Hunter Highlight – Grandpa’s last deer camp

Although it was only mid-June, the excitement began to churn for early October as I walked back from the mailbox. This was going to be my Son’s first time joining us at deer camp to the Chesnimnus unit in North Eastern Oregon. He was going to be 10 this hunting season, and if fortunate, we would draw the tag again in two years, making him legally old enough to hunt at age 12. This trip would be geared toward him learning the country, the synergy of the party, and the respect for the country and the animals we pursue. While he had been with me on some local blacktail deer hunts, he had never gone away with the group for an extended trip.

deer camp corey oliver average hunterWhile the excitement brewed, there was a medical issue with my Grandfather that tempered the enthusiasm. Grandpa, now in his late 80’s was suffering the effects of congestive heart failure. Deer hunting and Grandpa were synonymous to me. It was hard to imagine one without the other. Grandpa had suffered a case of phlebitis, but he was feeling a little better as the time grew nearer. The party had grown over the years, and now consisted of Grandpa, Dad, My Sister, My Cousin and his wife, my long time friend, and myself. My son and his cousins would now be coming along as well.

Getting my son excited, and making sure I packed enough warm clothes, boots, and of course snacks for two, kept me busy leading up to the hunt. Dad and I sighted in Grandpa’s rifle along with our own. Grandpa hadn’t killed a deer in 20 years, but every day he felt that it could be the day. We made sure he only had to pack his clothes, and we would take care of the rest. We arrived in camp the Friday before season, and anticipation ran high heading into opening morning. I was happy to see the excitement in my Son’s face, as well as Grandpa’s. Knowing Grandpa may not be able to hunt with us in two years made me all the more determined to enjoy this time.

Dad had brought along a stool to make it easier for Gramps to get in and out of the truck, and he stayed close to the truck all of opening day. As everyone rolled into camp, after opening day, I could see from the look in my Dad’s eyes that something wasn’t right. He was deeply concerned for his Dad, and I knew it. Grandpa wasn’t breathing very well, and the day had just exhausted him. Dad suggested we take him to the hospital. Grandpa said we should wait until morning and see how he feels. Dad said “you may not make it until morning”, and the decision was made to take him to the hospital. Dad, Sis and I all went along to take him to the hospital, 45 miles away. As we traveled the windy road into town, Grandpa leaned over to me and in a very faint voice he said, “Whatever happens to me, you have to promise to keep hunting”. I smiled and made him the promise.

We rolled into the parking lot, and they came out with a wheelchair and took Grandpa in to the ER. The nurse tried to get some information from Grandpa as to his condition, and asked the standard questions. “Sir, can you tell me where you hurt”? Grandpa replied “There are four generations of our family on the trip this year, myself, my son, my grandson, and my great-grandson joined us this year”. That is good to hear replied the nurse, but I need to find out how you are feeling tonight. “My granddaughter is with us as well this year, and is out in the waiting room”. The nurse was finally able to get his answers, but it became quickly apparent to me what was important to Grandpa.

After getting his vitals, and hearing the back story, the nurse looked across Grandpa to me as if to say “Do you know the ramifications of bringing a man in his health up to 6,000 feet above sea level to go hunting”. I just looked back with a look that hopefully said “Do you know the ramifications of not bringing him hunting”? The decision was made that Gramps would have to stay in the hospital and get an evaluation in the morning.

After a short night, we got up to make a morning hunt, before Dad and my Sister would head back to town. Grandpa would have to stay in the hospital, and possibly be transported back to the Westside on a medical transport. As I hunted the next few days, a lot went through my mind, probably the least of which was finding a deer. What would my Son think of deer hunting at ten years old? Is that what happens, people get sick and have to go to the hospital? I also realized that all of our positions in the evolutionary hunting chain were about to change. My dad would soon become the old patriarch that everyone would respect, even if they didn’t agree with him. No longer would I have the freedom to be the youngster, gauging success or failure based on the size of the animal, or how fast I filled my tag, or how far I had to hike to get it. I would now be the one in the middle, bridging the generations. Bringing along the next generation, while respecting the previous one, would now be my responsibility.

deer camp corey oliver average hunterI walked through the woods reflecting on the past. The excitement, when I got my first deer, and we drug it down to meet Grandpa at the road, and the last deer he got, a Blacktail I helped him skin at his house. Just two years earlier, I had killed a forked horn in a deep canyon in this very unit. Grandpa took the opportunity to tell me that he thought I was a pretty good hunter, not a smart hunter he said, but a pretty good one.

The next afternoon, my partner asked me if I was going to town to see Grandpa in the hospital. “Heck no”, I said, “If he catches me in there with daylight to spare, I will never hear the end of it”. Grandpa had to go home via medical transport. Grandpa passed away a few months later of kidney failure. Not one day has gone by that I have ever questioned our decision to take him hunting that year. I wish he could have made it two more years to see his great-grandson take his first deer, but I know he was right there with us.”

Corey Oliver (Twitter @coreyoliver5)

2 Comments

  • Weston Devers April 12, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Corey, Thanks for this story. I am getting close to this bridge in life as well. My Grandpa turned 81 this year and has been slowing down. Last elk season in Montana, I really noticed how much he was struggling. I am not taking anytime for granted with my grandparents. I will pass the hunting tradition to my children and their children as long as I can.

    Reply
    • Corey Oliver April 12, 2018 at 4:02 pm

      Thanks Weston. I am glad you have been able to spend the years and hunts with your Grandpa. Defiantly times to treasure.

      Reply

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