A father and son, whitetail bucks, and the spark of a lifelong passion
“Get your gun up! Here he comes!” my dad half whispered, half yelled. My heart was beating out of my chest as I searched for the buck in my scope. My nine year old hands shook with nerves as they stretched searchingly for the trigger guard.
We were huddled behind a makeshift blind of dead fall cedar nestled partially up a hill called the Burn. Aptly named, having burned a few years prior, the burn was a steep rocky bald hill. Benches of cliffs broke up the bands of grass as the hill rose from the canyon floor in front of us. Looking down from our perch at the foot of the burn was a narrow meadow that led to an oak thicket. To our right and to our left were two looming hills that dominated the skyline. These hills however were thick, unlike the Burn; they were covered in Cedar and juniper.
Boots two sizes too small and crammed full of my father’s socks and my growing feet burned from the cold. I teetered between obsessing about my freezing toes and remembering why we were there, a buck. It was opening morning of deer season in Texas and I was with my dad in the woods under a tree. All was right with the world, freezing toes and all.
Breath in, Exhale, Squeeze
I could feel my heart in my head but I found my target and steadied my rifle. “Remember, take a deep breath, exhale, and squeeze the trigger.” my dad reminded me. Shaky with nerves the cross hairs nestled into place on the bucks shoulder, I squeezed, the rifle answered. “You got him!” yelled my dad. The buck dashed up the hill to our left and vanished into the junipers. Out of sight we listened to the bucks clashing of rock and splitting branches as he tore up the hill.
As quickly as he had come, he was gone; the woods fell silent once again. We found him just a few short yards up the hill curled up under a cedar. I still remember the feel of his antlers as I touched them for the first time. A suite of unfamiliar emotions swept over me. There hasn’t been a day I spent hunting since that I haven’t fondly recalled this memory. That would prove to be the only buck my dad and I ever harvested together and I am eternally grateful to have shared it with him.
The Life of a hunter, conservation, sustainability, wild game, and the love of being outdoors
Many seasons have passed since that cold opening morning. The Burn is now thick and covered with cedar and juniper as high as the hills surrounding it. I have learned the meaning of conservation and what means to be a responsible hunter. As a child I ate venison because it was on my plate and I didn’t give a single thought as to its origin. Now, I see the deer and think of how it lived. I’m thankful for its life and that it will feed my family and I honor its sacrifice by honoring its flesh on my plate. It’s bones in my pot, it’s hide in my home, and his antlers on my mantle.
Hunting is not just success and venison dinners. It is more often than not a difficult and trying endeavor. If success was found in every outing I very much doubt I’d have much interest. It’s the marathon of it all I love. As I write these words I’m tucked under some sapling pines overlooking a pond on the edge of a large meadow.
I hiked two miles to be here in hopes of finding a legal buck I the Sam Houston National Forest. This is my fifth trip in here this season. Yes I want a deer. But it’s the challenge and all those unsuccessful days that fuel the fire for me to return.
“What Hunting means to the hunter; adventure, loved ones, wild places, wild food, overcoming obstacles big and small, and a love for the animals.”
I am both a husband and father by choice, experiences and titles that I would not trade for the world. As a hunter I know no other way to be as connected to this planet. Sustained by its harvest, awed by its beauty, or humbled by its wrath. I have been asked many times why I hunt or what it means to me. Usually, in that moment, I fumble for words that even make sense.
Truthfully it’s a question I struggle reconciling even within myself. Wrestling for an answer makes me think of my grandpa who’d use his old dingy skinning knife to slice apples in the deer stand. I’m reminded of when my wife made her first successful stalk on a bedded mouflon or the first time my daughter saw wild turkeys and thought they were ostriches.
Places and Memories
Searching further still and I think of the plains of Colorado and seven wonderfully miserable and futile days spent chasing pronghorn with a bow. I think of the places it has taken me, the people that I’ve shared it with, and the memories I’ve made. If there is an answer to that question and it must be put into words then the best that I can come up with is everything. To the hunter, hunting is everything.