My passion for hunting has always been steadfast and invariable. I wanted to write this article about the “fire” I have always burning inside me because I feel that I owe it the recognition. I owe it the acknowledgement and accreditation for being my main drive and focus towards success. The “fire” has pushed me to not only improve myself as a hunter, but to also take my motivation, determination and ambition out of the woods and into other parts of my life. I have always been able to implement what I learn through hunting into other aspects of my life, and I know undoubtedly that this has helped me as a person and professional. The “fire” still burns strong to this day and it always will, but I would like to tell you how my passion got started. I am sure all of you at some point or another have been asked, “Why do you love to hunt?” The easy answer would be to say, “It’s in my blood”, but we all know of the one moment that had us hooked for life. I am sure most of us can remember our first hunt or our first time harvesting an animal. It is always great to rekindle these memories and I truthfully love hearing them from others. By sharing my story I hope you as a reader can relate to it and remember why you love to hunt. Keep the “fire” lit and let it burn.
Like many young boys I started learning how to hunt with my Dad simply by going with him. When I was 9 years old I remember going to the woods with him during the Michigan whitetail deer bowhunting season with no intentions to hunt myself (I was too young). I went because I wanted to see deer, preferably a buck. I had never seen a hard horned buck and I wanted that interaction. My Dad would come home from hunting and he often had stories of the bucks he would see. I was infatuated by his descriptions of the body size and antler characteristics of some of the bucks he had encounters with. I wanted to see these prestigious animals in their natural environment, and I wanted to know why my Dad loved to hunt them. At this point in my life I had only one close encounter with a spike horn buck in the woods during the summer and countless deer glassed from the passenger seat of my Dad’s truck. When my Dad asked me if I wanted to go hunting with him when October 1st rolled around I was elated.
The big day came for my Dad and I to go on our first hunt together. I felt like I played a significant role in the hunt because my stand location was in close proximity to his, which meant that if I saw any deer heading his way I was to alert him through our “walky-talkies”. Dressed in camo from head to toe and with my “walky-talky” in hand my Dad and I headed out to the woods. I remember climbing up into the tree and putting my safety belt on. When I got settled in I looked down to give my Dad the traditional “thumbs up”, which meant we were good to go and the hunt was on! I watched him walk slowly and carefully through the woods until he disappeared. This was it. I was officially on the hunt with my Dad and my senses were on full alert.
I was perched in a ladder stand strapped to a fairly old oak tree. I could see well into the woods and all the way across the bean field behind me. This particular stand was a great observation stand that I would later kill several deer out of. I can recall some of my thoughts and still-frames I had etched into my mind during this hunt. I remember noticing how quiet the woods became after sitting there for a while. I remember that it was a relatively warm day and that there was little to no wind at all. The sun was sinking down, but shining brightly through the orange leaves that nearly covered the forest canopy. I remember these things distinctly, but my memory renders them insignificant because what happened after only an hour of sitting in the woods was something that I would NEVER forget. I will ALWAYS remember the moment I heard the hard crunch of oak leaves and the unmistakable sound of a buck grunt. I had heard my Dad blow his grunt tube before and I had read about what a grunt sounded like in my obnoxious collection of North American Whitetail magazines time and time again. However, nothing could have prepared me for that exact moment. I turned slowly around to catch a flash of ivory through the brush and dangling limbs. It was a buck! He was walking right towards my stand along the edge of the bean field that I was overlooking. If he continued to walk along the field’s edge he would pass right under me. The buck did exactly that and the entire time my heart was racing. I was so nervous that my throat started to hurt and my body began to shake. He passed behind my tree and I slowly turned my head around to the other side. He stopped dead in his tracks. I was frozen and so was he. Fearful that he could hear me breathing and shaking I tightened my muscles and held my breath. He looked angry. He reminded me of “Old Mossy”, the antagonist buck in the animated movie “Bambi” (That’s at least what my Dad called him).
I remained motionless as “Old Mossy” scanned the field with his eyes and ears. His coat was dark, and from my young memory his body was big. Being only a 5 pointer, I couldn’t believe how big and mean this buck looked. He flicked his tail and continued his path down the field’s edge. I watched him walk off until he disappeared and I could no longer see him. I was ecstatic. I never pulled a trigger or released an arrow, but I celebrated like I just shot a Boone and Crockett trophy buck. The encounter itself meant so much to me. I was so close and I knew that moments like this were rare. I sat down after several fist pumps almost exhausted from the adrenaline and excitement. For a few seconds I sat and thought about what just happened. The buck came and went in a blink of an eye. I can remember looking back from where the buck came and I prayed that more deer would come. My hand brushed across my “walky-talky” and I suddenly remembered what I needed to do. The one job I had was to alert my Dad if any deer were coming! Hoping I was not too late I radioed my Dad with a strong whisper, “There is a buck coming your way!” I didn’t hear anything and I hit the button once more, repeating my message. My Dad’s voice scratched through the radio, “Okay”. Then it was silent.
The evening faded to night and I could see my Dad’s flashlight coming through the woods. This visual broke my intense focus and concentration on the general direction of my Dad’s stand. It had been a while since the buck passed and I was hoping to hear his shot or see the buck run by with signs of a fatal wound. But that did not happen. My Dad made it to the bottom of the stand and I asked him, “Well??? Did you see him?” Dad responded, “Yeah. He was 10 yards out of range.” I remember being disappointed and I wish this story had a better ending, but what stood out above the outcome was the encounter that set me on fire. It was not as flashy and exciting as some other stories I have heard, but that was the encounter that had me hooked for the rest of my life.