T-John Thompson’s hunting tenacity resulted in the buck of a lifetime last season.
T-John Thompson got off his school bus at 4 p.m. on Jan. 5, 2006, and without even changing out of his school uniform, grabbed his rifle and headed for his tree stand. At 4:30, he was back at his house asking his mom for help bringing in the deer he had just shot. “I remember he came running up telling me he had just killed a big deer,” said T-John’s mom June. “I told him to quit all that crazy talk and to get out of his school uniform so I could get the wash going. He kept insisting he had killed a deer, though, and, sure enough, he had killed this massive 9-point buck. He wasn’t even in the woods 20 minutes.
“That’s just the kind of kid T-John has always been.”
It’s unusual to find a kid who likes to do the things T-John likes to do these days. While most teenagers run to the house to turn on their video games, T-John runs to his house to grab his rifle, his bow or his fishing pole. It’s rare that he doesn’t just use his house as a pit-spot before heading outside.
“Since he was very young, T-John never minded doing stuff outdoors,” June Thompson said. “He would get off the bus and ramble from one side of our place to the other and back again just getting into stuff. One day he would be chopping bushes to build his own little blind, and the next he would be setting out a slew of coon traps. I used to have to buy sardines for him every day to bait those traps.”
If you ask T-John, though, he admits to playing an occasional video game or two. In fact, he explained that while he likes playing an electronic game every now and then, he would much rather spend that same amount of time outside getting something real done rather than living a virtual life.
“You can spend four hours in front of a TV trying to kill a fake deer, or you can spend the same amount of time outside and actually kill a real deer,” he said. “I would much rather do the real thing. I was introduced to technology, and I accepted it, but I never let it take me over.”
T-John’s story actually began several years ago. Back when his strides weren’t long enough for him to keep up with his father, John, T-John was hanging out with his dad in the woods or on the water. Thankfully for him, he had a dad who not only accepted his responsibility to teach his son how to hunt, he relished it.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Thompson. “All these kids who are raised in the suburbs and cities nowadays are very unfortunate as far as the great outdoors are concerned. They don’t have the same opportunities as somebody who lives out in the country, but that’s where the parents have got to come in.”
The problem is, though, that thousands of parents either don’t care to or don’t know how to give their kids the support they need to get out and expose them to something other than crime, drugs or video games.
“I was born and raised here on our place in West Feliciana Parish,” Thompson said. “My dad died when I was five, though, so I had to teach my self to hunt. I think the good Lord intended us to enjoy what he put here on earth, and there’s no better way to do it than in the outdoors.
“If you’re a parent in a situation where you don’t have land or don’t know where to go to get your kids involved, you can look toward all the good public land and youth programs that Louisiana has to offer. If you have the desire to introduce your kids to the outdoors, there is a way to make it happen.”
Parents who take the time to introduce their kids to the outdoors will have the same thrill that John and June Thompson have had in watching their son mature into not only a responsible and safe hunter but a responsible and safe young man as well.
T-John is a walking example of the different stages of a hunter as defined by the Louisiana Hunter Education Program handbook. When he looks back on his relatively short hunting life, he can point to exactly what stage he was in at different times in his life.
“When I first started hunting, I considered my trip a success if I just got to see an animal or two,” he said. “Seeing the game and being in the woods with my dad was what was most important to me. Anything more than that was just a bonus.”
As T-John continued to hunt, he got more into trying to hunt deer without actually shooting one. He played a little game where he tried to see the deer without the deer seeing him.
Without realizing it at the time, T-John was setting himself up for future hunting success by playing this little cat-and-mouse game. By observing the deer, he was learning the basics of woodsmanship.
He learned what certain deer movements like a twitching tail or stamping foot meant. He learned that one deer would always be on alert while the others were grazing. And he learned when to move and when not to.
“Then I kind of got to where I would get most excited about having any opportunity to actually get to pull my gun up and shoot,” T-John continued. “While I wanted to shoot the deer, it didn’t even really matter to me if I missed or not. I just wanted to shoot my gun.”
This stage didn’t last very long for T-John, though. He quickly moved into defining successful hunts as being able to shoot a deer, some ducks or a dove or two. He got all involved in the entire process from killing to cleaning, and he started becoming a little more independent and hunting on his own.
“After a while, people don’t compliment you as much as they used to when you just kill a deer every now and then,” he said. “That’s when I moved into what I called my ‘If it’s brown, it’s down’ stage. I started shooting four or five deer every year at that point — does, bucks, it didn’t matter. I wanted it on the ground.”
Something happened one day, though, that brought T-John through what he now considers an immature hunting stage. He was in the woods behind his house watching six or seven does and trying to pick out which one he wanted to take.
“I can remember my mind just kind of hollered out, ‘NOPE!’” T-John recalled. “I wound up letting them walk. Twenty minutes later, a big buck walked out, and I shot it. I guess as I got older, I got more patient and learned that if I waited longer, a bigger and better deer might come out.”
Whether he realized it or not, T-John was moving into the trophy stage, where success is no longer defined by shooting or limits. Success in this stage is all about being selective and killing only what a hunter would consider a trophy animal.
T-John’s trophy stage came to a head in January as he dropped the biggest deer he had ever killed. He was hunting a spot he had never hunted before. It was a sage field that had some dozer piles in it. T-John had scouted the area a few days before, but the scrapes that he found gave him no clue of the size deer that was making them.
“We had a tripod, but it was lying on the ground,” T-John recalled. “I was going to sit on the ground, but I decided to go ahead and set it up. I got in it after standing it up, and was just kind of tooling around a little bit. I remember having my head down at about 4:30 because the sun was in my eyes, but it was getting close to prime time, so I kept trying to shield my eyes while watching at the same time.”
In a field across the road not far away, one of T-John’s buddies was squeezing off three evenly spaced shots that made T-John’s father a little curious as to what was going on.
“I didn’t want to go over and disturb anything, so I called him on the cell phone,” John Thompson said. “I asked him if that was him shooting. He told me that it was, so I asked him if he got the deer. I’ll never forget what that kid told me. He said, ‘I don’t know if I killed it or not.’ I asked him what did he mean, and he said, ‘He’s still standing in the field.’ I said, ‘Let’s you and me hang up, and why don’t you shoot him again.’ He said, ‘I would, but I’m out of bullets.’”
It wasn’t long after that episode that the boy called Thompson back to tell him that he thought he had heard T-John shoot. And sure enough, when Thompson got over to his son, he found him admiring a massive deer that was lying on the ground. The trophy buck was 235 pounds, and it sported 24-inch main beams that were 5 inches around the base. The rack measured 19 1/2 inches on the inside and 21 1/2 on the outside.
“The taxidermist told me that deer was 4 1/2-years-old, and that it would score around a 130,” said T-John. “It was funny once people around the house started finding out about it, we would wind up with four grown men standing around it gawking with drool dropping from the corner of their mouths. And to top it off, we had a big-buck contest going on in the area, and that deer won me $275 for being the biggest of the season.”
While T-John admits he would rather hunt than most anything else, he has had just as much success with a fishing rod in his hand as he has a rifle. His family used to own a camp at Grand Isle, so he also got just as much time in chasing specks and reds as he did deer.
In fact, T-John once won an adult division of the Golden Meadow/Fourchon Tarpon Rodeo with an 11-pound mangrove snapper he caught near a rig about 30 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. During the same tournament, he also placed third in the adult cobia division with a 34-pound, 14-ounce fish.
Since his family’s Grand Isle camp was destroyed in the storm, T-John spends much of his fishing time now throwing Rebel minnows and black/yellow H&H spinners in the farm ponds around his house. His largest bass to date is an 8 1/2-pound giant that inhaled the H&H.
“You should have seen him when he realized he had that bass hooked,” said Thompson. “He didn’t cut that fish any slack. It looked like that bass was skiing on top of the water straight to T-John’s open hand.”
Realizing that he has been privileged to grow up on a farm that offers so much opportunity to hunt and fish, T-John also understands there are lots of kids who aren’t as fortunate.
“Hunting and fishing may just not be some people’s thing,” he concluded. “I don’t like soccer, but I’ve got lots of friends who love it. But there are lots of kids who would love to have the chance to go hunting or fishing. That’s why I try to invite as many kids as I can to go with me every chance I get.
“I try to show them that we are just a part of the circle of life. I take the time to try to get them to understand that a big buck can get taken down by a coyote, or it can get taken down by me. When we kill a deer, we’re just completing a part of that chain.”
JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month
Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and LouisianaSportsman.com.