By Tyler Sprecher
-- The months leading up to the 2002 Pennsylvania deer season held more anxious anticipation than usual for two reasons. First, it was the beginning year of new antler restriction laws, and more importantly, it would be my oldest son's first year to carry a gun.
The first year I was able to deer hunt for some time due to a back injury was 1999, and I hadn't really done much since my father gave up hunting with me around the end of my high school years. So I was pleased to have taken a buck in 1999, 2000 and 2001, and gave the Lord credit for bringing each of those deer my way.
And while two of the deer would have met the new antler restrictions, I was wondering if I could extend the streak to four years in a row. Little did I know the ethical temptations I would face as the season drew closer.
My son, Clay, and I had a wonderful time attending his hunter safety training together, and we regularly spoke of safe and ethical hunting practices whenever time allowed. We borrowed a gun for my son to use and worked at sighting it in and getting him used to using it. I secretly hoped that he would have a successful first hunting experience that would hook him on hunting, and give me an enthusiastic partner for the rest of my life.
The season was on my heels, and I had yet to sight-in my own rifle. My son was busy the day I had a chance to sight the rifle, so I went to my usual place to shoot by myself. I had loaded the gun and was finding my mark down-range when I spotted a doe jumping a fence on top of the hill I was shooting into. The doe stopped and waited for the buck that was hot on her trail.
As the buck cleared the fence and turned broadside beside the doe, it took little effort for my scope to find the buck's vitals. At that moment, the thought of hanging the deer in the barn until Monday quickly crossed my mind, but I knew it wasn't right, and later told my son how I'd been tempted.
Sunday evening, we were visiting my parents in Maryland, and we returned home very late. As I carried our younger children, who were fast asleep, into the house, I heard a noise coming from the cornfield on the other side of the road. I grabbed a flashlight on the way back out to the car, and we stood for quite a while watching a nice 6-point buck forage in the stubble. It was totally oblivious to the fact we were there.
The deer was close to where we would be hunting the following morning. We anxiously went to bed and hoped we would see the buck the next day.
It seemed as though we were hardly asleep when the alarm went off. I half wondered if the deer could hear it. I coaxed my son from bed, and we readied ourselves for the morning. As we walked out into the darkness, over the hill behind the barn, and headed out through the field, we could hear deer moving in the field around us. Our flashlight showed that among them was another 6-point buck walking past us at about 25 yards and headed away from our stands. It would have been an easy shot for either of us, but what about the neighboring hunters on the other side of the field? Were they out there in the darkness? I didn't say a word as I turned off the flashlight and walked on to our stands.
We were there in a matter of minutes, and I whispered to my son that I loved him and reminded him to have a good time and to look for orange when the sun came up. I moved on to my stand within speaking range of my son, and sat in the darkness thinking of the bucks we'd seen before the season would officially open. I wondered when the day was done if I'd regret having played by the rules.
I didn't have long to wait. Just moments after daybreak the Lord brought by the biggest deer I'd ever harvested. It was a running shot that my son would not have attempted, and the smile on his face as we walked together to admire our buck told me in an instant that playing by the rules was more than worth it. But I still didn't know just how worth it.
The following year brought us right back to the same spot on the opening day of the 2003 season. This time I was determined to let my son take the shot if the Lord blessed us with another opportunity. A couple of hours of slow action suddenly ended when I saw a large-racked deer running our way. It passed me and paid no attention as I called and tried my best to get it to stop as it neared my son's location. I waited as long as I could, then decided to take the shot as the deer turned and moved out of my son's range.
I was astonished when the deer dropped, and was apologizing all the way to my son's stand for not being able to get the buck stopped for him to get a shot. Then I heard him say the words that made me understand why it had been so important for me to set an ethical example the year before.
He said, "Daddy, I couldn't shoot. You had a safe angle. But when the deer passed me, I saw a hunter wearing orange on the other side of the field from where I was sitting."
In that moment, I was reminded of how critical it was to have played by the rules and teach him the correct ways of hunting instead of allowing him to get caught up in the moment.
If we are willing, God will continue to work in our hearts and guide us to do what is right.
Tyler and Clay Sprecher
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