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Of Sons, Friends and Brothers

Ronald HarpBy Ronald Harp

-- My story begins several years ago after many years of rather unproductive deer hunting with one of my best friends, David. We hunted mostly public land, seeing does occasionally but never a buck. Then I read an article in one of the hunting magazines that said, "Don't overlook small plots of land." I called David and told him about the article. I own 50 acres and had seen a few does on it from time to time and told him we needed to concentrate on what was happening around my house.

With the help of my son, Jeremy, we put up deer stands, trail cameras and a couple of feeders and began to watch. Success was almost immediate, and our deer hunting improved dramatically. But this past season was one for the books -- the big buck record books, to be exact.

On the opening day of the Arkansas modern gun season, Jeremy was in his climbing stand with his bow about 500 yards from me at the northeast corner of our property. David was set up with his blackpowder rifle by a pond about 300 yards south of Jeremy.

At daybreak, a skittish doe stepped out from the northwest corner. I slowly brought the rifle to my shoulder, hoping a buck would follow -- and one did. As I shifted the crosshairs back to the buck, I hesitated. There was a chance that buck could head toward Jeremy, so I waited to see what it was going to do.

I didn't have to wait long before the buck began to chase the doe in circles all around the 10-acre field. Throughout all the chasing and circling, it became apparent that the doe was heading my way, so it was going to be up to me to take the buck. The pair began to close the distance -- 300 yards, 200 yards, 75 yards. That was more than close enough, so I pulled the trigger.

My cell phone began to vibrate almost immediately. When I answered it, I heard Jeremy's voice, "Could you believe that, Dad? What took you so long to shoot?"

I told him I was waiting to see if the buck might head his way, and he was shocked. It's a dad thing, I guess.

The buck has 22 points, one of which is an 8-inch drop tine. Its net Boone and Crockett score is 197 6/8, and I was told it would be the first B&C buck harvested in Benton County, Ark.

Now most big-buck stories would end right there, but this one has an epilogue. My older brother was a pharmacist and a tough-as-nails rancher. He's also a Vietnam veteran who was diagnosed with throat cancer 4 1/2 years ago. Bob fought the cancer with a kind of faith that would have made Job proud. He never asked, "Why me?" He endured several surgeries, a permanent trach, radiation, experimental drugs and everything else imaginable until the medical community could do no more.

After I shot my buck, I checked it in at Mountain Man Gun and Pawn in Fayetteville. It immediately went to first place in their annual big buck challenge. Bob, from his home and sometimes from the hospital, would check the store's website every day to see if my buck was still in first place. Even though I knew they only updated the list once a week, I never told Bob. Email and writing were the only ways Bob could communicate, and he really enjoyed checking the site and sending me updates by email. Finally, the contest was over and "we" won. By that time, Bob's trach and feeding tube were the only things keeping him alive.

Later, I told Bob I was going to take the deer mount over to the Arkansas Big Buck Classic at the end of January. Before going, however, I took the mount over to Bob's house to hang it in his family room for a night so some of his buddies could stop by to see it. He gave me the thumbs-up and pointed to heaven in thanks.

The next day, I picked up David and headed to the Classic. Bob had told me to call him the very second I found out if the buck made the Boone and Crockett book. When I called with the news, Bob was in the emergency room. His wife said he was very weak but was giving me the thumbs-up. He passed away the next day.

It was a great thrill and we won lots of stuff, but my greatest reward was being able to share the harvest with Bob. Sadly, many of us lose loved ones and friends; but the memories, many of which are those of enjoyable times hunting together, are the real trophies.

--By Ronald Harp

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