By Paul Thein
-- Since I was a teenager fresh out of hunter safety classes, I've been hunting a family farm. Hunting is a family tradition for us. Our hunting party consists of cousins and close family friends. Over the years I have watched many of them bag the big wall hangers we all dream about. Of course, I can't complain even now that I'm 40 because I have done well on the family farm, too.
My hunts from last year were featured in a few magazines and online journals which showcased five mature bucks I was able to harvest for our hunting party of nine. Even so, my personal deer hunts have never produced the whitetail of my dreams -- the big one for the wall.
This past year, half of our hunting land was sold and developed into a golf course and housing development. I guess you can't stop urban sprawl, and it finally caught up to our land. There was talk amongst our hunting party that this could possibly be the last hunt due to the continued developments. After 25 years of memories, we could see the great hunting and family memories coming to an end.
I couldn't help but feel sad that similar hunting experiences wouldn't be there for future generations to enjoy. Hunting is much more than killing deer, it's a family reunion filled with playful competition over who can take the biggest buck along with many childhood memories.
Living in California makes it difficult for me to return to my boyhood home in Minnesota, but I knew that this was one hunt I had to take. After all, this could be the year that I shot the wallhanger of my dreams! And what if this really was the last hunt?
The weather was ideal when I returned to Minnesota. I didn't have to fight the bitter cold that sometimes makes one's teeth chatter. I saw more deer every day than I ever remember seeing. I enjoyed the familiar noises and sights of pasts. Squirrels sounded like approaching deer as they dug through the brown leaves on the ground. Wild turkeys walked past my stand each morning. Many memories of past hunts raced through my head every time I walked through the woods to my stand.
Day after day, I waited patiently for the buck of my dreams. Nearing the end of the hunting season and possibly the end of an era, I actually began to come to terms with the reality that I might not knock down a big buck.
With only two days left in the season, and just when I began to accept that fact I may never get one for the wall, the buck of my childhood dreams popped its head out of the thick river woods. It came quietly at dusk to scent the does feeding in the open field on the clover.
Wow, I thought to myself, this buck is nice! The buck had plenty of rack over the ears and an old white face, which showed its age. As the trophy took a step cautiously into the open clover field only 60 yards away, I raised my gun. I didn't take time to count the points or give the buck a chance to scent me. After 25 years of hunting, I was sure this was the one, Mr. Wallhanger!
I put my sites on the buck and squeezed the trigger. The 'ole boy fell immediately in its tracks. I could see the buck lying there from my stand, but I waited a moment to make sure it was down for good.
Before long, I couldn't hold my composure and used my cell phone to report back to the house what I was sure I had a trophy. I knew it was the one I had hoped to get for 20-plus years and dreamed about since I was a kid.
In my heart I knew than that I could now leave that sacred hunting place with a wonderful experience and memory to take with me and to hang on my wall. I'll also have something to keep the memories alive and to tell the next generation about. This is the way it should end - your biggest buck at the end!
Pulling myself out of my thoughts, I realized I still did not know how many points this buck had. So I composed myself enough to approach what I hoped would be at least a 10-pointer for my mount.
With each step, I was more and more assured this was really my dream buck. As I neared the buck, I saw a drop tine. I thought alright - a drop tine buck! No one had ever shot a drop tine on the farm before. As I grabbed hold of its massive rack and pulled the one side out of the mud, I finally could see how nice this boy really was.
Yippee! I had a 13-point double drop tine buck! This is the one I had dreamt of year after year since I was a boy, hunting with that single-shot 12-gauge. Wow, what a way to end it all - a trophy-of-a-lifetime and a wallhanger to remember it all - keeping the memories alive forever! Thanks, Dad, for the experience.
Paul J. Thein
--Buck harvested in Olmsted County, Minnesota--