By Richard P. Smith
The deer gods care not for how many years are under your belt, nor how many notches are in it.
In most cases, fathers who are hunters naturally take on the responsibility of getting their sons and daughters involved in the sport by passing on the tradition. The opposite is true for 37-year-old John Tolfree of Milan, Michigan.
John’s son, Connor, deserves the credit for bringing his father into the deer hunting fold.
John is grateful for many reasons, the least of which is that he bagged a new state record after only two years of hunting.
He wasn’t seeking a trophy or a record book buck when he headed out that day in Washtenaw County. That’s simply what he ended up shooting. Some might call it beginner’s luck.
While John would have been happy to shoot a doe or any buck during his second deer season in the fall of 2014, he wound up with his first buck ever on Dec. 23. That it was a 20-pointer, a new No. 1 among Michigan’s crossbow entries, is an aside.
It’s interesting to note that John’s father was a hunter, but that wasn’t enough to spark his interest in the activity when he was a boy. There were plenty of other things that he chose to do instead.
“My dad hunted and so does my father-in-law, but I never tried hunting myself until a couple of years ago,” he said. “My son said he wanted to hunt, so when he took the hunter safety course, I took it with him. I then hunted with my son until he got bored and quit going.
“While out with my son, I saw how calm and peaceful it can be. I liked it, so I continued going. Once I started hunting, I wished I would have done it sooner,” he added.
John also found out how exciting hunting can be at times when he took a shot at a doe with his crossbow during the fall of 2013. His arrow missed that doe, but he managed to fill a couple of doe tags 10 minutes apart during the firearms season.
A trail camera on the property John and his father-in-law, Arthur Girard, hunt captured one photo of the big Irregular on the morning of Nov. 15, opening day of Michigan’s firearms deer season.
“My father-in-law spooked the buck from the bait pile when he went to the treestand before daylight,” John said. “That was the only photo we got of the big buck or any other deer. Neither of us saw any deer during gun season or most of the late bow season in December.”
The only deer either of them saw while hunting during 2014 proved to be the big Irregular. Dec. 23 was the last day of work for John before the holidays. He took the time to get a haircut after he got off work, and then went hunting without changing out of his work clothes.
“I was thinking about hunting after getting my hair cut,” he said, “but was discouraged by the fact we hadn’t been seeing any deer and the weather was warm. The temperature was 48 degrees. Then my father-in-law said, ‘You can’t get anything if you don’t go,’ so I went.
“I got to the treestand about 4:00. Toward the end of the day, fog started rolling in. I had just started thinking of calling it quits when I saw a deer coming from 70 yards.
“At that distance in the fog, I thought it was a doe,” he continued. “When the deer was within 40 yards, I could tell it had antlers. My heart was racing as I anticipated getting a shot at my first buck.
“It took the whitetail about five minutes to get to the bait. It would walk a little bit and stop to look around. As soon as it turned broadside at 28 yards, I shot it through the heart. It took off like a rocket,” he said.
As a novice deer hunter who was extremely excited, John had no idea of the caliber deer he had shot. He knew the rack was wide, but he had no idea how many points were on it.
“I thought he had at least 6-point antlers,” he said. “I was hoping it was going to be a 10-pointer, but I didn’t want to tell my father-in-law that, if it wound up being smaller.”
John waited an hour before taking up the trail. He was joined by his wife, 11-year-old son and Arthur. They found the buck within 100 yards of the treestand.
The whitetail’s field-dressed weight was 175 pounds.
Needless to say, young Connor’s interest in deer hunting was renewed. He returned to the woods in 2015.
This article was published in the October 2016 edition of Rack Magazine. Subscribe today to have Rack Magazine delivered to your home. Read Recent RACK Articles:
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