It is hard to believe you are 19 years old today!  We are proud of you and love you!  Hope you have a great Birthday.

As I sat in my shop putting the final touches on skull mounts sent in from this past season, one skull in particular caught my eye. My mind began to drift, and before I knew it I was in that deer stand again.

“Don’t get your eye too close to the scope,” I recalled myself whispering.  

“KA-POWWW!!!” Apparently she never heard me.

As I snapped out of this flashback, a self-pitied smile crept across my face, because I just realized how agonizing the month of June can be for us whitetail addicts. During this time of year, we’re in a difficult transition period. We shift from daydreaming about our close encounters and missed opportunities from last season towards emotionally preparing ourselves for the rumbling crescendo that precedes the first cool front of September. But as Father’s Day approaches this week, us Dads can’t help but reflect back at years passed and those times spent afield with our children. I’ve spent a lot of time the last few days thinking about my daughter Carly’s first buck; the thrill of that hunt and the look in her eyes will forever be ingrained in my memory. 

Her first opportunity came several years ago and that day has been disappointing both of us ever since.  She killed her first doe at age 8 and then her second doe the following year.  She then started telling me she no longer wanted to shoot does and was willing to hold off for a whitetail sporting some “headgear.”  The fact that our hunting club was only shooting 8-points-or-better didn’t help her chances.  It seemed like we were seeing bucks each and every time we would go out, but no bucks that were considered club-legal would give her a chance; this was until the 2008 hunting season.  The land owner that we hunt with decided to lower the club rule to 4-points-or-better, knowing that the group we hunt with would not waste their tags on smaller bucks unless there were kids involved.  This improved  Carly’s odds of finally wrapping her seventh grade hands around a set of antlers.

The first hunt we made was mid-November, right after the gun season in Louisiana’s Area 1 had opened.  We made our way to my box stand on Big Brake and settled in for the afternoon hunt.  This stand is on the very back of the property and bordered in the rear by a large cypress and buttonwood brake that is about 300 yards wide.  To the right of the stand is a small brake that runs into a palmetto and briar ridge that’s unimaginably thick. 

We had watched several does and yearlings come and go while browsing on the briars, rye grass, and corn that afternoon.  The hunt was slowly coming to an end, and as we began to loose shooting light, I felt Carly’s elbow in my ribs. “Buck! Buck!” I heard her say.  Directly in front of us I saw antlers coming out of the brake.  There was not one buck, but two!  The first was a small 8 point that I had seen in late October while bow hunting.  Following behind him was a 7 point that had a larger body and rack.  The bucks stopped in the clearing on the ridge, feeding their way into the food plot as I got Carly into position to shoot.  I clicked the safety off for her and told her to take a breath and slowly squeeze the trigger.  As she concentrated on the shot, I picked up my binoculars and found the bucks.  They had turned side-by-side, and at 75 yards, a shot could possibly kill both of them.  Fearing this, I quickly put the safety back on and we waited for the 7 point to turn.  Turn he did!  He turned to the right, putting his rear end facing us and offering no shot.  As we were waiting for what seemed like an eternity for him to turn broadside, the gun accidently hit the window of the stand and spooked both bucks back into the thick cover.  We both sat there looking at each other, wondering how we just missed the best chance Carly has had to shoot her first buck.

A month passed and Carly was out of school for Christmas break; it was time to get down to business. With the rut fast approaching, we decided to go back to the same stand as earlier in the season since we had the wind in our favor and I had been seeing a lot of does hanging around the last few weeks.  As we walked to the stand, I noticed something in the food plot directly in front of the stand.  As I adjusted my binoculars, I noticed a group of twenty 30-pound hogs feeding in the food plot.  I told Carly that if I was going to shoot a hog, then I was going to try kill two in one shot.  I took an deep breath and squeezed the trigger.  As I looked up over my scope, I noticed two shoats lying in the food plot, thinking to myself, “This hunt can’t get any better.”  I couldn’t have been more wrong!

We sat for the next couple of hours watching the same does and yearlings that I’d seen from the previous evenings.  As they fed and slowly began to fade with the sun, I began to think that at least we had some pork for the weekend at the camp.  As I scanned the brake to my right, I noticed a set of antlers bouncing above the palmettos.  I alerted Carly to the approaching buck, and one glance got her nerves working overtime.  I could hear her breathing heavily and feel her arms trembling as I helped her get the gun out of the window.  She was using my Savage 7mm-08 and had never shot it before, so I made sure she understood that it was a little more gun than she was used to.  The buck made his way into an opening and began feeding underneath an acorn tree as Carly readied the shot.  I flipped the safety off and she settled the crosshair right behind the buck’s shoulder, whispering those last few words of advice about not leaning in too close to the scope.

Following the rifle’s report, the buck dropped in his tracks, with Carly looking at me with her eyes wide-open and her jaw hanging to the floor of the stand.  It took only a second for the pain in her eye to get her attention as she began rubbing it. As we hugged, laughed, and high-fived, I noticed tears in Carly’s eyes, and it wasn’t because of the scope.  The were just no words to describe the mixed emotions that she was feeling, so she let the tears say it for her.  As we both sat there and cried, I realized that that moment was what hunting was all about.   It had taken a couple of years and many hours in the stand, but we had a buck on the ground and the hug was worth the wait. 

Hunts like that one will give you chills each and every time you think about it for many years down the road. When the focus turns from us chasing whitetails to getting our kids involved in the outdoors, then life tends to come full-circle and becomes less about the kill and more about the time spent together.  We as hunters should be proud of what we do and instill those values and way-of-life in our kids, because when Father’s Day comes around and our children are grown, the gifts with the most sustenance will have came from the memories garnered afield.