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Sometimes the Best Deer is the One You Don't Shoot

PhotoBy Ken Heffelfinger

-- My 2007 archery season began like most other seasons. However, there was one exception - my younger bother, Brian, would join me in the woods. Ever since I could remember both of us being able to go for a walk in the woods, he had always been right behind me. He loves the outdoors as much as I do. The thing that makes my brother different from most people you and I know is the fact that he was born with arthrocryposis. Some people call it clubbed hands and feet.

When he was born, the doctors did not give him much hope to walk. Following many surgeries and a lot of pain, he defied the odds.

So when he told me that he was applying for a crossbow permit I was pumped. He has hunted during the regular rifle season in Pennsylvania, but his time in the woods would be limited to how cold the weather got. Every time it got really cold, he would have to call it a day because his joints would start to stiffen and he would lose feeling in his hands and feet.

Even the doctor was impressed that my brother held a full time job. "There are many people in this world who would use this as a crutch not to work," the doctor said.

"I am not just anybody. I never let this stop me from doing anything. I enjoy a challenge," my brother replied.

Archery season presented the right temperatures for a fantastic season, so we got started.
Now, where we live is in the heart of the anthracite coal region. The land is constantly being turned over to try and find new coal. The farm land that is around becomes so thick with hunters that they are tripping over each other. We chose to hunt the stripping pits.
The deer here are very hard to pattern due to the amount of work being done to retrieve the coal. One spot that held deer one year might be a bottomless pit the next. The scouting starts fresh every year.

Since we have the honor of working together at a local concrete plant, Brian and I get to talk strategy over lunch almost every day. On Sundays we wake up early, meet for coffee and hit the hills. There was a patch of woods that had not been touched in a couple years I was keeping my eyes on. The acorn crop promised to be a good one in this area and the deer where making frequent appearances. I had been eyeing this spot for myself, but since my bother only ever shot one deer, I figured he was due for another one.

We started looking for the right trails to set up on and then found the right tree. From up there, Brian would overlook our small town of 2,000 people about a mile away. With the warm sun in his face it could not have been more perfect.

A couple days before the season on our last visit to our stands, my brother asked me a serious question. He said "Ken, I am afraid to climb into my stand in the dark by myself. This is going to be the first time I ever hunted out of a stand. Could you please make sure I get in okay before you go to your stand?"

My location was about a 300-yard walk from where he was in the opposite direction from the truck. This would add about a half-hour onto my journey to my stand. And any archery hunter knows that even with the lightest stand on the market, a half-hour is a long walk, but I never hesitated. "Not a problem," I replied.

The moon was full that morning, which usually signaled a day of watching squirrels. However, we were determined. After I got settled into my stand, I radioed over to check to make sure he was okay. Then the hunt was on.

Several hours passed, and I didn't see anything - not even a squirrel came out. Then, I heard Brian come over the radio. "Ken, I just shot a buck."

I questioned back. "Did you make a good shot?"

"I put an arrow through the front shoulder," he answered.

I could tell he was nervous by the heavy breathing and scratched voice coming over the radio.

"I will be over in a little bit, sit tight." I told him.

As quickly as I could, I climbed down, packed up and went to him. By the time I got there, I heard the story about three times over the radio of how the deer came in, and how he waited for the perfect shot, and how it ran off. It was like we were sitting around a campfire trading hunting tales.

When I got there, he was still in his tree. I asked him if he planned on staying in the tree or if he would help me find the deer. He was so excited that he tried to climb down from his ladder stand with his safety harness still attached to the tree.

"Thank God for the safety harness," he said.

I asked why.

"Well when the deer was walking in, I was not too nervous," he said. "After I shot that was a different story. It felt like there were 50-mile-an-hour winds up here. My legs were about to give out. I was that nervous! I just turned around and hugged the tree to keep from falling out of my stand."

At this point I was in stitches laughing at him, but I was glad he hadn't been hurt.
The search for the deer only lasted about 15 minutes. The trail was very evident from the 60 or so yards the deer ran. When we walked up on it, I could see the relief in Brian's eyes. It was a coal region 6-point buck. For this area it was a rather large-bodied deer, which impressed me.

After hearing the story again, we dressed the deer, took some photos and prepared for the drag out.

When we got the deer home, Brian ran right to the phone. He spent the next 30 minutes calling everyone in the phonebook it seemed like. He was the happiest man alive.

For me, I was glad to be a part of this. It was a great day. If I had to judge it, this day would be right behind the day my daughter was born. It just goes to prove that some times the best deer is the one that you don't shoot. Congratulations, Brian!

Ken Heffelfinger
Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania

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