My father hunted every deer season since 1963 with his Remington 700 carbine chambered in .30-06. He was known for his prowess with that rifle, and those that hunted with him knew the distinctive sound his rifle made. When they heard it speak, they knew a deer would be tagged.
As I was getting things ready for my first deer hunt, my father handed me a cartridge, looked me in the eye as we both held it and said, “If I hear a shot, I expect to see a dead deer. One shot, one deer.” With just a few words, he had forever instilled in me the ethics of taking an animal’s life: Make sure your rifle is accurately sighted, wait for a good shot, have confidence in your abilities, aim small, show respect.
I have since taught my son to hunt, secretly hoping I was living up to the responsibility. He was looking forward to hunting alongside his grandfather, but my father’s days in the woods became fewer with each passing season. The sound of his rifle became less frequent and was even silent for a few seasons. My father was very determined to make it out for the 2015 season but made it out only one day. As it turned out, my son took his first deer on that day. While joyful, I felt as though that was a sign my father may not make it out another season.
I unexpectedly lost my father and deer hunting partner of 35 years on Aug. 13, 2016. I was visiting my parents with my wife and son, and we had stayed overnight. That morning at 7 o’clock, my mother called for me with panic in her voice, saying my father was unresponsive. While she called 911, my wife and I tried to wake him, performing CPR while waiting about 15 minutes for the first responders. As the paramedics took over at 7:20 a.m., I knew what the outcome was going to be.
My father was always there for me as I grew up. He taught me to fish and hunt, and religiously attended my school and sporting events. He was firm yet had an edge of wit and humor, and a twinkle in his eye that was remembered and mentioned by many after the funeral service.
I had planned on carrying a new rifle that I had purchased for the 2016 season, but changed my mind after my father’s passing, opting to carry his old Remington instead. I hoped it would help me grieve and heal a little over the many quiet hours I would spend in the stand.
As I was deep in thought one morning, looking over the rifle now held in strange hands for the first time, a spike buck appeared and proceeded to pass on my left. I saw another deer following him, which looked like a doe but carried itself like a buck. I raised the rifle and looked through the 4X scope. Two-inch spikes appeared, and I started to lower the rifle. Suddenly, the little buck turned his head and looked up a logging road. I brought the rifle back to my shoulder and there, moving across the road 160 yards away, was an incredible buck! I had just a second to flip off the safety and take a shot before the deer would be gone into the woods on the other side of the road. My father’s rifle spoke once more. The deer jumped and was gone.
As it was early in the morning, I stayed in the stand rather than getting down and taking the risk of pushing a potentially wounded deer. As I sat there, my emotions began to ebb and flow. I was sad my father had passed, elated that I had just taken a shot at a nice deer, anxious as I hoped the shot was as good as I had pictured it and in disbelief that I had just maybe succeeded in taking a splendid buck as a fitting tribute to my father. Or maybe I had missed and that would be my memory. I slowly ran my hand over the rifle in my lap and let my emotions flow.
I got down two hours later and walked to the spot where I had last seen the buck. I immediately saw blood and followed it to a 12-point buck lying just 40 yards inside the woods. The bullet had found the heart.
One may consider this a fateful event that would have occurred regardless of my father’s passing. I believe my father was with me on Nov. 8, 2016, at 7:20 a.m.
It all came together so suddenly, yet took 35 years to culminate … that stand, that day, that time, that deer, that shot, that rifle. One shot. One deer. Thanks, Dad.
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