By Kevin Duff
-- I arrived at my grandson house at 6 a.m. It was a little bit early, but I was excited to be taking my 9-year-old Brady on his first official deer hunt. It was the first of the two-day Missouri youth season.
My daughter and son-in-law were already up and getting him ready. I think they were excited, too. We left the house about 6:15. Brady had his light on his hat, and I told him we probably wouldn’t need it. Just then, I looked up to see a bank of clouds and fog roll over the big full moon.
I clipped on my light, too.
We walked down to the stand without saying much. We wanted to be quiet, and I think we were both filled with opening-morning anticipation. As Brady climbed his brand new two-man ladder stand, he warned me that it was wet and to watch my step. The stand was a present from his mother and me.
By the time I got our harnesses connected, the shooting rail with camo all arranged and chambered a bullet, it was almost shooting light. We sat there waiting for the fog to clear and listened to rain droplets falling from the trees.
The squirrels started popping out everywhere. Once I heard Brady kind of chuckle. He told me he was watching two squirrels chasing each other around a tree.
About 7:30, I grunted a few times and used the rattle bag. Around 8:00, Brady had a few cookies and a drink of water. He was looking bored, so I told him that I’d shot a lot of my deer between 8:00 and 9:00. That seemed to perk him up a little.
About 8:10, I did a series of grunts. Brady added to the mix by using the bleat call. I had just whispered to him that it was 8:18 when I saw a leg move behind a big oak to the right and a bit behind us. I whispered in his ear “DEER!” He rose very slowly and turned in that direction.
I was amazed at his presence of mind to keep as low as possible and not to stand straight up. I eased the rifle, a youth model .243, over the shooting rail and into his hands. As he got set, the buck, as if on cue, walked across the little drainage and headed for the opening about 20 yards away from us. We had already rehearsed that I would try to stop the deer if it was walking.
As it reached the opening, I said “MAA,” stopping it right in the middle of the opening. Now it was up to this young hunter to make the shot for which he’d practiced. I could see he wasn’t shaking or moving in any way.
The buck tried to take off, but it wasn’t running full tilt because its right front leg wasn't working well. Before Brady could get the rifle up again, the buck collapsed.
“He’s down. He’s down … I can’t believe it,” Brady said, about to jump out of his skin. “I got my first deer!”
My grandson then sat down and started trembling so violently that the stand was shaking like there was an earthquake. I was so proud of Brady, my buttons were about to pop off my shirt.
I unhooked Brady from the tree and he got down. He was so excited he only walked about 20 yards toward the deer and then made a left and started going in the wrong direction. I pointed the way.
When he got where he could see it, he hollered that it was dead. I lowered the rifle and tossed him his fanny pack. I told him to call his mom and dad and to ask them to bring the ATV wagon and cameras. He was talking to his mother when we got to the deer.
I had never looked at the antlers during the whole scenario, and neither did he. We just knew it had antlers.
As we got to it, I saw four points on the right side. He started getting really excited. He lifted its head up and finished counting the other three. It took a while for his parents to arrive. They brought along Gabi, his little sister, and his other grandparents. It was like the paparazzi had shown up when the cameras began flashing.
I was so proud of the way Brady handled the rifle and made such a great shot. That morning was one of the best of my hunting life.
The rifle season opened Nov. 10. On the 11th, I took Brady with me so he could watch Grandpa get a buck. We got our harnesses on and headed out to the stand. As we got close, I knew something wasn't right. Sure enough, some no-goods had broken our cable and stolen Brady's ladder stand.
Depressed, he just wanted to go back to the house. The whole family was very upset. The thing that bothered me most was the hard lesson that this new hunter had to learn. He just couldn't understand why someone would do that to him.
If this story reaches someone who thinks it's cool to steal treestands (or anything else, for that matter), I hope they stop and think who they might be hurting.