By Rodney Harrison, Lawson, Mo.
My buck of a lifetime is not one I have shot. Rather, it is the mount that proudly graces our cabin in the Ozarks of southwest Missouri. This rather average buck was the first deer harvested by my old father, a full 70 years after his first deer hunt with his father in the foothills of California.
Growing up, a highlight of summertime stays at my grandparents’ farm was reading grandpa’s copy of American Rifleman. While I never hunted with my grandfather, my dad followed the tradition of his father and took me afield when I was 16. While we never saw any deer as we walked the coastal hills of California, a seed was planted that took root three decades later when my wife and I ended up in Missouri in 2003. Nine years later, my parents joined us in the Show-Me State. In 2016, Dad expressed interest in going hunting with me. By this time he needed a cane to get around, so finding the right time and place was important.
Our first hunt together was an Army Corps of Engineers-managed event for individuals with mobility issues. Near sundown we encountered a legal deer, but fading light made it difficult for Dad to find the deer in the scope. The next year we tested our luck on the farm my wife and I had acquired, but the hunt was cut short by a storm that blew our blind halfway across the county. Despite these challenges, our time together was priceless.
Dad’s ability to spend hours in the woods was becoming a limiting factor when a friend invited us to hunt a property in southwest Missouri. His description of deer in abundance had us counting down the days to the hunt. Although the original plan was to hunt from an easy-access tower blind, it became clear that getting into the tower was not possible, so we opted to hunt from beneath the blind, which limited our shooting lanes.
During the morning sit we saw several deer, including a genuine Ozark Mountain giant that was just out of range. After lunch we returned to the same location knowing the winds were in our favor and the peak of the rut was in play.
At 4:15 p.m., an 8-point buck came into the clearing at 40 yards from our downwind side. Just as the buck was ready to return to the woods, Dad fired a single shot through its vitals. While I saw the buck run 40 yards and drop just out of site, Dad did not and worried he had not made a clean shot. A half-hour later our host drove us down to Dad’s deer, his first in 70 years. Dad’s success became known among family and friends. Even Dad’s pastor sent me a text about how inspirational it was that age and mobility did not detour Dad from enjoying God’s creation.
Five months after the hunt, the shoulder mount was ready. With Dad’s blessing, I chose to display his buck at our cabin in a spot reserved for the proverbial buck of a lifetime. While Dad’s mobility has become a limiting factor each day, he and Mom were able to spend a few days at the cabin that spring. The sight of his deer allowed Dad to relive the excitement and joy of the harvest.
While my father is not able to hunt this season, his experience has become an inspiration for others, including my son who grew up in California during a time when hunting was not part of our family heritage. Today, when one of us hunts, Dad prays for us to have a safe hunt and to experience the joy that comes with being in Creation.
The excitement, joy and camaraderie of Dad’s hunt became the underpinning for what is now a series of four senior deer hunts for nursing-home residents. These events enjoy support from The NRA Foundation and other outdoor organizations. While the logistics differ somewhat from Dad’s hunt, the results are the same. As one resident said, “I came here to die, but through this deer hunt, God reminded me that I was here to live.”
Without a doubt, that 8-pointer is the buck of a lifetime to me and many others including my father.
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