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Grandpa's Rifle

ScottBy Charlie Scott

-- The phone rang. It was our neighbor, Tracey, who lives on a 12-acre lake down the road.  To any hunter, he was delivering terrible news. 

"I pulled another one out of the lake today," he said. "That makes seven this month."

Disappointment welled inside me. You see, he wasn't talking about bass. He was, however, fishing dead deer out of the lake. EHD, the worst drought in my history and a Tennessee August full of 100-degree temperatures seemed to be completely eradicating the white-tailed deer population. I heard reports that 40 dead deer were found on one farm and 80 on another. 

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) website speculated massive deer mortality this year. I looked down at my hunting-crazed 9-year-old son, Jackson, who was finishing his homework. He had waited all year to hunt the following month. I wondered if he would have to wait another year. 

I had read about EHD when it plagued Kentucky recently. I had no idea that it might ravage our land. But it did! On top of that, how could anything survive the drought and heat? Nothing outdoors was green. Farmers were rolling their corn crops into bales of cattle feed and feeding their livestock in August. One wise neighbor speculated that the TWRA might or should just close the deer seasons this fall. 

Jackson and I fairly often were sighting a skinny 6-point yearling buck in our vicinity. That small deer was enough to ignite Jackson's buck fever. With nothing green to eat and no acorn crop, that poor little buck probably wouldn't survive much longer either. I decided to forgo my deer hunting and invest all of my efforts in my little hunting buddy.

Water was at a premium. Up the road, a spring, which had flowed out of a bluff through a long 1-inch pipe, had dried up. One old farmer told me that it had flowed continuously for over 50 years until the previous month. Another neighbor found five does dead at the last small pool of water left in the bed of a dry creek branch. My neighbor's lake still held an adequate supply, so I chose the top of the ridge overlooking that lake as our stand site. This ridge on our farm runs alongside a busy highway, and the lake on the other side funnels deer through it.

I placed a two-person ladder stand about 20 yards back in the woods but still in clear view of our food plot. My next question was what could I plant that would grow in such awful conditions? My choices were practical. I planted two varieties of turnip greens, peas, pole beans and white clover. We figured that those choices would grow well if it rained in September. I also surmised that if no deer came for dinner, our family would at least get our share of vegetables this fall.

The September rains came! While lawns, pastures, thickets and trees began their recovery, our garden plot was lush and green. A huge oak tree that spread its shade over one corner of our plot even dropped several acorns into our clover. More importantly, I saw the little buck a couple days before the juvenile season.

The night before the big opening day, I informed Jackson that he would be the only one hunting this year. After he got his buck, if he got one, we would quit and give the herd a chance to replenish. 

Jackson was up and ready extra early the next morning. We chose the weapon that he cherished most, his grandfather's Remington model 700 .30-06 and away we went. He never wanted a youth model rifle. You see, Jackson never met his grandfather because he passed away when I was 11 years old. The aura of tradition had Jackson in its grasp. Using the rifle that his granddad carried before his dad carried it was a very special treat to him and worthy of a sore shoulder.

We weren't in the stand an hour when a doe and a button buck passed at 15 yards into our plot. Jackson heeded my advice and let them go. I have taught him that good things happen when you let small bucks go. We would never shoot that button buck. I did get some good footage of them as I was manning the camcorder. While they enjoyed our greens, out walked the 6-point buck.

As Jackson searched excitedly for a shooting lane and waited for my word, some movement in the distance caught my eye. I thought two deer were standing together under that old oak tree in the far corner of our field, but it was another deer! My heart skipped as the buck stepped out into the open.  

I whispered, "Jackson! There's a big buck! Shoot the big one." 

Unaware of the monster in the distance, Jackson calmly took aim at the 6-pointer. I whispered, "Not that one," as I gently moved the rifle in the direction of the megabuck as my son still peered through the scope. 

WHOA!  BOOM!  Were the next two sounds I heard and the last two sounds heard by the 147-inch 12-point buck because it folded up just 75 yards away from our stand! 

"Dad, he's down! I know he's down! He's huge! Come on," Jackson exclaimed.

And we went ... Jackson with his Grandfather's deer rifle and me with my camcorder capturing memories that will last forever. Just as we promised each other, we quit deer hunting for the rest of the season Jackson and I did spend quite a bit of time together though picking turnip greens.

We will always be thankful to a grandfather who started a tradition and to an unknown farmer who kept Jackson's trophy well fed possibly with rolls of those failed corn crops.

Charlie and Jackson Scott
Santa Fe, Tennessee

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