as sunk as that guys boat…now we just hoped to catch a few fish and live to tell about it.
Boat after boat had been leaving the lake all morning.  The wind and cold were too much.  Of the 40 boats that were in the armada earlier there were perhaps 8 remaining.
Still cold

Few outdoor adventure stories are complete without some form of hardship being involved so I guess it’s appropriate that Dave was under-dressed for the freezing cold.  I’ve heard grown men complain over conditions much less harsh than what we had now…but my computer guy was mum.  Maybe his mouth was frozen shut but he didn’t complain once.  I could tell he was cold because every time I looked over he was in the “I’m trying not to freeze to death” position.  Most outdoorsmen are familiar with this position.  This is basically the one where you have your fists clenched and your arms pulled in tight up against your body and your legs clamped together and you are arched over almost into a fetal position as you try to preserve what little body heat that you have left.  As the gale continued to blow we talked him into taking some gear from us.

We swapped some clothing around until we were satisfied that Dave wouldn’t succumb to frostbite. To his credit he never asked for any gear…here sat a guy who would stoically take whatever mother nature threw at him.  He knew he didn’t dress warmly enough and he never once asked anyone to give up some gear so he could get warm.  In fact the first three times I brought it up he refused any help.  Most people in the firm think that “IT” stands for Information Technology but today Dave proved that it actually stands for “Incredibly Tough.”
Having persuaded him to take some gloves and a windproof shell we were satisfied that he wouldn’t die.  If that happened then the tables would turn and the guy on the boat ramp would be laughing at us…and we couldn’t have that.

Safe Harbor

After another hour or so of suffering we decided to find a spot out of the wind, so we went back to the shelter of the harbor.  When we entered the harbor it was as if we had left the Bering Sea and entered the Gulf of Mexico.  The protective landscape surrounding the harbor totally blocked the wind which left us to bask in the sunshine like a lizard on a rock.  I couldn’t believe how comfortable it was inside the harbor.  We actually began shedding clothes because we were too warm.

The fishing in the harbor was a crowded affair.  It was obvious where all the boats from the main lake had run to when they left this morning.  Boats were close enough that you could talk to everyone as they passed you.  It looked like a boat parade that had lost its traffic coordinator.  It was so crowded that I knew we’d end up hitting someone even at speeds well under 1 MPH.  Half the people on the water knew our guide and everyone had something to say.  This crappie fishing is more of a social sport as there is lots of sitting around and talking involved.  I now realized that this is going to be the perfect type of fishing for my wife.  Once it warms up she can sit in the sun and talk for hours as I just sit there and listen and re-bait hooks.

We were out of the wind but there was still a sense that we might see more danger.  There were two guys in a small boat that was perhaps 14 feet long.  They were both sitting in fishing chairs on the bow which is a typical arrangement while crappie fishing.  Their boat was so small however that with the weight of two men on the front it almost pushed the nose of the boat underwater.  The back end was way higher than the front and they had maybe three inches of clearance before they started taking on water.  If one of them stood-up too fast I imagine they would have sunk.   It looked like a comic-book type drawing that you might see in a boating-safety pamphlet.   I figured we’d be fishing them out of the water before long but somehow they managed to not sink it.

Everyone caught some fish in the harbor but nobody was wearing them out.  The crappie, it appeared, would win today.  By noon we had only 7 fish in the boat and rather than grind it out another 3 hours we decided that the best course of action would be to quit early and head to the best burger joint in MS.  There is no way we could lose there.

An hour later we stood in front of the Velvet Cream burger joint in Hernando MS.  I had a big cheeseburger, cajun fries, and a peanut butter milkshake in me and I was starting to forget about the cold morning we had endured.  I could have laid down on the asphalt in the sun and gone to sleep if it weren’t for the traffic.
Ultimately I learned a lot.  I learned the appropriate gear and tactics for crappie fishing.  I learned to be careful of the wind when choosing which boat ramp to launch from.  I learned that our firm has one tough IT guy.  And lastly I learned that I am really going to enjoy crappie fishing for a long time to come.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Reloading saved a rifle today

Last year I bought a .45-70 Handi Rifle from a friend of a friend. It had a nice Nikon scope on it and I was told it was in good condition. He was asking $250 so I figured I couldn't lose...especially with the nice Nikon glass. 

Well I got the gun and it shot like garbage. It constantly threw 8 inch groups with every type of factory ammo I tried. Nothing was loose on the gun or appears as though I had bought a turd. 

I was at the point of keeping the scope and throwing the gun away...I had just put around $120 worth of factory ammo through it and there was no way I could hunt with it. 

I bought a set of dies for it earlier this week and I figured I'd give it another chance with some reloads to see if I could find a load it liked.

I prepped 20 shells and used the same bullet and seating depth for all of them. The only variable was the powder charge. I loaded three variants.

All rounds were loaded with Reloader 7...I used 44, 46, and 48 grains under a Hornady 325 grain bullet.

The 44 grain loads shot around a 6.5 inch group. Ouch...looks like I wasted about 100 bucks on reloading these. 

As I was cursing the gun under my breath I remembered that a buddy had given me 4 shells that he swore worked magic in his gun...they were 250 grain bullets and I had brought them with me. After the disappointing results with my first load I switched to the 250 grainers my buddy supplied. 

Boom, boom, boom, boom...and i had a group that measured about 5 inches. Ugh. No hope in sight.

I wanted to quit and throw the gun in the lake so it couldn't live to frustrate anyone ever again...but then I remembered that someone in Lord of the Rings threw that ring in the water and years later someone found it and it caused a lot of problems and I didn't want that to happen so I got back to work. I decided I needed to shoot the other two loads I created just to be thorough.

The next load was the 46 grains of RL7. My first shot was the benchmark...the second through fourth shots would define my "group". On the second shot I saw what I believed to be the worlds biggest coincidence. The second shot hit the same hole as the first. "Weird" I thought "I must have screwed something up."

My third shot went down range and after the gun recoiled up and over I searched to get the target back in view. Whoa...the third shot hit the same hole as my second shot. "No way this is happening." 

Fourth shot...boom...touching the same hole as the first shot. At this point I sat back to analyze what I was seeing. 

I had put maybe 70 rounds through this gun using a variety of ammo and achieved average groups of a horrendous 7 inches at 100 yards...but now this same gun was tearing a ragged one-inch hole in the target in front of me. A few minutes earlier I would have sworn this rifle was incapable of such an achievement.

I've never seen such drastic change in my life. This gun is like a spoiled brat...if it doesn't get exactly what it wants it pitches a fit. Good news is that I found exactly what it wants. I'm writing the recipe down and that's all I envision loading for this gun the rest of the time I own it...which will likely be til death.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

If you listen close you can hear them grow up

Last Saturday evening I was sitting alone in a cold, gray, drizzly swamp in Mississippi.  The only sounds were those of an occasional squirrel or rabbit and the rain lightly pitter pattering in the woods around me.  Suddenly and with no announcement the silence was shattered by the sound of my son growing up.  How did it come to this?

There are a thousand incremental steps a boy takes on the way to becoming a man.  It’s awesome when we are there to watch them take those steps, and even better if we are able to recognize the significance of what we are observing.    

Over the years my son has transitioned from watching me hunt, to hunting on his own with me doing the observing.  His first trip to the field was when he was three years old.  In those early years he’d just go and watch.  He loved just being out in the woods and as a new dad I loved watching him out there.  Until that time I didn’t know that simply jumping up on a log in the woods and walking it like a balance beam could be so entertaining for a child...I guess I was going to learn as much as he was as these trips took place.  

I was hoping in these early years that he’d grow to like hunting and we’d be out there together every year.  If I could have an activity that my kid loves to do with me then I’d be guaranteed to have a good connection with him long after he’s grown up and moved away.  Time would tell.  

As he grew older he got to go on more trips.  Pretty soon he was going with me almost every weekend.  He learned to safely handle a gun, to shoot well, to track deer, to stalk deer, and more...basically he learned everything I had learned over the years...all of my  knowledge and ethics were simply passed down to him.  Taking game for the dinner table is such a normal thing to him that on his 5th Thanksgiving when his momma brought the turkey to the table and  he leaned in and asked “ooooh...who killed it?”  

When he was seven or eight years old he got his very own rifle.  I’ll never forget the first time we went out with it.  It was a typical cloudy and cold winter day and he had his new rifle cradled in his arms and he looked at me and asked “Where’s your rifle?”  

I replied “I’m not the one are.”  

The smile that took to his face when he realized he wasn’t in my shadow anymore was priceless.  At that moment he realized that he was the hunter.  He wasn’t there to watch...this was HIS hunt.  If a deer came out, he would shoot it, he would be the one putting the meat on the table.  That smile was priceless because it was much more than just a was a moment when he realized he had just grown up a little.  He had worked hard and responsibly and he had earned this moment...and on that occasion I got to watch him grow up a little bit.

As he started his career with his own rifle I was always there to answer questions and help guide his decisions.  I’d sit right beside him every time. Rather than simply tell him what to do I wanted the process to foster an analytic approach...I wanted him to be the one thinking things through and coming up with the answers.  I’d ask questions and let him give me the answers.  If he had questions for me I’d walk him through the hints and let him find the conclusion.  It’s amazing how quickly kids can learn and even more impressive to see how they put those lessons to work on their own.  He killed several deer over the years with me by his side just watching.  

As an observer I have a great time.  It’s always fun to watch a kid try to deal with the sensory overload of a massive adrenaline hit that inevitably arrives the moment you realize success or failure is at hand.  Their hands and legs are a trembling mess as they try to get their brain to focus on the task at hand.  They have the knowledge and they have a target, now they just have to force themselves to settle down and make a good shot.  I get a kick out of watching that every single time.  

Recently I started talking about him hunting on his own.  The first time I asked him if he wanted to do a solo hunt he thought about it for a moment and then told me “nah...I like hunting with you...there’s nothing like having your dad cracking jokes for three hours while you’re waiting on a deer to show up.”  I smiled when I heard plan was working.  

All of this leads us back to today.  It’s been tough to get on the deer this year so he decided that tonight we’d split up.  I dropped him off in his spot on the southern boundary of the property and then I made my way to the swamp on the north end.  

I sat in my spot eager to see not only what my own hunt might deliver, but I was really excited to see if he’d get a shot on one of his first solo hunts.  As is always the case with an afternoon hunt, it gets dark far too quickly.  You never really want the hunt to end.  

As the light faded I was shocked that I hadn’t heard anything from my son.  I just KNEW there would be deer coming to feed in the area he had chosen to set up on.  

The  evenings silence was punctuated occasionally by the soft and distant thunder of duck hunters on the river a few miles away.  As sunset approached they were eagerly taking the last few ducks of the day. 

My mind alternated from scanning my surroundings and studying every hole in the swampy vegetation, to wondering what my son might be seeing half a mile to my south with the same darkness closing in around him.  Was he bored?  Was he unable to move due to too many deer being close to him?  Was he currently locked in a struggle with adrenaline?  How would he do if a deer emerged without me there for support?  Was he even awake?  I smiled and shrugged off the thoughts...he is good enough to handle whatever happens...if he wasn’t then he wouldn’t be allowed to hunt alone.  If he messes up and spooks a deer it’s just all part of the learning experience.  

With those thoughts out of the way I re-focused on the task at hand.  I resumed scanning the silent landscape around me with no shortage of surprise at the lack of activity.  By this time there should be deer trying to travel past me to get to the agricultural fields to my north.  This is a dynamite spot and I thought that if they’re not moving here then they must not be moving anywhere until after dark.  Now I felt a little disappointed that my son would end this hunt without seen anything at all.  

KABOOOOM!!!  When his single shot shattered the late afternoon silence and echoed it’s way to me I immediately recognized that I just heard my son grow up a little bit more.  I had no idea what he had shot at...but I knew that whatever transpired on that field to the south had caused him to raise his rifle and fire a single shot.  One shot.  No follow up. 

Half a second later my own heart started racing with adrenaline.  I wanted to jump out of the tree and run down there to get the story.  I could hardly contain my excitement.  After a moment I calmed down and figured he’d wait at least 20 minutes before he started tracking it and it was dark so he might not even do that until I got there.  I decided I’d finish hunting the last 10 minutes of legal light and then head down.  Those last minutes were spent trying to picture what had happened on that field.  I could picture his hands shaking after the shot...they always do I knew at least that much about his hunt.  What had he shot?  There is a gigantic rub at the back of that field...could he have shot the monster buck that left it?  Did he see a coyote and drop the hammer on it?  I had no information at all...only a single gun shot from his location.  

After waiting perhaps the longest 10 minutes of my life I began heading that way.  Halfway there I met him.  I saw his flashlight on the dirt road as he made his way back through the dark woods to meet me at the barn.  The moment I stopped the ATV I could hear him telling the story...he talked faster than I thought was possible.  He was talking faster than I’d ever heard his momma talk...and that is saying something.   It had been nearly 20 minutes and he was still so full of adrenaline that his voice and hands were shaky and he couldn’t quit talking.  I was smiling so hard it hurt.  My face actually hurt from smiling so long.  

After a quick drive back to the scene of the crime I finally got the details on the hunt.  He had been surveying the field in front of him when out of the corner of his eye he noticed something to his left.  Perhaps 40 yards away a deer was on the edge of a plot of standing corn.  It was actually just inside the first row or two of the cornfield.  His first thought when he saw it was “Man that’s a big squirrel!”  Then it lifted it’s head and he got a good look at what it was.  It was a single doe.  He said he started to shake immediately.  Not only was he shaking but he had to reposition to get the angle for the shot...he was worried he’d make noise doing it which caused his shaking to increase even more.  

Like a seasoned hunter he slooooowly eased everything into position.  You can’t rush that shot...not with a deer that close.  There was nothing but open ground and thin air between them.  If it sees you or hears you moving it will be gone before you could get the gun up, and your emotions would crash from the great heights of expectation to the great low spot of failure.  Success hinges upon gathering lessons you’ve learned and executing them perfectly on this cold, darkening field, alone and under great pressure.    

He said his last thought before pulling the trigger was “I can’t believe how steady these crosshairs are.”  BOOM!  The shot heard round the county was unleashed.  His new 30-06 barked with great ferocity, the familiar recoil pushed back into his shoulder, the cold air smelled of burnt powder and the deer crashed down in a heap right where it stood.  He was no longer alone...his new companion was success.  With words still flowing from his mouth faster than the speed of sound he told me that he was so excited that he wanted to shout right there on the spot even though he was by himself.  

In the end he took all the hunting lessons he had learned, threw in a lot of tenacity and hard work, and put it all together to create success.  Maybe someday he’ll get to hear his own kid take a similar shot...only then will he realize just how great a shot that was.  

As for me, I can’t wait to hear him grow up some more on the next trip.