After over 30 years hunting, that day still is clearer in my mind than pretty much most of them. It’s for sure in my top 5 hunting memories that include both my kids first deer and a big one or two. I still remember that day like it was yesterday.
It was my turn to finally get to deer hunt. I spent years sitting in the stand with my Dad while he hunted but never got to try it on my own. Finally I was old enough and he knew I was ready. It was Friday of the first gun season for Illinois in 1986 and I was carrying a Savage (I think) over under with a .22lr on top and a 20 gauge on the bottom that we borrowed from a family friend. Before you ask, no I wasn’t using the .22lr. Just a single shot 20ga which seemed like a monster of a gun back then.
We had two homemade 2×4 ladder stands set up behind the house that were probably only a hundred yards apart. I was in one and Dad in the other. Close enough that we could see each others orange thru the trees but far enough apart to not bother each others hunt. My stand was on a flat right at the base of a hill in a small valley. I got settled in for the afternoon and all I really remember next is the sound of hooves running thru the newly fallen leaves behind me.
Two mature does were running in right behind me and the feverish shakes kicked in. I was freakin out as they slowed to a walk and proceeded right along the hillside next to me. The are head high to me and maybe 25 yards away. I went to pull up my shotgun on them and remembered my Dad telling me that bucks will be chasing does around at that time of year. So the scenario made sense to me. Two mature does running in together like something is chasing them? Yeah, you know what I was thinking. So I waited which I didn’t have to wait long. Within minutes, I see antlers coming up the same trail and going on the exact same path as those two does. Nose to the ground and some little grunting, that guy was on a mission. I know where he is going so I get ready and pull that old Savage up to my shoulder and waiting for him to cross my path.
With the 20 gauge echoing thru the woods, I watch this buck bound thru the woods. Did I hit it? Did I miss? I had no idea. Don’t know how I could have missed, but I have also asked that to myself many times since that day. I gave him a could minutes and I hopped down to check for sign. The excitement really sets in as I find blood. Now, I am freaking out.
I follow the trail for a little bit and it’s heavy. This was late afternoon so I go back down to my stand as I see Dad heading my way. With a big grin and my chest puffed out he knew I got it. So now we track.
The trail started out heavy and then started to lighten up more and more and more. We were following this guy for hours. It was getting dark and we still haven’t found him. With nothing but the slightest specs of blood here and there and we are getting farther and farther from the house, we finally come up over this hill and look down in the deep valley to find him laying in a creek bed.
Draggin this guy back is a whole different story but I’ll sum it up in a few words. Pitch dark, one small light, over a mile away and I was 10. So Dad had a long night dragging that guy back by himself as I struggled to carry all of our gear.
I greatly appreciate everything my Dad did for me growing up, especially the time he took to take me hunting and fishing as often as he could. A lot of it made for some of my greatest hunting memories. I know I don’t get to take my kids out as much as I like, but they know I’m trying. So never forget those special memories and also know that the ones you pass along your passion for probably won’t ever forget them either.