By Stephen Reed
One of the greatest joys of hunting for me is to introduce the sport to new hunters of all ages and genders, but nothing is quite as special as when it’s family. This year was extra special. It was the second year I took my son Tyler out, plus I had the added bonus of taking my nephew Ryan to harvest his first deer. Ryan lost his father earlier this year on August 31, 2011, to cancer.
His father, my brother, had made plans to take Ryan hunting this year, but with his sudden passing that task fell to me. It was a task I was honored to perform. We made plans, bought our tags, loaded the truck and headed to my property for opening weekend of rifle season.
Missouri’s rifle season started on Saturday, November 12. We all had the previous Friday, Veteran’s Day, off from school and work. Ryan was trying to get his first deer and had just taken up bow hunting. We planned on arriving Thursday to go bow hunting that evening and Friday, then rifle hunting Saturday and Sunday. We got a late start and couldn’t get to the property in time for the evening hunt. We set up everything for Friday morning and decided to get a good night’s sleep. Little did I know, the late start was just the first of several things to go wrong over the weekend.
While we were getting ready for bed, Ryan pulled his bow and it made a loud click as he got to the end of the draw. He tried it again and the click got louder, by the third pull he was afraid to pull it back. I looked it over and found that part of his cam had lost a screw and was about to lose the second one. Every time he got to the end of the draw, the string was forcing the cam back into position causing the loud click. He was devastated! He worked all of October at a haunted corn maze to buy that bow and to see it falling apart really upset him. I reassured him it was an easy fix, but not at camp since we didn’t have another bolt.
He was so upset that we had to call off the hunt. He decided to go to bed and grabbed his pillow off his bed. As he did, we heard the distinct sound of a bolt hitting the floor of the camper. We both jumped up and sure enough, the bolt was lying on the floor. After several prayers of thanks and a couple of high fives, the bolt was back in place and the cam back together and working great. The hunt was on again!
We saw nothing that morning and came back to camp for lunch and to strategize for the evening hunt. As we got ready to go back to the woods, I told him I needed to shoot my crossbow real quick. I had bumped the scope on the way out that morning. As I cocked the bow using the crank handle at about half draw the bow dry fired. I looked down to see the rope on the cocking devise had broken and I could no longer cock the crossbow. It was my turn to be disappointed.
This was Ryan’s first time bow hunting and I wanted him to be able to go. He headed down to the closest ground blind location with a walkie-talkie and a big grin. His second time out would be his first solo hunt. He did not harvest a deer but he did see two does, just out of shooting range.
The following morning was opening day for rifle season. The alarm went off at 4:00 AM. We both got up filled with excitement, anticipating what the morning would bring. After a quick breakfast of granola bars and coffee we put on our camouflage. With a few “good luck’s” and a little last minute advice, we headed to our separate stands.
As I sat in the stand waiting for the sun to wake the forest on another beautiful, crisp, 33° November morning, I heard a choir of coyotes sing to the approaching dawn. It was not long before the sound of gunshots echoed across the mountain. My anticipation rose even higher, not for me mind you, but for Ryan. I kept listening intently hoping to hear a gunshot from his location, but I never did. Around 7:30 AM, a nice buck walked under my stand. I looked him over, decided he was a shooter, and added to the chorus of gunshots. I harvested a nice buck.
We spent the rest of the morning taking pictures and getting him ready for the processor. We made the trip off the mountain and dropped him off at the processing plant. We stopped for some lunch and picked up gas for the generator.
We were back on the mountain in time for Ryan to get ready for his evening hunt. As he headed down the trail, he called in a radio check on the walkie-talkie. He disappeared around the bend toward his stand and I sat down in front of my computer to work on an article. I paused several times to answer his calls and questions over the radio. I said a little prayer hoping that he would finally get his first deer. He never saw anything that evening and returned to the camper shortly after dark, eager for the next morning’s hunt.
The next morning started out much like the rest of the weekend, there was a wind advisory with gusts up to 50 miles per hour. I was a little apprehensive to put Ryan in the stand on such a windy day, but he was very eager to take his first deer. We waited a little after daylight, checked to see how windy it was and pulled my climbing stand from a tree where I had left it the day before.
At about 9:30 AM, we decided the wind wasn’t too bad and he would be safe in his stand. I watched him once again disappear around the bend towards the stand. Soon after that he called me on the walkie-talkie, to let me know he was safe and in his stand. About 10:30 AM the radio crackled, I could tell from the frustration in his voice something was wrong. I listened as he explained to me that four does had come within 45 yards giving him a perfect broadside shot. He raised the rifle, cocked the hammer, set the crosshairs behind her front shoulder, took a deep breath, let it out halfway and squeezed the trigger. “Click” The gun had misfired! He quickly cocked the hammer, held his breath, and squeezed the trigger again. “Click” By this time, the does were starting to get a little nervous. He quietly opened the breach, loaded the gun with another bullet, and took aim again. Once again he heard a “click” when squeezing the trigger. He tried one more time with the same result. After hearing all that “clicking”, the does trotted slowly down the hill.
I thought I was going to be sick. I couldn’t believe the gun had misfired not once but twice. I could hear how upset he was and told him I would be right there with more bullets and to check his gun over. As I walked to his stand, I expected to find an upset young man ready to come back to the camper and call it a day. Much to my surprise and excitement, it was just the opposite. He was very excited with his close encounter and couldn’t wait to continue his hunt. I checked his rifle and the two misfired shells, and found the problem. I gave him the new shells, a little advice and headed back to camp.
Unfortunately, we had to be heading home soon. Around noon, I called him on the radio and told him it was time to come back to camp. He was still really excited about seeing the does and asked to hunt for a little while longer. I agreed and around 12:30 PM he rounded a bend coming back towards camp. He hadn’t seen any more deer, but was still excited about how close the does had come to his stand. I guess that weekend, it just wasn’t meant to be. But the good news was Missouri’s rifle season is 10 days long, so we still had the following weekend.
We came back to camp the following Thursday evening, and got everything set for the morning hunt. We turned in early with anticipation of a great morning. The temperature was supposed to be in the low 30s, so we figured the deer would be moving. Ryan was excited to get an early start.
At 4:00 AM the alarm went off and Ryan was soon dressed in his camouflage. He finished his breakfast and headed to the stand. It wasn’t long before I heard the familiar crackling of the radio, he was safe and sound, ready to begin his morning hunt. I lay back down and said a little prayer and must have dozed off. The sound of a rifle firing from Ryan’s direction startled me from my sleep. The radio soon crackled with news that he had shot at a doe. I jumped up and put on my orange and headed to his stand.
We looked high and low but never found any sign, no blood, no hair, nothing. It was a clean miss! I laughingly told him that it happens to all of us. His dad had told him when he first started hunting that he would probably miss his first deer, so he wasn’t too disappointed. We headed back to the camper; he wanted to get something to eat really quick then head back out. After his sandwich he was eager to get back in the stand. With a little advice for his next shot and a “good luck”, he went back to his stand.
I sat back down at the table and waited for his check in on the radio. When it came, I started working on some paperwork to keep myself busy. I didn’t work very long, about 35 minutes later I heard another shot, followed by a very excited radio call. He had a doe on the ground, and she had dropped right where he shot her. He had taken his first deer!
Figure 1 “Photo” Stephen Reed’s nephew Ryan, with his first deer (a button buck).
I threw on my orange and jumped on the ATV and headed to his stand. He was on the ground, smiling like a Cheshire cat when I climbed off the ATV. We started towards his deer. She was only about 25 yards away. As we got closer, I noticed two small, protruding bumps on top of her head, she was a he! I told him it wasn’t a doe it was a buck, and explained the bumps on the head were antlers forming under the skin. He started doing a little dance and chanting “I shot a buck, I shot a buck…” I told him how proud I was of him. Now the fun part was going to be getting him back to camp and ready for the processor.
He had helped his dad drag a deer once before and wanted to drag his first buck out by himself, like his dad always did. I walked beside him as he dragged him back to where the ATV was. As I climbed on and he walked by, I heard him say softly “I got him Dad”. I fired up my ATV, wiped the tears from my eyes, and headed back to camp to get the camera and knives ready. He was still talking as I passed him. Though I couldn’t hear him, I knew he was talking with his father.
Back at camp we took several photos and made several calls. I showed him how to dress a deer when we dressed mine. With that fresh in his mind and me close by to help him out, he dressed his first kill. I was so proud that I was there to help him take his first deer. We loaded his buck into the back of the truck and headed down the mountain to the processor. It was a very happy time and we laughed and joked all the way to town. I told him how proud of him his Dad would have been and how proud I was of him as well, as we pulled into the processor. Of course we didn’t get to leave, until everyone there got to hear his story on how it all went down. It was his moment to shine and I was glad to let him have it.
Figure 2 “Photo” A few more photos of Ryan with his first deer.
We headed back up the mountain. We spent the night talking and laughing about our rough couple of weeks, and how it was all worth it. We talked about his Dad. He listened intently as I told him about my memories of hunting with his Dad, and how I was looking forward to making many more with him. We finally turned in for a good night’s sleep, so we could get an early start home the next morning.
We slept in that morning and after a good breakfast; we packed up the truck and headed home. We stopped for gas half way home. I had to laugh because he had a group around him when I got to the counter. He was telling his hunting story once again.
I am proud to say I believe he is hooked on hunting, just like I am and his Dad was. We both had two bow tags left, so we planned our next hunt on the way home.
If you have the opportunity to take a child or a new hunter hunting, do it. You won’t regret it. If by chance they happen to be family, cherish every moment because they are the future of our sport. By passing on your hunting heritage and traditions, you help mold a future hunter and conservationist. You also help to insure this sport we love and cherish will continue throughout future generations. Plus, you get to make many great memories along the way.