By Brad Shelton
-- The sun was beating down on the back of my neck, sweat was rolling off my face and mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds had swarmed me all day. Welcome to opening day of the Kentucky archery season.
It was Sept. 1, 2007, at about 4 in the afternoon, and there was no way I was leaving my stand. I had seen 31 deer during the all-day hunt and still had some of the most promising hours of the day ahead of me. I was on a farm in Owen County, the top county in the state in terms of deer population and yearly harvest.
The farm had been leased by my father as a cattle farm for the past 20 years. In June, however, we had to make the difficult decision to remove the cattle because of a terrible drought and the fact that my dad was in the final stages of brain cancer. He had fought the terrible disease for nearly a year and was back on the farm working only a few weeks after the surgery. While he was putting up a great fight, his motor skills were declining.
Dad couldn’t take care of the cows, and the water and pasture were quickly disappearing. It was obvious to me that the farm that I grew up loving wasn’t going to be leased to my family much longer. Although my parents own a farm, the leased property was where I had spent lots of time growing up. Camping, fishing, fixing fences, and working cattle with my dad are just some of the cherished memories I have from that farm.
It always held lots of squirrels and turkeys, and several deer, although I had only seen a few mature bucks in all my years of hunting there. The surrounding farms are hunted hard, and the neighbors kill lots of young bucks every year.
I was in a stand just off of an old logging road at the top of an oak ridge with mature cedar thickets on each side. An alfalfa field rests at the bottom of the hill, the only remaining water hole on the property was just below me.
In the previous 20 or so years on that farm, I had shot just one buck bigger than a basket-racked 8-pointer. But today was different. Of the 31 deer I had seen, nine were bucks. Seven of those were shooters by my standards, and all but one was still in full velvet. Still in their bachelor groups, they all passed by at about 70 yards on their way to the water hole.
At 4:00, my luck changed.
I heard something coming out of the cedars to my right and stood up for a possible shot. Four BTR-caliber bucks were headed toward me down the logging road. I drew and watched the four deer advance in single file; they looked like quadruplets.
When the lead buck got to about 10 yards, I stopped it with a mouth grunt and released my arrow.
The shot was a little far forward, but the buck ran about 40 yards and expired in less than 30 seconds.
I headed back to the truck to call my wife and sons to tell them about my hunt. I couldn’t wait to get back to show my dad.
I pulled in the driveway and like so many times over the past 20 years and went through the garage to tell my dad to come and look and have my mom take some pictures. This time was different though. Dad was too weak to get off of the couch.
Really wanting him to see the buck, I backed the truck right to the back door and helped him over to the window to have him take a look. Unfortunately, it was pretty dark and he couldn’t really get a good look. Determined to have him see the deer, I went out and took some pictures and brought the camera inside for him to see through the viewfinder. He seemed pleased and a little surprised that I got such a good buck from that farm.
It was a 9-pointer with a 19-inch spread. It wasn’t my biggest, but it was one of my best by bow. It was also my first buck in full velvet and will always be one of my most memorable trophies.
I have told the story to my friends and hunting companions several times, and many say that the deer really moved onto the farm after the cattle were sold. Others say I lucked into a great spot because of the water. Others say I was just lucky to see a good buck with EHD so bad in our part of the county that year. I say the Lord allowed me to enjoy my most memorable day in the woods when I needed it most. It happened on the very last hunt on a farm that was a part of so many memories. Most of those memories include my father.
Dad is gone now. He passed away in November. I was with him right up until the very end. I’m usually in the woods in November, probably more than I should be. That year, I filled my buck tag in September and spent most of November with Dad and my family.
My father died too young at 58, but I’m thankful for what he meant to me and my family. He taught us to have our priorities in order. God, family, work, then play. He introduced me to the outdoors and was with me when I got my first deer 18 years ago. His legacy will live on, and I will teach my sons the same as Dad taught me.