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Tennessee Roller Coaster Ride

Kruz Crawford

First buck doesn't come easy for grandson

By Bobby Crawford (Kruz's grandfather)

This trip with my 11-year-old grandson, Kruz, didn't start out like the previous five years. This year was different and we both knew it.

Both of us were filled with anticipation of a successful hunting trip, of bringing home antlers or at least some deer meat. 

A slot finally opened on a lease I'd wanted to join for several years. It was with friends from church, and a five-hour drive across Tennessee, but I knew it would be worth it because the property had plenty of does and some really nice bucks on it.

Kruz's mother met me at Gander Mountain when Kruz got out of school. We bought his hunting license and a Primos shooting stick, then went on our way.

Kruz was so excited about hunting season although he'd never even had the opportunity for a shot in five years.

He plays competitive soccer, so he wasn't able to go scouting with me before the season started. This would be valuable time together.

I brought along several hunting magazines for our drive, so I had Kruz look at deer pictures and study proper shot placement. Looking back, I should've also taught him deer anatomy and vital organ positions at odd shot angles.

We had fun on the drive, and all he could talk about was hunting and what we'd do if he got a buck the first morning. I said, "If you get one first thing, we're going straight home to show it off!"

Kruz was okay with that, but I think he'd rather stay one more night even if he did get one. He's all boy and loves the outdoors.

We finally got to the lease about 9:30 p.m., and after some trouble opening the gate, we settled in and prepared everything for the morning hunt. Even though we were beat, we were still very excited about the next morning.

We were staying in a 7' X 14' enclosed trailer I'd recently purchased for us to stay on the property, but I hadn't insulated it yet.

It was going to be cold that weekend, 30 to 32 degrees, so I brought a Mr. Buddy heater and a CO2 detector, an important safety measure. The heater kept it bearable, but we could still see our breath.

Since Kruz was 11 and had hunted five years without a shot, I feared he might become discouraged and give up soon, so I wanted him to get a deer even if was a slick-head (doe).

We awoke at 5:30 a.m. and headed out, walking a little over a quarter mile to the hunting area.

I carried our blind and chairs while Kruz carried the unloaded .30-30 to our spot, then I quickly brushed in the blind and we got in.

I'd archery hunted the previous week and had done some scouting, so we set up overlooking a small food plot, only about 50 feet in diameter.

If the deer came from that direction, it would be a perfect setup with the wind in our face and the sun in the deer's face.

Kruz CrawfordAs it started getting daylight, I noticed the blind wasn't facing the plot properly, so we got out, adjusted and re-brushed it.

I told Kruz to keep his eyes peeled because two other guys on the lease had trail cam pictures of a pretty nice 8-pointer in the area and some 6-pointers, too.

Club rules require 8-pointers or better, unless the hunter is a child whose first deer can be anything they want.

As the morning progressed, Kruz had gotten bored and wasn't looking out his window. When I peeked out on his side, all I could see was a head and horns.

I whispered for Kruz to look up, but do it s-l-o-w-l-y.

The buck seemed to be looking straight at us, but it eventually put its head down to graze and began walking toward us, about 55 yards away. 

I handed Kruz the gun and got the shooting stick up and ready. By the way, the shooting stick is a great investment for kids hunting from ground blinds.

The buck seemed quite nervous, looking our way, flicking its ears and sniffing, but the wind was in our face and we were hidden in the shadows of a pine thicket.

It obviously knew something wasn't right, but after what seemed like 20 minutes but probably was only two, the deer was now only 45 yards away, still quartering toward us on high alert.

The buck was trying to get a better look at us, so I told Kruz he'd better put the crosshairs on it and shoot before it bolted away.

Kruz did exactly as I told him and the buck fell down on the spot!

I hugged my grandson and saw that he was tearing up, too. But when we looked back at the buck, its head suddenly popped up. About that time, it stood, took one big leap and disappeared into the honeysuckles.

We walked over and didn't find any blood or hair, but I could tell which direction it went; downhill and into a briar thicket.

We searched four long hours without finding a trace other than some leaves and briars that had been disturbed.

Finally, I asked Kruz where he was holding the crosshairs on the animal when he pulled the trigger. He said, "On the shoulder." That's when I realized I should've explained a little more about the anatomy of a deer with regard to steep shot angles, vital organs and body positioning.

The search continued unsuccessfully, but we didn't give up.

When we went into town to get more propane for the heater, I asked the man behind the counter if he knew anyone with a deer-tracking dog. As luck would have it, the man, whose name was Jesse, said he had one.

When Jesse got off work, I took him to where the deer had fallen. The dog, named Cassie, took over immediately.

Cassie sniffed for 2 1/2 hours, but unfortunately, no deer was found. Jesse said he was sorry, and then he and Cassie left.

Hunting Stories Wanted!The shot was likely a glancing blow off the buck's shoulder blade, because of the steep angle - enough to momentarily knock it down. That's all I could figure.

I told Kruz we'd go to different location in the morning, but the boy sure was disheartened. We went back to our little trailer, heated up some deer stew and went to bed with heavy hearts.

It was cold again the next morning when we drove to my two-man ladder stand overlooking a small food plot.

We climbed in well before daylight, and this time we were on high alert since it was our last morning to hunt.

By 9 a.m. I could tell Kruz was tired and cold. I asked him if he was ready to go, and he just shrugged his shoulders. That broke my heart.

I suggested we stay until 11 a.m. because between 9 and 11 is when I usually the see most deer. He didn't seem too enthused, but agreed.

At 9:50, I saw movement in the deep right corner of the plot, so I grabbed the binoculars, but didn't see anything. Kruz said he heard a stick break, which I didn't, but his ears are much younger and can hear better than mine. 

He asked me to use my doe bleat call, which I did four times. After a couple of minutes, a 6-pointer walked out exactly where I'd seen movement earlier. It was holding its head high, sniffing and searching for the bleating doe, obviously looking for a date.

The buck was about 70 yards away, walking right to left. I gave Kruz the rifle and this time I told him to put crosshairs just behind the shoulder about an inch and squeeze the trigger.

He did and the gun went CLICK. Nothing happened!

Oh great, I forgot to load the gun! I cocked it just enough to look into the chamber and saw it had a shell in it. Then I checked the safety and discovered it was still on.

I took the safety off and handed Kruz the gun again. By then, the buck was only about 55 yards away and perfectly broadside. 

The next thing I knew . . . BANG! The deer jumped, but kept walking like nothing had happened. A miss!

As quietly as possible, I ejected the shell and chambered another round into the .30-30 and handed it back to Kruz. I told him to take a deep breath and take his time. 

BANG! The buck jumped straight up and started walking the other direction, but I was certain it was hit.

It stood at the field edge and I told Kruz to put another one in him, as I definitely didn't want to risk losing this deer. 

We shucked another shell and Kruz shot again, this time dropping the buck in its tracks.

We hugged each other, and all I could see in my grandson was pure happiness.

This time, he was all smiles and had that little twinkle in his eyes that said, now I'm hooked.

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