By Michael Ruffing
-- It was the 2006 deer season in Pennsylvania. I was hunting with my dad, who’d I’d convinced to use a crossbow for the first time. I was carrying a muzzleloader, a flintlock.
When I met up with my father on the first evening of the hunt, I noticed something was not right with him, and took him to the hospital. Doctors there said he’d had a mini stroke.
The next morning, he was feeling much better and it appeared that he’d recovered. However, a few days later, Dad suffered a major stroke.
For the next 10 months all I wanted to do was take care of him. I did not fish, hunt or do anything I enjoyed. But I did not regret this because I loved my dad and would do anything for him.
Sadly, in October 2007, my father passed away.
Two weeks after the funeral was my vacation. I picked that time off from work a year earlier because it coincided with the last week of the archery season — the prime rutting period for whitetails in my area.
A tremendous lightning storm on the first day of the hunt had me scurrying down the tree where I’d hung my stand.
I began to wonder if I was meant to hunt at all that year.
As the week went on, I saw deer every day, but no legal bucks. Although I had doe tags, I was hoping a doe would draw in a big buck, so I passed on those shots.
The final morning of the season was damp and dreary. I was hunting my father’s property, in an area I’d stayed out of because I considered it my ace in the hole.
At first light, I heard a sound behind me. Minutes later, a doe and twin fawns approached, eventually passing within 10 yards of my stand. Because it was last day of the season, I considered shooting the doe, but something told me to hold off.
The rest of the morning was slow. By 10 a.m., I had become discouraged and considered getting down to eat lunch and prepare to hunt that afternoon.
Those plans changed 15 minutes later when I noticed movement to my left. It was a rack, and a nice one.
The buck was moving fast. Having only two shooting lanes cut in the thick cover meant I’d have to shoot quickly. As the buck passed the first lane, I grunted at him to stop.
Curious, he turned up the hill and walked to where the doe had been. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when the buck turned and walked straight back toward me.
When he dropped his head to sniff the ground at just 15 yards, I let an arrow fly. It was an easy quartering-away shot.
The arrow sunk in where I aimed, and the buck fled through the underbrush I heard a crash, followed by another, and then the woods fell silent.
I waited a half-hour before climbing down, but it seemed like three hours. I found the arrow and the buck piled up 30 yards farther.
Although the scent of the doe is probably what steered the deer toward me, I feel that my dad had a hand in the hunt.
I’m having a plaque made to go with this mount, thanking my dad for all he has done for me.