Tradtion comes full circle as this longtime hunter finally takes a big buck.
By Greg Gravitt
I got my first BB gun when I was five years old, and that’s where my story begins. Dad would come home from hunting rabbit, quail or squirrels with my Grandpa and Uncle Rodney or some guys from work and, under Mom’s supervision, I’d be practicing in the back yard. I would show Dad my targets, proud as a peacock at how well I had done, hoping that I would be included in the next hunt.
At age 6, it happened. Dad thought I was ready. He bought a 20-gauge Browning and passed on his Ithaca 20-gauge Featherlight to me. That old gun kicked the heck out of me, but I didn’t let on that it hurt. Dad always smiled and said, “Good shot.” He laughed the day he caught me admiring my bruised shoulder. I was finally in the big leagues.
August 15 was opening day of squirrel season in Indiana. I knew something was up because Mom had dyed a pair of white tennis shoes green. That’s the way things were done then. I hadn’t slept that night because I had a gut feeling that this was the day. Sure enough, Dad woke me up at 4 a.m., saying, “Let’s go hunting.”
We stopped at Jock’s in Corydon and waited in line for breakfast. That’s where all the hunters went on opening day for sausage patties as big as the plate, eggs, hash browns and the coldest milk in the world. Yep, this is neat, I thought.
We arrived at my great uncle’s homestead in Beechwood before daylight. I took a nap beside Dad against a big hickory tree he hunted around when he was young. He woke me, whispering, “Be quiet. There’s your first squirrel in that tree, if you can hit it.”
It took me a while to spot it, even with him pointing it out, but I did, and the big boom in the quiet woods and the squirrel hitting the forest floor are sounds I will never forget.
We walked over and picked it up; Dad was smiling and proud. He said, “Remember what I taught you. This is a privilege, not a right. Be safe. Always ask permission and share your harvest with the landowner. Respect his land and pass on this sport to someone else someday.”
I was hooked. This was a lot better than fishing, and I loved to fish — I still do — but there is something about the woods. That’s where God is at His best.
I did a lot of hunting with my father and younger brother Gary until I was about 16. That’s when driving cars and hanging out with friends seemed more important.
I had only seen a few deer in my life, but I always wanted to hunt them. Probably the most help I got came from distant cousins Billy and Eddie Boyd. Those boys taught me how to shoot a compound bow, use a treestand and scout deer.
My first deer hunt was in 1977. We took Ed’s old Jeep to the deep woods of Perry County, Ind. There were a lot of deer. I saw five walk by my stand, but I didn’t think I could make a good, clean shot. Still, this was it. I was sold on deer hunting.
Years passed, but my love for deer hunting never diminished. Tired of working factory jobs, I started driving tractor-trailer rigs across the country. I ran a lot of interstate routes and secondary highways, and I did most of my driving at night because I could make better time.
I saw a lot of deer late at night and early in the morning. Not just deer, but big bucks. They seemed to love those interstate corridors. Think about it: Interstates run through some of the best deer country around — farmland, government land, patches of timber, corn and soybean fields. I badly wanted some deer hunting land.
My wife and I traveled together, and it was a very good way of making a living. She loves animals, and that was a problem for a while when it came to my hunting deer. That is, until she found out deer carry Lyme ticks. Then she began to think it would be a good idea to control the deer population and keep them out of the garden, especially when one morning all her cauliflower, lettuce and other edibles were gone.
We finally bought a place in 1994. I had broken my back in 1993, so that put me on hold for a year. Climbing treestands were out of the question. Gary built some platform stands as part of my rehab therapy to learn to walk again. I did a lot of walking. Living near thousands of acres of national forest, there was plenty of room to do just that.
I started watching deer a lot, observing their habits and movement, finding the best sources for food, water, natural mineral licks and so on. I took a lot of deer and also started planting food plots.
One day in 1999, I saw a 6- or 7-pointer with a massive body. This was THE deer I was going to hunt. I saw it again that year and once the next. I also noticed that the diesel fuel, jake brakes, construction and everything else that went along with the interstate that runs by our homestead did not seem to affect it.
I was always in the woods, and I believe the buck had adapted to my scent. It wasn’t getting any smaller, either. I even purchased a GPS guidance system to try to track the deer. Although I hadn’t seen the bruiser in a year, I knew it was still around because my neighbor, Jeff, almost hit it on the way to work one morning.
Jeff said, “Greg, you’ve got a monster buck around here. Have you seen it?”
“Nope,” I replied. “Not yet this year, but all his signs are there.” My pond and cedars were torn up.
During bow season, I saw the buck three times bedded a couple hundred yards from the house. When Jeff nearly hit it that morning around daylight, the buck was approximately 25 yards from the house.
Some unscrupulous deer hunters saw it, too. You know the kind — road hunters, poachers, the pirates who make honest and legal hunters look bad. Luckily, my buck managed to elude them.
We had retained a deer camp until Dad and his good friend, Doc, passed away. That year, I was down and hunting alone. Gary had surgery on his leg and missed out in 2002. Man, I missed that — everyone together on opening day of gun season. But that’s how life works out sometimes.
Nov. 16, 2002, was a good morning. Something felt right. A friend of mine didn’t have any slugs, so we went to the local store to get some. I ran into another friend, conservation officer Phil Seehutter.
“Greg, have you got that big one tied up?” he asked.
“No,” I joked, “he’s chained up.”
I decided to hunt Dad’s old treestand that morning. I don’t know why it felt right. I had put out scent a couple of weeks before and freshened it every few days. Around daybreak, I saw five does heading toward me. (Another advantage of hunting interstates is that you don’t have to worry about scent control as much because of the diesel smoke from the big rigs.) The does were on a bank on a lower trail, and the awesome buck was watching them from farther up on another trail.
I thought it was going to be The Day. When the does walked by, the buck threw its head up, took one whiff and headed my way, stopping about 70 yards from me. I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger.
I said a prayer and reflected on the good things in my life. This moment was way up there. Thank God my father taught me to hunt legally and respect what’s not mine. To me, that’s what makes hunting worthwhile.
Gary and I plan on firing up deer camp again for the nephews and nieces and the ethical hunters we count as good friends. Dad would want it that way.
This article was published in the December 2004 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.