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Member's Hunt: The Deer Saver

A gun can be so much more than just a hunting tool. This heartwarming story of the "Deer Saver" proves that a family heirloom can be a symbol of the gifts passed from father to son.

By Matthew Grover, Bellmore, N.Y.

Back in the old days, my father took his first several deer with borrowed guns and the unsighted Model 12 Winchester pump he used for ducks. When the time came to allow himself his first rig specifically for deer, he bought an Ithaca Model 37 “Deer Slayer” and a low-power Weaver scope. The next few seasons afield produced no luck for Dad, prompting our good friend Dave to kid him by naming the new gun the “Deer Saver.” It became a recurring joke.

After a few years, however, the Deer Saver proved itself a worthy tool in my father’s hands, and deer began to fall to it with some regularity. When Dave jokingly referred to the Deer Saver, Dad suggested that we might have to strike that name due to all the evidence piling up to the contrary.

Meanwhile, as my brother Paul and I reached the age when we sometimes joined our father in the hunt, we borrowed guns from Dad, including the Model 12 and the Deer Saver. We enjoyed every minute of those trips, but it so happened that for many years neither Paul nor I had gotten a good opportunity at a buck, and lacking doe permits, neither of us had ever taken a deer. I never fired a single shot in the field during deer season—until the year Dad transferred ownership of the Deer Saver to me. I was thrilled and honored with the gift. That year I had my first chance at a spike buck. The Deer Saver’s aim was true, and as I field-dressed the deer and told my father the details of the hunt, I felt somewhat like a kid who just got his first hit in little league—though I was nearly 40 years old! As my brother put it, Dad had “passed the torch.”

Over the years the Deer Saver and I have seen many more great adventures in the field. The most notable was the banner season when Paul shot his first buck, and then Earl and I also took bucks—all on opening day, during a two-hour period—unheard of in that neck of the woods! We had plenty of good meat that year. Or when Dad, at age 75, overcame cold and arthritis to take a nice buck. When we found him in the woods with his deer, I was so happy for him and proud of his accomplishment. I grinned and said, “The old fossil strikes again!” It was a most memorable hunt.

Now, as another opening day dawns, I’m sitting silently among the trees watching the forest awaken. The sun rises and four hours pass with barely a stir from the smaller creatures, and there is no sign of any deer. Suddenly a buck appears in the distance, and my heart begins to pound as I take in his substantial antlers, although he is far outside the range of my 12-gauge slug. After a brief pause, he begins to head back from whence he came, but then fatefully alters his course and moves in my direction. My excitement intensifies as the buck meanders even closer, and I do my best to stay concealed behind a tree as I watch and wait. The buck steps down into a hollow out of my sight and does not reappear for many agonizing minutes. I worry that I’ve blown my chance at the best buck I’ve seen hunting in this area where they are few and small. At last he materializes, in range, but walking steadily away from me, and I only have a few moments to pick a shot. I swing the muzzle to match his pace, and as he steps clear of a bush I squeeze the trigger carefully. At the shot the buck lunges and begins to run—have I missed? I am relieved when he suddenly collapses and falls out of my sight again.

Once I regain my composure, I emerge from my post to walk up on my princely buck, attend to the necessary preparations and hurry back to our vacation cottage where my father still rests in bed, not having felt well enough to get out this morning. I tell him, “The Deer Saver strikes again!” and of course he is thrilled with the news and demands a full recounting of my time afield.

A shoulder mount of that buck now graces my living room wall, a reminder of best days spent in the forest, my hunting comrades and the Deer Saver. It is a fine gun and a precious family heirloom, and to me it is more than that. It is a symbol of the greater gifts passed from father to son: love, and appreciation of the outdoors and our hunting heritage.

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2 Responses to Member's Hunt: The Deer Saver

Eric wrote:
January 27, 2014

I got a chuckle reading this... I have an Ithaca Deer Slayer III that I haven't had any luck with yet, so until I make my first harvest with it, I'm calling it the 'Deer Saver'.

thomas wrote:
December 02, 2013

very nice story. reminds me of some of my experiances.