Just as his father taught him 40 years ago, Tim Hooey is teaching his son to hunt. But sometimes it is not easy knowing what is perfectly good repetitive instruction and what is outright nagging. Sometimes Dad forgets that he was the same do-it-my-own-way kind of kid.
Hooey meticulously planned the opening-day hunt. It would be most productive to hunt from treestands in the morning, and to then set up a controlled deer drive for the afternoon. After all, Lou Haubner’s River Ridge Farms, where Tim is directing a deer management program, borders the Ohio River and holds a lot of whitetails. Too many, Tim and Lou believe. On this hunt, their plan was to cull 15 does and take a mature buck, if one presented itself to the group of 15 hunters.
Sean, Tim’s 14-year-old son, would be a member of the hunting party, so Tim was at his best, ensuring a safe and, from his point of view, enjoyable experience. He reminded the boy about gun safety, even though the sober teenager had easily passed the Michigan hunter education course.
“Only load after you get settled,” he reminded. “Keep the safety on and your finger away from the trigger until you have identified your target and are ready to shoot.”
Sean, who is 6 feet, 4 inches and already wears size 14 boots, is as tall as his father, but leaner. His size and physique – a flat-stomach, wide chest and muscular arms – have been attractive qualities to the football and baseball coaches at home in Michigan who see an outside linebacker and a fastball pitcher … and increasingly, judging by Dad’s sullen irritation, to the high school girls as well.
“Not too bad, I suppose,” Tim says, “for a kid whose favorite food is bacon cheeseburgers and French fries, and whose favorite activity is sleeping … or playing video games.”
Still, he has to acknowledge that his kid is a crack shot using the 2 3/4-inch 20-gauge Remington 870 pump.
“He has been hunting since he was 9 and sitting on a treestand with me since he was 5,” Tim is alternately proud and concerned. “He can shoot a 1 1/2-inch group at 100 yards with that gun. I just don’t want him to get too excited and make a mistake.”
Not much activity roused the hunters in the morning. Two does hung from the meat pole, but this was fewer than Tim expected.
At lunch, he announced his plan for an afternoon deer drive. Several hunters laughed. “Aren’t deer drives an old style of hunting?” they asked, calling up visions of old men smoking pipes, their wool caps, earflaps tied over the top, resting jauntily on their heads. Nobody hunted like that anymore.
Nevertheless, Tim and Lou pulled out aerial photos and a topographic map of River Ridge Farms and explained the position and purpose of drivers, who would walk from east to west through the brush. Standers would conceal themselves and wait in ambush. Gradually, they began to coax their reluctant hunters into the exercise.
The terrain flanking the Ohio River was ideal for a drive. Both men had observed deer in the thick brush bordering the river, but because there were few sizable trees for a treestand, neither had yet hunted it. During the summer, Tim had scouted the area and had a reasonable idea how and where bedded deer would try to melt away once the drive began.
Most deer, they knew, the drivers would never see. Some might even lie invisible in the brush while drivers walked by within a few yards. Tim and Lou believed they had an excellent chance to take a few of them. Besides, the drive would be early enough that those who were without a deer could still take a stand for the evening. Hearing that, everyone agreed to try it.
Lou Haubner’s farm parallels the north bank of the Ohio River. It is separated from the water by two steep ridges, which rise from the surface of the rushing, tannin-laced flow like giant steps. Between those ridges is a brushy shelf or bench that varies in width from 50 to 100 yards. From the shelf, it is a sharp drop, 20 to 25 feet, to the water. Neither Tim nor Lou believed that a deer, unless panicked, would make such a leap.
Several natural draws, themselves overgrown with brush, led upward from the bench between the ridges to the plateau where the bordering woods were thick. Beyond the woods lay open farm fields. The heads of these draws were natural stand sites, and Tim planned to post standers along their flanks.
For this drive, he said, there would not be the accustomed standers at the opposite end of the bench, watching for driven deer. Standers there were unnecessary because the bench came to an abrupt end as the steep upper ridge curved downward and plunged into the river. No deer could climb that sheer cliff, and therefore they would have to escape up the draws. (There is always a safety issue when placing standers at the opposite end of a drive. When hunters face each other with loaded weapons, even well trained and experienced marksmen with deer running between them have an increased possibility of an accident.)
Tim and Lou volunteered to be two of the designated drivers. The “driving” team was expected to walk slowly, and in line, through the brush from east to west along the shelf of land, parallel to the river. Never in a hurry, and there was to be no shouting, throwing rocks, blowing whistles or firing in the air. They would push deer ahead of them without causing the animals to panic.
The other hunters drew straws to see who would be standers and who would walk, pushing deer out of the brush. Tim’s son, Sean, drew a short straw. He would be a stander.
“Can a driver shoot?” the hunters asked.
“If you have a clear shot at a standing or slowly moving deer,” Tim said, “and are conscious of the hunters to your left and right. Remember that you cannot shoot into a draw. We have standers there, and one of them is my son. The draws are flagged, so if you get a good shot, take it. Just be very careful.”
The most important element of a coordinated deer drive, Tim reiterated, was safety. Everyone would wear blaze orange, and each driver was expected to keep eye contact with the individuals to their left and right. (Tim and Lou had hung ribbons above the entrance to the draws so that the slowly walking drivers could know exactly where they were.)
Sean Hooey had never killed a buck and he was primed for the opportunity. For the afternoon deer drive, he would be the stander in the last, but largest, draw.
“Now, remember what I said,” Tim whispered when he dropped him at the head of the gully. “Load up after you get into the draw and select a good vantage point that lets you shoot well. Keep the safety on and your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire. Be absolutely sure of your target. Before anyone comes up that draw, they will yell at you first and you yell back to confirm that you heard them, okay? Then unload, open the chamber and put the safety on. We don’t want any accidents. Got it?”
Sean had heard it a hundred times, but he gave no sign of impatience. He “got it.” He understood what was at stake. It was better to finish the drive empty-handed than to have an accident.
“And oh,” Dad could not quite leave well enough alone. “Stay alert. Don’t get comfortable and fall asleep.”
An hour later, Sean saw his first deer. He’d made a good choice of stand sites. Hunkered down behind a log, he was virtually impossible for a moving deer to see, and the log provided a rest for his shotgun. With a light breeze filtering up the draw, the deer would not wind him until it was too late.
Three does edged into and up through the draw. The largest would be the oldest, the dominant doe in the group, Sean thought. Careful, aware that something was different from their normal routine, the does daintily walked up the draw and disappeared into the wood. A few minutes later, another antlerless deer entered the draw.
Sean allowed them all to pass, even though he knew his father wanted to harvest a dozen more does. He had never taken an antlered buck, and maybe he would see one if he was patient.
And so he waited. And waited. The 14-year-old became drowsy, sitting behind the log, but the position was awkward, slightly downhill, and he strained to keep his balance. That kept him from napping. Plus, his behind itched from sitting on the cold, damp ground.
Just when he did not think he could sit still any longer, a buck casually walked into the draw and moved directly toward his best shooting lane. He stopped and looked back, as if he could see the drivers through the screen of brush and tree branches.
Sean realized that he was a beautiful, mature animal, but his dad’s admonition not to put a measuring tape on the antlers before he shot came to mind.
The buck caught the boy staring and broke into a sudden trot, so Sean made a voice “blat.” The deer stopped and stared in his direction, but Sean had already put the crosshairs on the front of its chest, flicked the safety off and was pulling the trigger. Within the confines of the draw, the blast from the 20-gauge Winchester Super X sabot burn was intense. The deer ran 60 yards and dropped. Sean’s slug had smashed through the heart and both lungs.
Later, Lou Haubner observed that the smiling adults seemed to make more of the 10-point, 2 1/2-year-old deer than did the boy. Sean patted it; smoothed the fur. He felt the antlers, but did not say much, even when his father asked him to double-check his gun. Could he account for all of his shells? Did he police the empty hull for reloading? Did he leave the chamber open and the safety on?
Sean replied quietly that he had only used one shell. Yes, the gun was empty. Yes, the chamber was open. Yes, he had returned it to the gun case, but no, he had not waited around to find the hull. Sorry.
Otherwise, the kid did not say much. Still, he could not stop grinning.
“He truly is his father,” Lou said, and then he, too, pounded the boy on the back.
This article was published in the September 2006 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.