The smile speaks volumes about a first deer

The older I get, the more I cling to the nostalgic moments of my life.  We don’t seem to fully appreciate things as we are going through them, but I have been lucky to have picked up on those moments during my life and therefore haven’t missed too many.

Those of you who follow this column and the radio show are well aware of my two sons Travis, 25, whose now a father himself, and Hank who will turn 20 in February.  But I haven’t written nearly as much about my daughter Savannah.  She’s a high school freshman and although our interests have changed drastically since she went through middle school, we both have a relationship in which we try to understand one another and do things together.  She’s tried for three years now to kill a deer.  Luck has never been on our side.  I kept telling her hang in there.

Work obligations for me kept us out of the woods on the Youth Hunting day this year, but the day after we went to the shooting range at the Cornstalk Wildlife Management Area.  She fired three shots from her Remington 7mm-08 and put all three in about a 3 inch group.  When she saw the target she said, “I’m done, I’ll be in the car listening to music.”   Such are the divergent interests the two of us have developed.

Saturday, the final day of the early antlerless season, she and I were in the woods before daylight.  We ascended a treestand which has always been a producer for our family.  It was a warm day with bluebird skies.   Weather was not going to be a factor, but I could tell a lack of interest could definitely create an obstacle.  She declared she only wanted to hunt until noon, which was fine with me.  After all, it was her hunt.

We chatted about a range of topics. The mind of a 14 year old girl never stops.  However, sometimes as I try to comprehend what it’s producing I’m left bewildered, This was definitely not like the deer stand conversations I had with the boys.  Raising a girl is definitely a different endeavor from the experience with my boys. By 8 a.m. she had literally given a name to every squirrel we had watched, explained some of the drama she was experiencing with various people at school, crafted the theme of at least three novels she someday plans to write, talked me through the nuances of how to tape an ankle to prevent a sports injury, and gave me a crash course in how to take a “proper” selfie.  She was clearly irritated by my lack of self photography skills.  I mostly sat and listened and occasionally interjected she should keep her voice down or we were NEVER going to see a deer.

Suddenly, she bumped my leg and when I looked up we were staring into the eyes of a six or eight point buck 45 yards away.  I know the distance because amid her discussions I had hit that very spot with the range finder a half hour earlier.  The buck had clearly winded us, but was having trouble spotting us.  Since it was antlerless only, I whispered, “You can’t shoot that one, let’s just see how long we can enjoy watching him.”  His brief stay lasted about three minutes and he bolted.   Isn’t that how it always happens?  On an antlerless day, you see a big buck?

But, the encounter allowed me to give her some pointers.  She had her rifle on her lap.  I suggested she rest the barrel on the shooting rail in front of us so when the next one walked by, she could limit her movement to get into a shooting position.  It proved to be valuable advice only 15 minutes later when she tapped my leg again and another deer–this one sans headgear — was standing in almost the same spot.  This one was less aware of our presence and was nosing through the leaves in search of acorns.

Savannah steadied the rifle and when the animal presented a broad side shot I whispered, “Send it.”  Seconds later, the rifle cracked, the deer jumped straight into the air, and dashed off into the nearby cover.  I told her it was a hit and she was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane.  Her smile was ear to ear and she was amazed by the rush of adrenaline.

We soon found a blood trail and I was able to show her how to track it through the woods.  We would stand by one spot and look for the next drops.  She caught only quickly and soon took the lead.  I held back and let her track the deer herself.  About 100 yards away, she said, “There it is!!!.”  It turned out to be a perfectly placed lung shot and it turned out to be a button buck.

She was elated and proud.   So was I.  It was an experience we shared together and will forever be remembered by us both.  I wouldn’t trade these times for all the world’s treasure.

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