One of my most-treasured memories took place in Big Wells, Texas, when I was 11 years old. That was the day that I harvested my first whitetail deer.
The memory is special for a couple reasons. The first is obvious: it was my first whitetail! The second is quite a bit more meaningful, however. I was hunting with my best friend, my father.
That memory became even more impactful to me on a hunting trip last season. My son, Douglas, and I headed out to Oakdale for the opening weekend of the youth season with my father-in-law, Dave McGee. Douglas had been anticipating the hunt for several months, and he was really excited to get to camp. The opportunity to have a chance to kill his first deer after two years of trying and striking out was something that he was really looking forward to.
We arrived in the afternoon on Friday, Oct. 11. The fall’s first cool weather had arrived that day, and the weather for the weekend was supposed to be phenomenal: clear skies and highs in the low 70s. We quickly unpacked our gear and headed to an area where Douglas could shoot his rifle to make sure everything was still good after the drive over. Just as I thought, Douglas and his gun were both just where they needed to be. After a fantastic dinner and fellowship with family, we headed to bed with big anticipation for the next morning.
The big day
We awoke to cool temperatures in the low 50s, which was a welcome surprise for mid-October in Louisiana. As we headed to the stand, Douglas could hardly contain himself. The morning was beautiful, and we made ourselves comfortable in a spacious box stand. We watched several squirrels jump from one pine tree to the next as a multitude of doves flew in to feed around our stand. Much to our dismay, however, we didn’t see any deer during our 3-hour sit.
After getting back to camp, eating lunch and playing a little football with his cousin, Ryan, Douglas was eager to get back in the stand for the afternoon hunt. I was pretty hopeful it would be more productive. After holding Douglas back for most of the afternoon, we decided to head to our stand for the final three hours of daylight.
As we settled into the stand, Douglas’s excitement level was high once again. The first couple hours were uneventful. We passed the time snacking on beef jerky and enjoying the birds and other wildlife in their normal afternoon routine. With about an hour of light left, I caught movement at the end of the shooting lane I was watching. It was a deer! I slowly turned to Douglas and whispered, “There’s a deer on this side.”
His head quickly turned away from the lane he was watching. I slowly stood up and helped Douglas move his chair into position for a shot. I could feel his heart beating as he nervously asked me, “Dad, is it in range?” So I picked up my binoculars and ranged the deer at 81 yards. “Yep,” I said. “It’s right around the distance we’ve been practicing, but let’s wait and let it get perfectly broadside before you try to take a shot.”
Waiting for the perfect shot
We watched the deer feed for what seemed like 30 minutes. In reality, it was only about 10, but I wanted Douglas to have an absolutely perfect shot. I tried to calm him down as he watched the deer through his scope and reminded him of all the things we had been practicing on the range. When the deer finally made its way into the right position, I quietly told him, “When you’re ready, squeeze the trigger.”
I watched Douglas’s finger as he slowly squeezed the trigger. “Bang,” sounded the rifle. The deer jumped straight up in the air and kicked as it ran quickly back where it came from.
“You got it!” I exclaimed.
After the shot, we shared a moment that was unexplainable. It was a special moment of excitement that I’ll never forget. I fought off Douglas’s urge to go and look for the deer as long as possible, but after 20 minutes of nagging, I agreed to walk down to where the deer was standing and look for blood.
As we arrived at the spot, I could not find a single drop. Douglas’s mind began to spin with thoughts that maybe he had missed. I made my way over to the last spot I had seen the deer before it ran into the brush. As I checked the area for blood, I caught a glimpse of white 10 yards into the pine thicket. “Douglas, come check this out,” I yelled.
The big moment
The moment Douglas realized the deer was just 10 yards from us, he let out a scream that I’m sure everyone within a 500-yard circle heard. The deer was only a small button buck, but it would not have been any more special if it had been a giant 10-pointer. As I fought back tears of happiness, my mind went back to Big Wells, Texas, 27 years earlier, and the moment I walked up on my first deer with my father.
I had come full circle.
My dad is no longer with us, but I’m hopeful that he is up in Heaven with a proud smile on his face. The memories I made with him in the field are some of my most-precious memories, and I hope that I can provide Douglas with some of those same special memories over time. I’m thankful that we were able to share this moment with my father-in-law, and that Douglas will forever have this memory to look back on as the beginning of many years of whitetail hunting ahead.
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