The deer bucked, bolted and then fell over dead at the base of a big red pine. The sound of the gunshot was still echoing across the swampy valley stretched out beyond the grove of pines when my son, Ethan, said, “He’s down. He went down!”
I watched as he engaged the crossbolt safety on his lever gun, a .30-30 he had begged for after his very first deer hunt back in 2012. He leaned the gun in the corner of the blind and looked at me quietly for what seemed like an eternity. I could see the smile break across his lips as he said, “My first buck. I got my first buck. Let’s go get him.”
Ethan took the lead as we crossed about 80 yards of pine needles scattered with wild raspberry plants that tugged at our pants as we approached the downed whitetail. He was very clearly dead, but Ethan approached cautiously just the way he had been taught.
Back in 2005, when he was just 5 years old, he had sprinted ahead of me as we went to retrieve a deer I’d shot. The buck had been lying still on the ground until Ethan got within about 10 feet. When the deer started to kick, that little boy made the fastest 180-degree turn I had ever seen.
That little boy is gone now, replaced by a young man on the cusp of adulthood. I’d like to say he has grown up deer hunting, but that would not be entirely accurate. Ethan and I have hunted, but not as often as I would like. His older brother used to come with us, but I could tell he was never really “into” it so I was not about to force him.
In 2012, Ethan was old enough to carry a gun for the first time. Despite the fact that I’m no expert and that we were hunting in a spot that was less than perfect, but truly the only place I had access to, Orion smiled on us and Ethan was able to shoot a nice fat doe on the last day of the season. He was hooked and I knew I would have to do what I could to get him back in the field.
When I stumbled upon a great deal on a Marlin .30-30, I bought it even before I thought about the monthly budget. I presented it to Ethan before the 2013 season, and he promptly jerked the trigger on the only shot he would have that year. In 2014, we battled bitter cold and watched a nice buck weave in and out of a thicket that seemed nearly impenetrable. To Ethan’s credit, he refused to shoot until he had a clear shot. That shot never materialized, and he went home disappointed, but I could not have been prouder to see him make the right choice.
This time, the buck chose to cross the gully on the correct side of the thicket. Ethan didn’t see the deer at first. It was headed in our direction about 100 yards to the southeast when I squeezed his arm and said, “There’s a buck.”
“Where?” he asked, his head pivoting as he scanned the woods through the windows of the ground blind. “I don’t see him.”
The deer jumped over a deadfall and that movement was enough allow Ethan to lock on. He shouldered his rifle and pressed the safety button as he said, “There he is. Come on. Keep coming. A little closer. Get past that tree.”
It was as if he was an air traffic controller somehow guiding the deer to the perfect location. The shot was almost anticlimactic. I think Ethan was hoping to break the front shoulder blade and anchor the deer in his tracks. There was a bit of panic in his voice when the deer bolted. That subsided when the buck fell over.
As we field dressed the deer it became clear Ethan had driven the bullet right through both lungs and the cut the arteries at the top of the heart. No one could ask for a better shot.
We didn’t need to talk much as Ethan grabbed the antlers and looked over the deer. We were both right there in the moment. Nothing else really mattered, and words would not really have added anything. Through his smiling lips he repeated, “My first buck. Yeah.”
Then he did something that caught me a little off guard. He let go of the antler and threw his right arm around my shoulder. As he squeezed, he said, “Thank you. Seriously, thank you. This has been a great day and I know what it means to you. I hope you know what it means to me.”
It was such a touching moment; I hope I didn’t ruin it with my reply when I said, “You’ve got a deer to drag.”
It’s a day neither of us will forget. It’s why we hunt.
Here I sit once again in my deer hut. Others have harvested and tagged out here on the farm, while I return each morning to my stand. Oh, I have had my chances. That big buck was just too far away for a decent shot.
I have let does pass in hopes that a buck might be following, and I let bucks walk by that next year will be wall hangers.
I guess as I get older it’s not about the killing but more about the experience of being out amid nature.
• It’s watching the day awaken as the sun climbs above the bluffs over the Osage River.
• It’s seeing an eagle gracefully soar along the Missouri River.
• It’s listening to the birds chirp and the crows sounding an alarm.
• It’s watching a squirrel making repeated trips out into the field to bury a pecan only to return a few minutes later to do it again.
• It’s observing a possum wobble across the cornfield and wondering just why it gets no respect.
• It’s looking at the sunsets and noticing how the colors change around you.
Will I be out here tomorrow morning? More than likely, sipping a cup of coffee and remembering hunts past. Reminiscing about good times shared in deer camps. Recollecting knowledge of the outdoors that was gleaned from friends who are here only in our memories. And then I will trudge back to the warm house and have a plate of biscuits and gravy.
Somewhere on the Osage
Here are a few strange and amazing hunting situations.
One time, I was hunkered down in a washout trench in one of my favorite areas and was pinned down for two hours by a couple of attentive jakes at approximately 50 yards.
What I witnessed next was something that made me snicker under my facemask and bask in the wonder of the outdoors. A young buck appeared on the scene, and the jakes began batting it with their wings, playfully I guess, because the buck didn’t act like it was any big deal. I didn’t get a turkey that day but was treated to a memory I will always cherish.
I was hunting with Kevin Small one day and for once, I got to do the relaxing (usually I hunt solo). He had a gobbler all worked up for me and brought that bird at least a half-mile, if not more. We were in a small clearing, backed up to a timberline.
A neighboring farmer had cattle using this particular pasture. The bird appeared, and as I was preparing for the shot, out of the corner of my eye, mama cow and her calf, which were milling around, decided to intercede.
The cows really didn’t bother the turkey, until the calf decided to lower his head and charge my gobbler and butt him with his head. All I could do was laugh as my hunt had to wait for another day.
DEER HAVE OTHER IDEAS
I will never forget bringing in a trophy tom, only to have a doe and three fawns decide to send me out of the timber and to an early breakfast. It was a foggy, northeast Missouri morning, and I had a bird gobbling and on his way in, to my right.
The fog in front on me had not lifted when I saw four silhouettes, in front of me about 200 yards out. Now, I had a hot gobbler coming in and the figures moving in closer to me by the second. The sun was rising to the east (my right), and there was my beautiful gobbler, parallel to my right, about 100 yards down the edge of the field, getting ready to walk right in front of me.
Gun was already up, but the deer had other ideas for my day. Two of the fawns sauntered into the timber about 15 yards to my right. The gobbler was still coming, albeit a little more slowly. Good, I thought. Two down, two to go and I would be slinging my trophy over my shoulder shortly.
The last fawn follows; the gobbler is still there.
St. Charles, MO
This is a turkey story. We’d been hunting here in Arkansas since our season opened, and every day when were hunting elsewhere, there was a big gobbler sounding off from somewhere on or around our little 30-acre chunk of paradise in the middle of 160,000 acres of national forest.
After three days, the national forest was closed, so we slept in until about 6:30. When I walked out on the porch to … well, you know … he was gobbling just south of our pond but on the government land.
We grabbed our stuff, went down to where the turkeys spend a lot of their time and set up to wait for him, but he decided to stay up on the mountain. We listened until about 8:30 and quit.
We decided to spend the last couple hours of daylight trying to kill the home bird. Jill went to where we had hunted in the morning, and I climbed the mountain and got right on our east property line, as close as I could get to where he’d been roosted without getting onto the government land.
TURKEY SHOWS UP
It was windy and threatening rain, temperature dropping like a rock, and it was hard to hear anything, but I don’t think he gobbled anyway. He just showed up. One second nothing, and next second a big red head and long neck were there, on the side of the slope with me, less than 20 yards away.
Of course he’d seen me, and when he turned and started away, I came up shooting. Got one rushed shot off as he scurried down the slope, and then he got wing and flew through the trees until he had cleared the vegetation on the side of the mountain.
I watched him fly out across the pond and bank to the left up the valley toward where Jill was sitting and hoped I’d hear her shoot. But she didn’t, so I walked over to where he’d been when I shot and found a thumb-sized sapling pretty much demolished by my shot charge.
There was no blood and no feathers, and he flew off strong, so I figured I’d missed him altogether.
A MIRACLE BIRD
I kicked around some and cussed some, the way you do when you foul up that bad, and came back to the house and started packing stuff. I was in the camper putting stuff away when I heard Jill calling for me, and went outside and there she stood with the gobbler, asking me how I had sneaked in and left the bird where she’d find it without her seeing me do it.
What evidently happened was that the turkey flew until he died in midair and crash-landed about 40 yards from Jill’s set-up, and she didn’t hear it because of the wind. She heard a thump not long after I shot but didn’t see anything.
Either that, or the gobbler landed short of her and made it that far on foot before he died. When she decided to leave, she came down the hillside and walked straight to where the turkey was down.
Miracle bird on two counts – first, that I killed him at all, and second, that Jill found him. It just shows what us old-timers have known for a while – stay out in the woods long enough and you’ll see everything you could possibly imagine.
But I can no longer make the claim that nobody has ever carried one of my turkeys out of the woods for me.
Safe huntin’ to everybody. We’re off on another adventure…
Somewhere in Arkansas
Funny thing about your dog …. he knows you as well as you know yourself, and he loves you anyway. Doesn’t matter to him if your socks don’t match or your sweater is missing a couple buttons.
He doesn’t care if your hair is becoming sparse and your hips aren’t. He sees no imperfections in his human. Lucky for us. He stands beside his person with joy. Take him for a walk and he’ll march along proudly, ears alert, tail aloft.
Everything in his bearing says, “This person is mine. Isn’t he something?”
Your spouse may know you for what you really are, and your accomplishments seldom impress your kids, but look at that dog! To him, you are just the greatest thing on two feet. And remember – no matter what – you will always measure up to his standards. That’s love!
Your dog has one mission in life. You. Whatever you have, whatever you do, it’s just fine with him. In his pack, you’re the leader. You’re it! No worldly success will ever earn you the same degree of approbation. You’re his God.
It’s amazing. If you want to go hiking, that’s exactly what he wants to do, too. Mention an hour of fishing? Who’s first in the boat? Just want to kick back and relax? Precisely what he had in mind.
There is a degree of unity between a human and a dog that is seldom met between two people.
I just received the package of weather information devices you sent me. Thank you so much.
I could have used them two weeks ago when I went on the Meramec River by Arapaho Campground. A huge storm came rolling in, and I was the only person on the river in a canoe.
I just got to the take-out point when all hell broke loose, and that was after paddling the last mile from the state park in record time. Up until that time, the fishing had been outstanding, of course, and I’ve been known to push it to the limit on occasion.
The wind was so strong that my canoe was being blown upstream in the current. In any event, I made it home, but it was a harrowing ride.
Keep up the great work with your Outdoor Guide. I look forward to it as much as I do my NRA American Hunter magazine, both of which I read cover to cover in mere days. Thanks again.
St. Louis, MO
Just a note on frogs: Over the years, my two buddies and I have caught hundreds of frogs. We didn’t gig them; we caught them by hand. We used a miner’s carbide lamp and waded to get to them.
Eating just the legs was wasteful. We discovered that the big frogs had meat on the back, so we cut off the head, feet fore and aft, skinned them and fried the whole frog. No waste, more meat.
St. Peters, MO
I thought you might be interested in my latest discovery of the bounty of our wonderful state of Missouri.
Last week, I spent a day exploring for morel mushrooms throughout the bottomland along Price Creek at the south end of my hunting property. An acquaintance of Mary Ann joined me to show me what morels looked like, where and how to pick them, and then how best to prepare them for eating.
We found a fantastic patch that provided enough bounty for two meals for two families.
Neither Mary Ann nor I had ever tasted morels before, but the two of us instantly developed an addiction to the mushrooms. I lightly coated them in flour, salt and pepper and then fried them in lard to yield a delicious side dish to our deep-fried wild turkey nuggets.
Hello my friends. Once again, our St. Louis County parks are under attack. After the defeat of Charlie Dooley we all hoped that our beloved parks were safe.
However, County Executive Steve Stenger has revived one of Charlie’s ill-conceived plans. St. Louis County is about to sell 38 acres of Sylvan Springs Park to the Veterans Administration for cemetery expansion. This will encompass more than half of the current park.
I need to ask your help in making this decision as uncomfortable as possible for the County Council and Mr. Stenger. Here is what you can do. First, go to this link and take the survey the county is conducting on the issue. It will take less than one minute of your time – www.surveymonkey.com/r/MT63YK3
Secondly, I hope you can attend any future public hearings to voice your opposition to this sale. Two were being held July 21 and 23 at Jefferson Barracks Park.
Lastly, if you would like to join me in holding some signs at the park, just let me know. I would appreciate the company. The only way we can have any impact at all is for another massive showing in support of our parks, similar to what we did the last time.
The information below is a recap of the situation. Sylvan Springs Park is the second oldest in the system. It has a rich and long history in events of our country and region.
Concerns: The addition will provide only 7-10 years of additional burials and therefore it is not a long-term solution to the space issue. In 15 years the VA will undoubtedly take the remaining portion of the park. After that, they will most likely begin to take sections of the 404-acre Jefferson Barracks Park just across the road.
The land is riddled with sinkholes, making long-term burial stability an issue. The VA bungled the opportunity to purchase land to the east that is now the Walmart shopping center. Despite the owners’ repeated attempts to sell the land to the VA, they did not act.
Sections of the land have very shallow top soil that is not conducive to burials. This is not a case of not being supportive of veterans’ needs, but rather a case of protecting public land and wanting a long-term solution to the problem.
Be aware that those of us who support the park will be labeled as anti-vet and anti-American, and I have already been called a communist. Those of you who know me know that many people have called me many things, but a communist is a new one I will have to add to the list.
Most importantly, the loss of this park does little to alleviate the problem of the cemetery running out of space. Other alternatives are possible. One is purchasing land south of I-255. Or there is abundant, suitable land just across the JB Bridge in Illinois that would take care of the cemetery needs for many, many decades.
This would be the third parcel of county parkland that has been removed from public use. The R-9 Community Center park has been converted into a police station, and much of Ohlendorf West Park was gobbled up for the Emergency Operations Center. Additionally, hundreds of acres of public land have been leased to private organizations in parks throughout the region.
Back in the 1980’s, citizens rose up against a plan to lease out a majority of beautiful Queeny Park for a private concern to build a golf course. At that time, the Natural Heritage Park Act was implemented by initiative petition to protect four parks that contained a lot of wild open spaces.
St. Louis, MO
Two months of preparation lead us to this one moment.
With 20 minutes of daylight left, the 9-point buck that we had hoped to encounter stepped into the bean field.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“Not yet, I don’t have a shot,” my 8-year-old daughter Kalynn answered. This interaction repeated itself twice more.
I was starting to worry about whether my daughter would be able to execute our game plan on the 9 pointer, who was now only 60 yards away, quartering towards us.
Suddenly, he turned broadside. The little girl who was unsure of the shot seconds earlier confidently said, “OK. Now.”
I let out a bleat. The deer stopped and she dropped him dead in his tracks.
The best tool for a successful youth hunt is a confident kid behind the trigger. The only way to achieve that is through preparation. Here are a few tips that helped my daughter be patient and confident in the moment.
RANGE TIME – Most people will take their kid to the range before a hunt to make sure that the gun is sighted in. Your focus should also be on getting the kids comfortable with what they are doing. Go back to the range as many times as needed until they can responsibly handle loading, firing and unloading the weapon.
Ask them questions. “Is the gun on safety?” and “Why are you doing that?” Once they have a grasp on what they’re doing, you will see their confidence in the responses.
TARGET ACQUISITION – I use a Caldwell Field Pod for my daughter to shoot from, as it gives both side-to-side and up-and-down movement while supporting the weight of the gun. Each time at the range with the gun unloaded, I would turn the gun 45 degrees away from the target and point it to the ground. She would practice repeatedly getting the gun on target and then give me a verbal, “Bang.”
As she became used to the routine, her time to get on target was cut by a third.
SHOT PLACEMENT – This is an easy one that you can do at home. I subscribe to several outdoor magazines and they are littered with pictures of whitetail deer. First, I would draw pictures of the heart and lungs on each deer and talk to her about ideal shot placement. Later, I would give her a pen and have her “shoot” the deer with it.
I drove home the fact that passing on a questionable shot was far more impressive than making a bad shot.
GAME PLAN – This is crucial. Before we got into a stand, we talked about our routine for a deer that was on the move. It seemed so simple but we went over it so many times that in the moment, she knew exactly what to do.
CALM DOWN – As you can tell in my story, I was the one who was excited and impatient in the moment. Some of the things that I preached to her went out the window, and I was almost rushing her. While you are doing all of these activities to prepare them for the moment, think about what you should be doing to prepare.