Mid September, in a place where I had been many times before. I was comfortable there, in the tree. I was in a loc-on. The season had been open only for about a week. I had put many hours into this property in the past six years: planting, scouting, hanging stands, cutting lanes and pruning. I had the elusive whitetail patterned pretty well here and I was anxious to prove myself right.
From the past year, I remembered how hard my grandson Chad worked. He was visiting from Colorado, and he was dreaming of what it was like to see them, walking, slowly, easy and unaware of our presence. I had shown him many videos of what it was like and he showed that fever, that intense longing to get into the mix. I could see how he was already in the tree as he watched the first kill on the screen. I knew he was ready for his first hunt.
We had already gone through the training with his rifle. He listened, watched and the first shot he took was dead on. This was not the time to put his expertise to task, though. This was an introduction to the world of archery. I couldn’t help but feel I was giving him the short straw without having a weapon in his hand, but I knew he wasn’t ready for a bow hunt yet. I made an arrangement to keep him for a year, with school and all the other sports and activities, but we had not gotten around to getting him a bow and he was anxiously waiting for rifle season.
In the meantime, grandpa was on his own quest. I had set up a ladder stand behind me in the clearing by the open field. As I look to my right, as far as I could, I see him sitting there, full camo faced. As the sun came up, we could see some deer across the open field. They looked like they were not interested in coming over to our side and as the next two hours proved, they weren’t. They slowly disappeared into the neighbor’s woods and not long after, we thought, it was time to call it a morning. I always try to back out as quietly as I come in and I was trying to teach him the same. I looked over at him and the look he gave me was exactly what I was thinking. Nothing is moving anymore and it was time to go.
I didn’t quite have the heart to tell him yet about the long, boring hours it would take to get to where I was, so I chalked this one up to putting in the time. After all, he was going to experience more of this than the videos showed, but that would come in time. He has to learn the way everyone else has. The wild animals don’t always do what you want them to do.
He sat, watching me climb down from my stand and walking over to his, and I waved him down. No sooner did his feet hit the ground, we caught movement and to both our surprise, a doe was running down the hill, through the hardwoods, and just behind a tree, she stopped and decided to lay down. At about fifty yards, it wasn’t a shot I was willing or could even attempt through the trees and brush. We were pinned down and we had to make a choice. We could choose any one of about three options. One, we could start walking back to the cabin and bust her out of there, giving her an idea of our whereabouts. Two, we could sit and wait for her to get up and leave – not something he wanted to try. After all, he was already bored.
This was the opportunity I was looking for. Option three. Make a stalk. I had stalked a few deer in this very spot before and I was pretty familiar with how I was feeling about it. It felt right and I was eager to let him see what it was like. He would bear witness to what a stalk with a bow would take.
We had the luxury of being able to whisper so I ran him through it. I checked the wind, it was right in our face. I looked around and, not seeing any other deer, I told him to sit down and slowly get as comfortable as he could. It was not very humid and I knew that with dry leaves laying on the ground, this may take a while. I knew I had to close about twenty yards before I would even consider a shot. He sat down and I turned and put on my face, focused and began to scour the ground for the best places to put my feet. I tried to remember everything I had learned while also trying to remember how my student was watching every move I made, too.
It took about twenty minutes to go about twenty yards, so I figured. I was very thankful of the tree she had laid down behind and how she was oriented behind it. I had a clear path while still being able to see her hind end. At one point, I stopped and turned to look at Chad. As my eyes met his, he was focused. I watched his eyes grow, very fast and it looked like he saw something. His jaw dropped and he was trying not to move, but it was very clear he was trying to tell me something with his eyes. I instantly knew what it was. When I looked back in front of me, my suspicions were confirmed. She had stood up and was staring right at me.
I was busted! At this point, it was get it done or feel what every archer has felt before. So close, but yet so far. And so it was. I took a breath, raised my bow and drew. Remembering to breathe was the most difficult thing I had done in this whole hunt. I looked through the peep, acquired the pin, adjusted to the hair on the spot, and took one last mental check of the routine. I moved my finger to the trigger of my release, let half my breath out and loosed the arrow. I sighted my thirty yard pin and immediately knew she was closer than thirty. I saw the arrow fly right over her back. Being here before told me to knock another arrow as quick as I could and lo and behold, she stopped and gave me another shot. Because she ran some, I held the same pin. Thirty yard pin, and aimed, found the same hair, squeezed and, yea, over her back again. How could that be? She ran about ten yards and, over her back again? Again, I knocked a third arrow and drew quickly. She stopped a second time! I raised up, focused and yes, the thirty yard pin again. After all she ran even farther. Ok, I think I can safely admit, the “now or never” feeling hit me. This third arrow, again, right over her back. Three shots, not a hair. I could feel my face flushing with the heat of embarrassment, frustration and defeat, from top of my head to the very core of my toes. I watched her disappear in the woods as quickly as she ran down the hill thirty or so minutes ago.
I stood there for what seemed to be an eternity before I turned around to face what I thought would be a very disappointed young lad. When I made the eye contact, I was so afraid of what I thought I would see but, what I saw was a young man that just understood it. I walked back to Chad and to my delight, his words told me he was farther along this road than I thought. He turned to me and told me how it was ok. I did a great job stalking that deer. I did something that was very hard to do. He was showing a level of professionalism far beyond his years. I was so proud of how far along he was, being so young.
I continued to explain as we walked back to the cabin how most of the time, the animal wins. I tried not to beat myself up too bad in front of him, but I knew down inside how I let that opportunity escape me. We began to make jokes and let it be what it was. I felt better pretty quickly because I knew that they were clean misses. No injuries other than my ego and that was a pretty good consolation for us both.
Through the laughter my thoughts turned to how much I loved him and how great a hunter he was going to be one day. I took pride in being his teacher and showing him that the real hunter can come back empty handed and still know how to make it one of the most memorable times in one’s life. He was on his journey to live the ups and downs it will take to be a sportsman. Being true to his age, for the next three days I heard about how the broadside of a barn was a pretty safe place for a deer to stand. I love that boy. If you love yours, pass it on.
Contributed by Captain Craig Mann, a Western States Sportsman Pro Staff member and experienced hunter and outdoorsman.