Sitting in my treestand for the first hunt of the season, my mind drifted back through my 30 years of hunting to the time when we got our first deer. I could not help but smile as I glanced up the ridge to the South West of my stand position. Sitting there remembering the excitement, the happiness and the feeling of true accomplishment of the day that unfolded on that comfortable fall afternoon about 200 yards from where my treestand is located.
When I was 12 years old and my brother Scott was 10 we went on our first deer hunt with our father. We did not hunt on opening day, because the weather was forecasted to be miserable and dad didn’t want us to miss a full day of school. So we would have to wait until the first weekend of the season, as our shotgun season opened on Monday’s back then. That week was one of the longest I can ever remember. Finally it was Friday, we got out of school early that day and we headed to our families property in the South West Corner of New York State.
As soon as we got there, we got dressed and headed to the woods. We had spent so much time growing up in these woods, yet they seemed so different on this day, almost as if there was an actual purpose to being there. We only had about two and a half hours of daylight to hunt.
After we marched single file through the meadow in knee deep snow to the woods edge, dad stopped and looked at us and told us two things. First off, where we were headed, and secondly “When I stop, you stop!” That went in one ear and out the other for both of us.
We only had to walk another couple hundred yards to where we were hunting for the evening. We sat there for an hour when Dad looked at the two of us shivering with our noses running and said “Let’s move down the trail about one hundred yards, I know a good place to sit.” As soon as I jumped to my feet, about 100 yards down through the woods on the deer run we were hunting, I saw something move and did a double take.
“Dad, look a deer!” I said. But the deer disappeared. Dad sighed and chuckled, then looked at us and said, “This is the reason why we don’t move.”
We hunted the next day with no luck before returning home. When we got home mom was waiting at the door. She said, “Well, where is it?” Smiling from ear to ear my brother Scott and I replied in unison, “It ran away when it saw us.” Then dad added, “If we would have waited another five minutes our season would’ve been over.” We hunted the following weekend and came up empty handed again and that ended our season.
After a long twelve month wait, it was time to return to the deer woods. The first weekend was miserable weather with no success. For the second weekend, we were greeted with high pressure, mild temperatures and clear skies. We sat in the morning, near a giant beaver swamp where we watched ducks and geese come and go all morning but saw no deer.
Around 10:45 we headed back to camp for lunch. No one in camp had seen a deer that morning. While dad napped, we played football in the front yard at the cabin, then around 1:00 pm dad asked if we were ready to go hunting. We replied eagerly, “Yup, where we headed!” Dad said two words, “The Point.”
1:30 pm – Time to go. Walking to “The Point” was quite a chore. Dad made us go through the brush that would kill an ordinary man, or so he said. We made it to the Point about 2:30 and we were very tired. Venturing through the brush to get to the point was like going through Fanghorn Forest (Fanghorn Forest is an enchanted, impenetrable forest from the Lord of the Rings stories by J.R.R. Tolkien).
After breaking through the last bit of brush, the woods opened and to this day it is still my vision of heaven. The woods looked awesome, with large maple, cherry, beech and ash trees with a few sparsely scattered hemlocks. I vowed to myself that day, to spend as much time in this neck of the woods as I could, for some reason I feel that I am connected to it. We sat down at the base of a big tree stump near the crest of the ridge. Scott was facing north up the ridge, dad faced west towards the brush and I watched the south down the ridge. I still think of this day, every time I pass this spot.
Although time and weather have erased the existence of that old rotted tree stump, whenever I pass by this spot I smile. We had such a good feelings and positive attitudes that afternoon.
I watched my area all afternoon. Occasionally, I glanced up to my right to watch the sun slip further West. I don’t remember the exact time, but I heard Scott whisper excitedly, “Dad, here comes a deer!”
Then dad calmly replied, “Don’t move they’re coming right towards us.” Scott had a smile a mile wide, I did too and I hadn’t seen the deer yet. I asked, “How far are they?”
Dad whispered, “fifty yards, don’t move.” After an eternity of not being able to move or see what was going on, I thought to myself, I have to take a look. Just then I heard dad click off the safety on his Browning Sweet 16.
As I leaned forward and peered around dad’s body I saw the lead doe standing about fifteen yards directly in front of Scott. Instantly, I leaned back against the stump. I was so excited. How Scott, a 10 year old was keeping it together as it unfolded right in front of him, I had no idea.
Finally, one of the adult does became leery of the wiggling stump and turned to take off running, and when she did, BANG!!! We heard the Sweet 16 bark one time. The doe ran past me to the South East, off to my left and out of sight. The other deer also ran back the way they had come from. Dad stood up and looked at us … and smiled.
He had been dreaming of this day since before I was born and finally it was here. Dad showed us how to properly follow the blood trail, the doe only went about seventy yards or so before collapsing. When we found the doe, he showed us how to field dress it. We then took turns dragging it back to the cabin, as hero’s. That night on our ride home, we told dad we better get a three wheeler (just shows you how long ago this event took place) for the really big ones. He just laughed…
That was it, on one comfortable fall afternoon, one dream was reached and two lives were changed forever. The events that unfolded that afternoon began creating dreams of our own for both my brother and I. As they say, we were bit by the bug. That was the day we truly became whitetail hunters…
However, it was more than the deer and the events in the woods that day. By spending time in the woods and at camp with our father before we were old enough to bare arms, made us better hunters. It was the time spent with each other and the other guys in camp; listening to all the stories, the laughs and the good times that truly fueled our dreams and passion to become whitetail hunters and outdoorsmen.
Those events made such an impact on my life and who I have become today. I believe with all my being, that if you want to connect with the next generation, go back to your roots and simplify your time together. It’s hanging out around a camp fire roasting marshmallows, reeling in a bunch bluegills at a farm pond or shaking hands congratulating someone on harvesting their first whitetail or wild turkey. By just spending time together, unplugged from the world, there is nothing that will bring you and the young people in your life closer together.
Not to mention it keeps kids out of trouble and gives them something positive to focus on. By making your time together fun, you make memories that last your entire life and then the kids you hunt with do the same with the next generation to follow them. As sportsmen, shouldn’t this be our focus, to continue the tradition and extend our outdoorsman heritage.
I talk hunting with a lot of people and the one thing, I can honestly say, I’ve never heard anyone say: “I don’t remember my first deer.” This could be a great way to kindle a relationship with the next generation.
This year will be the first year my son tags along with me to the deer stand. The circle of life is coming around again. I can honestly say, when we get to the woods, behind our camp, I will be saying two things to him, where we’re headed and when I stop, you stop. As sure as I am sitting here typing this today, I will stop and he will walk into the back me and I cannot wait…
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