Dec 16th, 2009 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Dec 16th, 2009 at 12:00 AM
There we go Jon whispered as he raised the barrel of the 50 cal smoke pole. I looked through the double bull netting to my right just in time to see a large bodied buck come trotting up the trail towards the bottom of the large open ravine in front of us. Tail and head high, his eyes were fixed ahead to the large cornfield that lay ahead across the road. Just before he entered the twenty foot white pines to our right, he instantly locked up and looked right at us, keenly aware that the brushed-in blind was somehow out of place amongst the white pines. Jon wasted no time in finding his mark. A large plume of blue smoke erupted in front of us. I barely caught a glimpse of the deer as he ran head down back towards the old burr oak bottoms from which he had just emerged.
“How did the shot feel?” I asked.
“The shot was good dad. He reared up on his hind legs at the shot”, Jon whispered.
“Okay, let’s give him twenty minutes and then we will sneak over and see if we can pick up a sign ….it shouldn’t be too hard in this snow”.
I was absolutely thrilled when my son Jon called to tell me that he would like to try a muzzleloader hunt this year. Unsuccessful during the shotgun season, and he was itching to take advantage of the change in the Minnesota hunting laws. The DNR had recently changed the deer hunting laws enabling hunters to hunt both the firearms and muzzleloader seasons. Borrowing a gun from a co-worker, we settled on Saturday, December 13th as our hunt day. The forecast was favorable with temperatures in the thirties, warm for this time of year. It also happened to be my wife’s birthday, so as a special treat, the three of us headed down to our cabin in SE Minnesota to enjoy a quiet birthday supper together.
Up at four thirty, the windmill in the yard indicated a North wind. I immediately decided that the wind was in the wrong direction for the setup that I had planned for us. However, I wasn’t too bummed. Jon had been putting in a lot of hours at work and had just finished finals at school, so I let him sleep in. I felt that he deserved the rest. It turned out to be the right call. Spending the morning together just sitting around and visiting was a special treat for us. Jon had moved out the previous summer and my wife and I had been experiencing serious “empty nest” feelings the past few weeks. I knew that it would do wonders for Carol’s spirit spending the morning with Jon “catching up”, and it did.
At one thirty, Jon and I loaded up the old ford tractor with seats, our double bull blind, and other gear. I was just along for the ride on this trip, not having purchased a muzzleloader license. Acting as our “guide”, I elected to set up the blind amongst a small stand of ten year old white pines. We would be in a wide open ravine that led to a nearby gravel rode. To the south of us lie a large thicket of burr oak and prickly pear. A well worn dear trail led out of this bedding area and cut up through the white pines to the road, potentially giving Jon a twenty five yard shot if the deer cooperated. We had about seven inches of wet snow on the ground so the tractor was sliding around a bit going across the field. Finally there, we set up the double bull blind facing south, the low afternoon sun in our eyes. Jon loaded up, and we settled in, not expecting to see deer for a couple of hours.
The wind was perfect for our setup, being out of the south at a brisk twenty mph. It was one of those warm bluebird sky days where it is comfortable in the sun, but in the shade is another story. The sun warmed up the double bull pretty well however. It was nice finally having the chance to hunt side by side with Jon. It had been several years since we had done that. I used to take him deer hunting with me and we would sit together, usually in a blow down. He got a first hand look at deer hunting in those days from the ground. He learned how to be quiet, keep movement to a minimum, and to take care of deer after it was harvested. I so enjoyed those days together. The innocence and wide eyed wonder of a young boy is a very special thing. Dad was always right and could do no wrong in those days it seemed. On warm days we dozed together, and on cold days we felt the same pain. I have found a lot of joy in hunting over the years, but nothing compares to the pleasure of watching Jon learn his way around the woods, and around guns. My time in the woods with him has been some of the most rewarding time I’ve ever spent hunting.
However, young boys eventually become young men and hunting and spending time with Dad in the woods is replaced with school, sports, working, hanging out with friends, and of course girls. Sure, we still hunted together, but eventually the young man hunts on his own. I still remember the pride I felt after Jon harvested his first deer on his own. It was a nice doe. He took it in stride has turned into a good hunter in his own right, taking several nice deer over the years. But the days of sitting together hunting deer, father and son, were ultimately a thing of the past….
We had a nice visit that afternoon, together in the blind. However, one thing was evident; the wide eyed boy I used to sit beside had been replaced with a man. Instead of discussing how the birds and other animals of the woods survived the winter, or why bucks grew antlers, or why the leaves lost their green color in the fall; topics centered around the recent election, college, the price of gas, what the future might hold. Before me sat an insightful young man and I was proud of the man he had become. Did I miss the young hunter that used to be constantly at my side? Sure, what Dad doesn’t? Those memories are special, and one’s that I will always cherish…..
We easily picked up the blood trail in the snow and together, right at dark, found the old buck piled up at the base of a hundred year old burr oak tree. The shot had been right in the boiler room and the buck had only traveled about fifty yards. Large bodied, the buck’s antlers had definitely seen better days. Small and narrow, he was a good deer to take out of the gene pool. I congratulated Jon, shaking his hand. We decided to take all of our gear back to the cabin and return for the deer…
Returning, I was able to get the tractor within fifty yards of the buck and it wasn’t long before Jon had taken care of his deer and had dragged it uphill through the snow to the tractor. The brisk afternoon south wind had turned into a perfectly still, warm winter night of twenty five degrees. Loading the deer onto the back of the old Ford tractor, we headed back to the cabin. The full moon was absolutely gorgeous sitting low in the east sky. The moon shown so brightly that we turned the lights off on the tractor and enjoyed the moonlit night. I consciously shifted the tractor into its lowest gear and backed off on the throttle, totally enjoying the peace of the bright winter night.
It was a very enjoyable hunt for both me and Jon. This hunt allowed us to spend time together and share moments that we normally cannot seem to make time for in the busy lives that we have. Missing was the hugs and kisses that came after the boy got his deer. It’s not easy for men to do that. But the warm hand shake and brief embrace between a young man and his father says the same thing… “Good job, I’m proud of you.”
We had started out together years ago, a small boy sitting beside his Dad hunting, watching and learning together. The years have drifted by, the father letting his son find his own way in life. I couldn’t help thinking about our time together that afternoon, together again, side by side, enjoying the outdoors and the hunting experience, that we had together, come full circle…..
“Take a kid hunting. They are our hunting future”. You’ve heard it a million times. However, truer words have never been spoken. Now is great time of year to remind us all that hunting, as well as any outdoor activity for that matter is more than just taking a kid hunting. Hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities give families a chance to be together, to learn together, and to explore life together. When I think of hunting with my son over the years, I don’t think of the blast of a shotgun or the killing of a deer or pheasant. What I do think about is our time sharing an early morning sunrise on a frosty winter morning, of squirrels emerging from their nighttime beds to start the day, the honking of geese overhead on a cold winter night, or the sheer size of a full harvest moon rising in an eastern sky on a cool quiet October evening. What I do think about is our talks about why the leaves turn color in the fall, of how the cool air will sink down a ravine towards evening, rising with the morning sun. What I do think about is how the father watched his son mature and grow with the outdoors, soon figuring out things for himself, and coming upon his own conclusion that the outdoors, our outdoors, is precious, and something to be preserved.