By Doug Hall
-- My son, Fletcher, might still be cutting his woodsman’s teeth, but he’s my best hunting buddy.
Prior to the 2007 season, he’d only accompanied me twice, and we’d had no luck. I was contemplating whether or not to hunt again. It had been 18 years since I’d really been into it. I went five times in ’06 and missed a doe, the only deer I attempted to shoot.
My son must’ve thought his old man didn’t have a clue. All of his friends’ dads had killed many deer. He didn’t see what was so hard about going into the woods, seeing and blasting a deer. It came as no surprise when his interest declined.
Deer hunting is a way of life for many folks in Rougemont, N.C. We’re only 15 minutes from downtown Durham, but there are lots of whitetails – perhaps too many as evidenced by the roadside carcasses.
The quality of our bucks has increased in recent years. In fact, a state bow record was taken within a mile of where we live. There are many acres of state agricultural property in the area, hunted only by a select few and the occasional poacher.
Beginning in early September 2007, a lot of acres were logged and cleared for cattle. The resident deer were forced to find refuge in new territories. I firmly believe that there are no coincidences; just acts of God.
About a week before bow season, I decided to get my old Bear Whitetail II out from under the house in an attempt to rekindle the hunting flame I once had. My son had a bow his friend gave him, and he was steadily shooting all the trees in the yard. Didn’t matter to him if the arrows were bent or missing fletching; he just loved to shoot his bow.
My bow was pathetic. The screws were rusted, peep sight was dry-rotted, the arrow rest was missing, and the quiver was full of spiders. I looked into buying a new one, but I couldn’t afford it. It was beginning to look like I was going to pass on deer season.
All that changed one rainy Friday. Around 11:30 a.m., I stepped outside onto the deck and saw this buck grazing a mere 10 feet from the pool. It was accompanied by a smaller 5-pointer, which acted as sentry.
One day, I stripped my son’s bow of everything I needed for mine, and then set out to get that deer. It showed up every morning and evening. My son and I bonded as we explored the trails leading to and from our yard. It seemed like the best place to set a stand was on my back deck. I often thought about just leaving my bow on the deck and sneaking out of the door whenever the deer arrived.
In the end, however, it just didn’t seem much like hunting to do that.
We decided to hunt the nearby power line right-of-way. We saw deer on every outing, but never in bow range. Over time, my son’s patience was wearing thin.
One day, after stalking until dusk, I came up on the back deck and saw the buck. My wife and daughters were at the back door, watching. I made my way around for a shot, and that’s when the 5-pointer, which I hadn’t seen to that point, snorted ... just as I was about to release an arrow, which sailed low.
That was the last I saw of either buck. I felt horrible. I’d blown an easy 15-yard shot at a deer of a lifetime. I was embarrassed, frustrated, and I felt like I let my son down. Now I was beginning to remember why I quit hunting 18 years ago.
By the start of muzzleloader season, I had all but given up. My son and I had been watching all of these hunting shows, soaking up tips. For the amount of deer we saw during our many stalks, I figured I could get a muzzleloader and shoot one in short order.
I borrowed a .50-caliber from my daughter’s boyfriend, not knowing the first thing about them. So I went on the Internet and got a supply list and went to Wal-Mart. They had no powder, no caps … nothing! I missed opening Saturday.
When my son and I finally got to hunt, we went to our place and spotted three does. I chose one, aimed and missed. Again, the frustration was awful.
Nevertheless, my son just couldn’t get enough. He kept thinking and talking about our next hunt. He’d bought a grunt call. He took some antlers he’d bought at a yard sale, cut them apart for rattling, and checked out books from the library. I’d come home from work, and he’d be in camo and waiting by the door.
He kept the faith. We were hunting, and nothing else mattered. We also were learning respect for the outdoors, the land, the wildlife, and much about patience, endurance and the sport of hunting.
Opening day of gun season was a cooler day than the other opening days. My son was hoping we could get an early start, but I had to be at work early, and then go to the church to help bust up some old oaks and deliver them. After that, a friend of mine then came over and we went and picked up a couch my wife had bought. By the time I got back home, I was exhausted.
My son, however, was ready to go hunting. So against my back’s protests, we went hunting.
The only rifle I owned was my grandfather’s .30-30. I’d had it for two years and fired it only once. The cartridges were about 20 years old and darkened with age.
We saw nothing at the power line. I then suggested we check out the back corner of our property. Hiding behind a couple of fallen trees, we could see across the creek and a small hillside beside a thicket where the deer bed. I chose not to hunt that spot earlier in the season so as not to spook the deer.
About 10 minutes after we’d set up shop, we heard a deer coming out of the thicket. My shooting lane was rather tight, so I decided that whatever it was, I was taking it. It was a doe. The shot was less than ideal, but I got her.
It did wonders for my son’s morale, but mine was plummeting.
After a much needed gut-check, I could not let anything come between my son and his new passion for hunting. He was learning so much about the sport, how to use cover scents, when deer travel and phases of the moon.
One day while watching Buckmasters on the Outdoor Channel, I decided to join. I figured Fletcher would enjoy reading the magazine.
On Friday, Nov. 16, I came home from work to find my son dressed in his camo with his grunt call around his neck, waiting patiently for me to come in and get dressed for the woods. I was tired and cranky, but I just didn’t have the heart to let him down. I put on my heavy shirt, grabbed my gun and away we went.
Not even five minutes after we got situated, Fletcher heard something and pointed to a spot where he thought a deer would emerge. I calmly reminded him that being still and quiet were part of hunting. A couple of minutes after that, I felt a tap and a calm voice saying, “Daddy … buck.”
I looked at him and, too sharply, said “What?”
He was pointing to our left, and then I saw the buck standing there less than 20 yards away, paying us no mind at all. In a moment, everything went silent. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
“Son, duck,” I said. And the, in a flash, all of the frustrations from previous hunts were gone. There in front of us was the deer that we had been watching for weeks.
My neighbor, Craig, helped me get the deer to the house. That’s when the reality of what we’d just accomplished hit. I asked Craig if he thought it was a good deer, and he summed it up best: “I have been hunting a long time and have never seen a deer that big.”
Immediately, my son and I embraced. I felt like a hero. For the rest of our days, that moment will never be forgotten.