My outfitter friend, Patrick Holehan (pictured above with dad Lee), had led his client across the basin from where John Mullins and I set up our spotting scopes, and so we hoped they would spot the buck headed in their direction. Going mostly on guide's intuition, John judged it to be a 100-incher, a genuine trophy Coues whitetail. But try as we might for a better look, the Sonoran desert cover was just too thick and the buck was gone.
Early on I could see our comrades glassing, but then they too were swallowed up by the ocotillo and palo verde. As the sun arced higher and hotter I assumed the buck must have slipped the gauntlet, and so the shot came as a jolt. A single shot usually bodes well, but in that rough, brushy country...maybe not.
Very briefly John glimpsed movement deep in the basin, and then minutes later we spotted Patrick bailing off the ridge. Following along at a slower pace was Lee, the nearly 80-year-old client.
"The deer must be down," said John. "Let's go see."
We located the buck first and whistled to signal the others to the ravine where it had fallen. Pat came charging in all smiles, and as Lee picked his way down the final steep grade we razzed him for dropping his deer in such a hole. The elder gent laughed the sly laugh of one whose work is done, and then he embraced his guide in a manner beyond the normal hunting camp backslapping. But don't think anything weird was going on, because Lee Holehan is Pat's dad, and rightly they were sharing a very special moment. I snapped a picture right then and it is one of my all-time favorites.
Later, Lee told me, "It's unbelievable doing this at my age. I would have quit 10 years ago, but Pat won't listen." Apparently that follows a pattern established after their family moved to Durango, Colo., when Patrick was a teenager. "He was enamored with the mountains and the animals, and just had to go hunting," the retired educator told me.
One problem with that though: Lee wasn't a hunter. That first year a teaching colleague volunteered to take the boy out, and when they came back with a deer, "That did it. I knew I had to learn," recalled Lee. "So between classes my friend gave me hunting lessons. I had to take him myself, because that's what fathers are supposed to do."
For obvious reasons hunting is called a "blood sport," though that term's normal connotation fails to convey just how right it really is. That's because hunting also runs in our blood. Since the beginning of humankind, each succeeding generation has passed the lore and know-how on to its children. As has always been the case, the majority of us owe our fathers for getting us started.
So it is not at all unusual that the entire American Hunter editorial staff inherited the hunting gene from their dads. Scott and Karen have written deeply touching articles on the subject, and Jeff goes home to Oklahoma every year to renew the bond with his dad, T.J. During the job interviews when I met Frank and Kyle, both credited their fathers' influence. For me, that's encouraging proof that blood really is thick enough to withstand our current obsession with change.
I too can thank my dad for showing the way, no small matter since he was, at most, a lapsed hunter. Though he'd grown up shooting and trapping small game, the occasion of my very first outing was the only time I ever knew him to hunt. Like many of America's small-town entrepreneurs, my dad was completely engrossed in running his business and almost never took a break. And yet he came home early one day to collect me, and we drove to the family farm for the purpose of hunting groundhogs. Even for a typically wild 6-year-old boy, my excitement was extraordinary and only ratcheted up when I got to shoot the .22 and then hoist a dead 'hog. Upon returning home I declared that groundhogs looked just like miniature buffalo, an absurd notion of course, but one that expressed the adventure I felt in my heart. I feel it still. I never did ask how it was that he came home early and got me that day, and now that Dad is gone I regret not doing so. And yet despite wondering about the circumstances, I understand why he did it because as a father I feel the same compulsion.
The message in all this is clear, and I know that American Hunter readers already know how important it is to take their children hunting. I believe it is part of a creed coursing through the veins of nearly all hunters and even some non-hunters, and that collectively we do a good job of it. Keeping the next generation hunting as they become young adults is more challenging, in my view, and a much bigger obstacle to ensuring our future.
So of course give your kids every opportunity and don't let up when they hit their 20s. But every bit as essential, make plans to take dear old Dad hunting. After all, blood must circulate back through the heart to remain vital.
Since precious little actual hunting goes on across the U.S. in late June, why not liven up this year's Father's Day picnic or family gathering by pulling out a calendar and setting a date to chase critters together? If need be, you can discuss it over the phone or suggest it in a card.
Having been on both sides of Father's Day exchanges, I am sure this invitation will come as a more intriguing gift than a new belt or necktie. You can promise that dinner cooked and served in hunting camp satisfies better than upscale restaurant chow, that a walk through the great outdoors is far more hi-res than any movie or TV screen, and that adrenaline-rush encounters with game trumps the simulated thrills of spectator sports.
This matters because the days we spend with the ones we love are cruelly finite. Because blood is thicker than our other attachments. And in hunting, the blood is real.