Archive for the ‘Hunting Stories’ Category

Luck & Expectations- Part I

That day was not going as I had expected.  I was panicked.  I woke up that Saturday morning with a long list of unfinished items I was determined to finish by the end of the weekend.  The real estate crisis had twisted my ordinary life into unordinary chaos.  It was like kudzu vines had invaded my yard and were slowly cresting the rooftop of my home–out of control.  I ended everyday substantially cutting them back only to awake the next day to see the vines enveloping my life again.  Chaos was now routine.  The crisis was just beginning.  I was watching the green monster grow out of control from the seeds of greed planted years before.

“Where’s my Blackberry?” I asked vainly as exasperation heated my breath.  “Remain calm,” I coaxed myself.  “Remain calm,” I repeated to myself knowing desperation was filling my thoughts as I searched the house for my business pacifier, my connection to the world, my Blackberry.

As I passed through the living room, I interrupted my eldest daughter watching cartoons, “Have you seen my Blackberry?”

“No sir. You probably left it in your car,” never turning her attention away from the TV.  I expected her response.  She said it as matter-of factly as someone who had watched me endure this agony before until I did indeed declare that it was left in my car.

“Good idea,” I thought, even though I had shuffled through the empty water bottles, fast food bags, forgotten papers and dirty hunting clothes that littered my car already twice that morning.  “Maybe it fell under the seats,” I reiterated hopefully as I rubbed the scruff on my chin knowing I had already scraped through the debris under my seats.   I had expected it to be there but it wasn’t.  I headed back down to the garage to look again anyway.  “It very well could be there,” I thought to myself.

It was not in the car and I knew it, but my expectations sent me on the fruitless errand anyway.  I shuffled through the mess again.  No luck.  Dejected, I walked back into the house.  “Where could it be?” my fingers whispered through my tangled Saturday morning hair.  I was possessed with the feeling that I had to find it.  I had stopped even caring why.  The point had now become finding it.

Walking through the house, I met my middle child in the game room.  She was also watching cartoons, but a different one than that of my oldest and of course on a different TV.

It reminded me of when I was a child.  I couldn’t wake up for school, but I could wake up before the sun rose on every Saturday to watch cartoons before anyone else in the family could claim the one TV we had.  Thankfully, we only had three channels to fight over, or we would have spent more time fighting for airtime than we did watching it.

“Honey, have you seen my Blackberry,” my personality struggled with my frustration to put some sweetness in my conversation.  I knew it was not their fault, but I was desperate.  I needed my Blackberry like an alcoholic needed a drink.  I did not realize my addiction was impacting those around me.  They don’t call it a Crackberry for nothing.

She looked up immediately, feeling my tension, “I don’t know where it is, but I will help you find it.  Like you always say, daddy, I am your good luck charm.”  I could see through her green-blue eyes the sympathy she felt for me.  My good luck charm, as I like to call her, is also blessed with a deep ribbon of sympathy and concern that runs through the granite of her serious personality like a vein of gold, rich and rewarding once accessed, but hard to access.

My desperation and dejection had accessed it.  She jumped up and put her arm around my waist, “let’s go ask Finch.  He might know.  Remember when . . .” I interrupted her immediately.  “Don’t even say it,” I smiled firmly, slamming the door shut on her thoughts.  I was swallowing my panic like a dry ball of bread stuck in my parched throat and I had no water to wash it down.

She looked up at me reassuringly again wanting to remind me.  I interrupted before she could even speak, “Don’t even think it honey.”  My fearfully frustrated thoughts vibrated my speech to a quiver.

We went to my room where my third child was watching his cartoons on another TV.  I could not help but remember the time when I was his age and my brother and I had knocked the family TV off its stand while we were wrestling, cracking the screen.  My dad was furious.  Next to our house and our car, it was the most expensive thing we owned.  He set the TV back on its stand and turned it on.  We hoped more than anything we would see that familiar grey line across the middle of the screen swell in a flash into a picture when he turned it on.

Nothing.  Just a black screen.  We were worried.  My brother and I looked at each other.  I could see in his eyes what he was thinking and he could see in mine what I was thinking.  It was the same.  “What’s he gonna do?,” our eyes said to one another, not daring to look up at him.

“Ah, my favorite show, ‘All in the Family,’” he said as he walked back to his old green leather chair, the only chair in that room I ever saw him sit in.  “I love this show,” he said enthusiastically through his grimace.

My brother and I looked at each other even more afraid.  The screen was black.  “Sit back boys, you’re too close to see the TV.  I love this show,” he said convincingly again through his grimace.

We looked at the screen.  Nothing.  We looked at each other, then back up to the screen.  Nothing.  Our wide eyes revealed deep concern to one another.

“Boy, move the antenna.  The picture’s fuzzy,” he said.  My brother and I looked at each other again.  I could see in my brother’s eyes my thoughts.  He’s so mad, he’s gone crazy.  He thinks he’s watching “All in the Family.”

Everything was the same.  It was as if the TV wasn’t broken.  My brother and I even started to wonder if he really could see the TV when we couldn’t.  We did not dare to ask.  Once we finished dinner, the family would go into the living room, sit together as a family and watch a blank screen as my dad commented on the show as if it were on, “I love Archie.  Now he is a real man,” he would say with a chuckle.

We never said a word.  We stared at that screen and pretended to watch the news, “Hogan’s Heroes” and “All in the Family.”  After a while, we even started to laugh as if something funny had happened on the show.  He laughed too.

After a month, we finished dinner and went to the family room.  By this time the charade had gotten old.  My brother and I were miserable.  At the time we thought there was nothing worse than not watching TV, except pretending to watch TV.  My dad sat in his chair, glanced through the TV guide and said, “Ah, All in the Family.  Son, turn it on channel 3.”

“Here we go again,” my brother’s eyes and mine said with a glance.  I watched exasperatedly as my brother walked to the TV and turned it on.  Surprised out of my boredom, the little white line appeared across the middle of the screen.  I looked at my brother, our eyes said “what?”  The white line popped into a picture and Edith Bunker’s scratchy, yankee voice pierced the air, “. . . guys like us we had it made, boy those were the days . . .”  Life was back to normal.  Nothing was ever said.  We were not expecting that.  We got lucky.

I ran my fingers through my memory pulling the frustration of my lost Blackberry back to the present.  I thought to myself, “we have three TV’s and a hundred channels too many.”

“When I was your age I once spent a month staring at a blank screen,” I tried to make point to them without any reference.

My daughter replied, “What?”  My son never looked up.  He was lost in the Justice League with Batman and Superman.

“Never mind.  Have you seen my Blackberry?” I asked him as calmly as I could muster.  I could feel the furry vines of the Kudzu tightening around my chest as I waited for his answer.

“No sir,” he said reflexively as he stared blankly rapted by the television.

“OK,” I thought.  “Why should he care?”  “He’s only five – way too young to see the Kudzu taking over my life.”  I rubbed my Saturday morning scruffy chin trying to coax my mouth to speak calmly.

“Are you sure you haven’t seen my Blackberry?” I asked again more seriously battling hard to unwrap the Kudzu consuming me.  I was trying even harder not to reveal my struggle to them.

“Daddy, what’s a Blackberry?” he asked not looking away from the cartoon droning on in his foreground and my background.

“My phone?” I aguishly inquired.

“Oh, your phone,” he stared up at me hopefully as he turned away from his cartoons for the first time.  His eyes smiled up at me brightly twinkling their natural mischievousness.

Trouble sparkled so brightly in his eyes it reminded me of the details of the moment I was trying to forget.  My stress melted into internal laughter and happiness.  With that look, the Kudzu unwrapped me from its hold and receded from my bedroom.  I felt it wither down the side of my home and slide down the front lawn.  Bad memories with children have a way of morphing into happy thoughts, funny stories and wedding video clips over time.

I felt my daughter wrap her arms around my legs replacing the cold, heartless Kudzu with the warmth of her body and the glow of his expression as the two of them whisked me back in a hazy daydream two years earlier.

I was gripped with the same panic of losing my link to the World.  I could see him just as he was, standing at the end of the hallway barely inside the open door.  He looked up at me with the same fearless gleam glowing in his eyes.  From behind overgrown, un-kept blond strands, his boyish glare transcended trouble dealt without intent.

“Bye-Bye pone,” he said as he tugged over and over on the lever of the toilet.  “Bye-Bye pone.”  I saw it like it was happening again.  I could feel the rumble of my laughter swelling through my desperate scream, “Noooooo.”  It was too bad to be funny and too funny to be bad.

The instant of that memory cut back the weeds of my life outside my home and filled me with the hope of the life inside it.  I found myself thinking about what had just transpired.  I had been wandering around my house aimlessly searching for an electronic device which if I could admit it, I truly didn’t want to find.  I was bumping into my kids as they lost themselves in electronic devices I wish they hadn’t found. 

I laughed as I reached down to pick my daughter up.   I hugged her and decided to put an end to the expected that day, “Thanks lucky charm.  Lets go hunting,” I looked her in the eyes trying to imagine what she was thinking.

“But you didn’t find your phone,” her voice promised to continue helping me on my quest.  “How can I be a lucky charm if you didn’t find your phone?” she asked quietly.

“Addie, you’re my lucky charm.  Trust me, you’re my lucky charm,” I reassured her and myself.  “Let’s go out to the hunting property and try to use up some more of your luck.”  I hugged her and hoisted her down to the floor.

“OK, but I still don’t think I am that lucky if I didn’t find your phone,” she said as she shrugged her nonchalantly confused shoulders.

As we were riding out to the hunting property, she asked me again with that same oh-well inquisitiveness, “Daddy, how can I be so lucky if I didn’t help you find your phone?”

“Luck has nothing to do with getting what you want.  Luck is about experiencing the unexpected,” I hoped she understood but knew she probably didn’t.  “You are the luckiest person I know Addie because you never expect anything,” I reassured her.

“Thanks, daddy,” she said as if she understood completely what I meant but satisfied in the knowledge that I thought her lucky.  I watched her intermittently in my rear view mirror thinking deeply about what I had just said.  She was staring out of her window with her chin resting on her hand, nodding her head contemplatively as the scenery of the country drive flashed past us.  I could see that rich vein of gold deep beneath her granite.

I could also tell that she was thinking about that phone.  She had watched me searching the house for it as if I had lost one of my children.  After we had been riding in silence for about twenty minutes, she asked “If you didn’t care if you found your phone, why were you looking for it so hard?  You sure seemed like you wanted to find it,” she belied her confusion.

The simple logic of her question paused me for a minute, “Well, I need it for work and I did want to find it but …” I paused.  I couldn’t explain it because I didn’t know the answer myself.

“Why do you work so much?” The question cut me to the bone. I had always naively hoped I could make work opaque to my kids, that I could be a big enough part of their lives that they wouldn’t even notice I was working.  In fact, I had given up a career knowing that it would not give me the time I wanted and needed for my children, only to realize a few years later my new career was not much different.  Careers and children are repellent.

Even though I knew it was not completely true when I said it, I replied, “Honey I only work to make money so we can pay for our house and all the things we need.”  The fact was that I didn’t really understand myself why I worked so much.

“We sure must be rich,” she said as several grazing horses blurred past her window.

Her innocent words slapped my heart.  I was startled by her quizzical reply and looked up in my mirror instinctively.

“We’re not rich,” Honey.  “What makes you think that?” I asked with an uncomfortable chuckle.

Turning her head away from the passing scenery, I could see her looking at me in the mirror with a confident smile.  She had just thrust her youthful logic upon me but really didn’t know it, “But daddy, if you work to make money then we must be rich as much as you work.”

I could feel the Kudzu constricting my breath, swarming back up through my yard, reaching over the top of my home and wrapping its tentacles around my chest.  I did not know how to respond.  “Well, I am rich because I have your sister and brother.  I am rich because I have your mother.  I am rich because I have you and I am going to spend the afternoon hunting with you,” my voice shook and mustered as much reassurance as my mind had.

“If that makes us rich, then you do not need to work that much,” it was simple for her and it made sense for me.  Again, I felt the constricting veins unwrap themselves from my chest and wither down my home and through the yard.  As much as I did not want to believe it, I felt she meant to make the point: She had no expectations.

I was truly lucky to have her.

The Old Hunting Road

The Old Hunting Road

On a balmy spring evening, my daughter and I walked down a red clay road, lined by underbrush and striped down the center with tall grass.  It was an old logging road during a time long passed.  Since its time in service to the forest industry in South Carolina, generations of hunters had worn in its grooves.  Traveling from the cabin to various stand locations and food plots by horse, truck, four-wheeler and foot, the road was defined by experiences.  As I walked its ragged tracks, I could not help but think about all the hunters trafficking the road before me.  Mostly, I thought about the fathers hunting with their children who had travelled this worn path before me.  I wondered if the traffic I thought about also thought about the hunters and their children that walked before them.  I knew they had.  Without those experiences there would have been no road.

It survived because of the traffic that impressed memories into the soul of its clay.  What had these hunters thought as they slowly moved to and from their favorite hunting spots?  Some dreamed of shooting does for food but they all dreamed of shooting bucks for trophies.  I knew.  I had travelled the road many times.

They travelled the road dreaming of a goal or remembering a success.  At some point along its path, imprinted memories of wild game crossed their paths and interrupted their thoughts.  I knew.  This old hunting path wore the memories of hundreds of hunters laying thousands of tracks to their dreams.  It did the same for the game that meandered across its path from time to time.  And, sometimes, the old road made its own memories.

Earlier that sweaty afternoon, my daughter and I had been hunting turkey.  Although we heard the reassuring clucks and putts of several hens and the aggressive gobble of a few Toms, we had no success bringing them to within range or even eyesight of our ground blind.  Sometimes, in turkey hunting just seeing a bird is rewarding success.

While we were scouting earlier in the week we decided to set up at a cross roads where the old dirt road came together with its brother road to form a V.  Rather than walk and stalk, we chose to sit and wait.  We knew turkeys were traveling this fork in the road.  There were tracks everywhere.  Dozens of birds were coming together at this spot, and in the afternoon on this land, the birds are skittish. Their anxiety builds throughout the day and pushes them to roam quietly in open spaces where they cannot be ambushed.  They rarely call or respond to calls.

The old dirt road and its brother came together between a stand of tall hardwoods where turkeys tend to roost and a food plot where they tend to feed in the evenings.  The old road spoke to us silently, “watch my path from the hardwoods come together with my brother’s path form the food plot.  Look down.  See the turkey tracks?  Now, sit and wait patiently.”

My daughter’s eyes followed mine as they traveled from the hardwoods to where we stood and back to the food plot to where we stood.  We both scattered our vision across the scattered tracks surrounding our boots.  We didn’t need to speak.  We knew it would be just a matter of time when these birds would come back down their well-travelled path and bring themselves into our range.  We didn’t need to call them.  The road told us they would come.

After a couple of hours sitting patiently, we whispered convincingly to one another, “they will come.  They’ve been using the road.  They will come.”

“I know, daddy.  They will come.  There are tracks every where,” she said quietly and confidently.

After a time when patience starts fading into uncertainty, our conversation drifted into uncertainty as well.  “I am pretty sure we are in the right spot,” I whispered.

“I think we are too daddy,” my daughter replied in a voice that belied her confidence in what the old road had told us.

“Daddy. Look,” my daughter whispered.

“Finally, a turkey,” I thought as I turned my head slowly in her direction.

As she darted her eyes back and forth from my eyes to her hand, I was too mentally focused on seeing a turkey to notice the black and purple winged butterfly that was resting on her camouflaged glove.

“Do you see a turkey?  I don’t see it,” I whispered as quietly as audible would allow.

“Look,” she whispered just as meekly as she pointed her eyes to her glove.

Then I saw it.  The butterfly was moving its wings slowly up and down like a gymnast adjusting her outstretched arms on a balance beam.  I forgot all about turkeys as I watched with her.  Its wings slowed to a rest vertically as the butterfly settled in on what it must have thought was a leafy branch.  Its incandescent wings glimmered erratically between the hues of every color, shimmering like the thinnest film of oil resting on the calm surface of water.

The hyper instability of its color was the butterfly’s beauty.  With synaptic speed, the slightest shift in the environment altered the silky sheen of its color.  Even the rush of air from our breath brushed its wings through hundreds of shades.  As we watched, I realized the butterfly was not black and purple. It was every color.  I hoped my daughter could hear my thoughts.

“Do you think she can see us,” she asked in an almost inaudible whisper trying desperately not to alarm our guest.

“I don’t think so.  She must think you are a bush.  You look like a bush,” I replied in an equally cautious but more playful hush.

“Look.” She whispered anxiously her eyes darting toward mine seeking acknowledgement.

We both stared at the butterfly as it rolled its tongue out slowly down from its mouth to her fingers and grasped dust-sized yellow pine pollen spores from off her glove.  We watched timelessly, not saying a word, just occasionally looking at one another’s eyes and smiling through our camouflaged meshed masks as the butterfly consumed the pollen one spore at a time.

When the butterfly was full, it stroked its wings downward and then back up slowly as if it were stretching after a big meal.  Then, it flew off.  Flittering, darting and bobbing through the air like an immature oak leaf caught in the wind, we watched it disappear.

“That was so cool,” I said to my daughter as I stood up to leave.  We had seen enough.  Our hunt was over.  Night was drawing near and I knew the turkeys had taken another route to their roosts that night.

“That’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” she said as she stood up beside me.

“What an experience,” I thought to myself.  Our hunt was successful.  We started walking back to the truck.  It was the time of the evening when the sun was waiting just above the horizon baiting the woods to go to sleep.  As if the woods had not gotten the message, the sky brightened in a pulse for a few seconds with the red edge of it’s spectrum.  The day was exhaling its last breaths and the night was warning the woods of its impending reassuring, peaceful presence.

My daughter was walking next to me scuffing her semi-asleep feet through the dew-thickened grass along the middle of its rutted path.  I was walking along the edge of the matching muddy groove two feet away.  Our camouflage hid us from everything but us.  The anticipation of the night quieted everything in the woods.  Even the crickets and the owls respect the divinity of this brief moment when everyday takes its last sleep filled breaths.  Silently, the old hunting road reliably guided our path home.

It is at these times that life stirs deep thoughts.  On that calm, crisp spring evening, I was not thinking of the owls that serenaded the turkeys to their slumber on their roost or past hunts.  I was not thinking about the day’s hunt or even about our radiant butterfly experience.  I thought of nothing but my daughter walking beside me through the woods along this beaten down old path that so many fathers had walked before with their children.  She was my thoughts.

I was overwhelmed by her presence.  Without looking, I reached down.  She grasped my hand, also without looking, as if she had been waiting for it.  We walked for several more minutes, not saying a word, not looking at one another.  The tall grass of the road between us tickled our locked hands in the quiet darkness of the day’s last breaths, comforting us that it was there beneath our feet carrying us home.

“I love you.”

“I love you too, daddy.”

The old hunting road made another memory.

Son’s First Buck

My Son’s First Buck

My son is four, but he is going on ten or so.  If you ask him, he is a ninja wearing Superman’s cape and Batman’s mask.  He’s a droid that has travelled through space and conquered most of the “bad guys” with his laser-beam eyes.  He can hold his breath as long as Aquaman, but he “a’int wearing no orange suit,” he’ll remind you.  He beats me up every day when I come home from work with karate moves he calls “the ham and cheese,” “the macaroni special,” and the well known “knuckle sandwich.”

I love him as much as you can love anything, and he loves me so much he will do anything I do.  So, when I take him hunting, he wants to do it all.  He climbs twenty-foot ladder stands without fear, because I do.  He walks beside me for hours in the woods because I do.  He picks up snakes, because I do.  And, he wants to shoot a buck more than anything in the world because I do.  There’s only one problem, he is way too young to shoot anything.  But, don’t tell him that.  He would be very hurt.  As far as he is concerned, “if daddy can do it, I can do it.”

About three weeks ago, I picked him up from his church school to take him hunting.  I had the afternoon off, and I thought it would be fun to spend a little time with him in the woods.  I wasn’t expecting to have much luck.  It’s hard to hunt with a four year old.  But I was expecting to have a great time with my son enjoying the woods, talking about hunting and wildlife.  Although I really wanted him to see some wildlife, I didn’t expect much on the hunting front, but I hoped for a lot on the father-son front.

When we arrived at the hunting camp, we went inside the cabin to change our clothes.  It was like dressing in a miniature mirror.  I would slide one leg into my camo long-johns and he would slide his leg into his.  I would slide my arm into my shirt and he would slide his arm into his.  I slipped on my rubber boots.  He slipped on his.  He never took his eyes off me and he put on each article of clothing exactly as I did and at the same pace I did.  I was already having fun just watching a little version of me dress himself in the chair across from me.  It made me wonder if I was ever a reflection of my dad as he got ready to hunt.  I imagine so, but I could not remember.

After we were dressed, I pulled out my pack to take inventory.  He stared at me intently watching every move as I checked off my list.  I held up each item in my pack one by one.  “Never go in the woods without water,” I said as I held up a bottle of water.

“Check.” He said matter-of-factly.  I almost laughed, “Check?”

“Yessir. Check.  We got water,” he said with a smile.

“Yea boy, we got water.  Knife,” I followed.

“Check.  Never go in the woods without a knife,” he said.  He was catching on.

“Apple,” I kept going, getting a huge kick out of how serious he was taking the whole process.

“Apple.  Check.  Never go in the woods without an apple.  Hey daddy, why don’t you never go in the woods without an apple,” he asked un-assuredly after having checked it off so assuredly.

“You have to take food in the woods and apples freshen your breath better than toothpaste.  Deer can smell toothpaste and apples, but they love apples and hate toothpaste,” I explained with a smile.

“Apple.  Check.” He got it.

We went through the rest of the stuff in my pack and I explained why we needed it all, “we need this compass in case we get lost.”

He looked up at me quizzically, “if we get lost why don’t we just follow the trail back to the cabin,” he said simply.  I laughed to myself.  He had a point. Kids see things with simple glasses that look straight through the complexities of adulthood.

Loading the pack afforded me some quality time to kill before we began our long sit in the stand.  One of the hardest things do when hunting with a kid is keep them from getting bored while sitting in the stand.  The Red power Ranger who rides a Transformer to crush all the Pokemon is only going to sit still so long.  So, I wait as long as possible preparing and teaching before I take my kids up in the stand.

Nevertheless, hunting is about patience and hunting with children is about developing their patience.  My son has taught me that it takes patience to build patience.  Each time in the stand builds a little more patience.  I laugh when I hear other parents ordering their children to be patient.  Most of them are doing so because they have lost their own.  Patience is not something that can be commanded; it is something that must be experienced.

“Daddy, lets go kill us a buck,” he said about the time his patience was running thin with the preparation for the hunt.  The funny thing about my boy is that he knows that most of the deer I harvest are does and he has only seen does when he has been hunting with me, but all he talks about are bucks.  Boys love bucks.  Why?  Maybe its because we only have mounted bucks on our walls.  Maybe its because we talk about them a lot.  Maybe, its just because bucks are majestic.  They are regal.  For my son, its probably as simple as, “they have swords on their heads.”

Let’s go get us one then,” I said as matter-of-factly as if it were going to happen.  That is the attitude I want to teach my son.  Think positive.  Let the hunt come to you and eventually it will.  Every time you walk in the woods, if you are prepared you have a chance to get a buck.  One thing is certain, if you do not walk in the woods or you are not prepared, you have no chance at all.  I knew he believed this because the entire walk to the stand he was telling me about the big eight-point buck we were going to see and how he was going to shoot it.

“Now dad, when we see the buck, you gotta let me shoot it.  It’s my turn.  I have not shot a buck before and you have, so that means it’s my turn,” he was as convinced as a Luke Skywalker was that he was going to defeat Darth Vader in return of the Jedi that he was going to see a buck.  He was even more convinced that he was going to shoot it.

“Got it.  You can shoot if it’s a good one,” I told him knowing full well that our chances of seeing a buck were limited, not because we were hunting in a bad place or because it was a bad time of year.  It’s just hard to bring a buck into a field with a four year old that thinks he is Incredible Hulk wearing Spiderman’s suit armed with death laser eyes and a Luke Skywalker’s light saber.

We headed out for the stand.  I had my 264 win mag., which is about six inches longer than he is tall, slung over my shoulder and he had his single shot .22, which is just shorter that he is, slung over his.  Even though he has never shot his gun, he wanted to carry it, just like I carried mine.  What a pair, my boy and I walking through the woods.  I looked down at him and it took me back in time to when I was his age.

“Well, then, let’s go shoot one,” I said to him with a chuckle.

“We’ll get ‘em,” he replied confidently.

Sure enough, we had been sitting in the stand for about a half an hour when Spiderman, Hulk and the rest of the League of Justice had to pee.  “You gotta what,” I asked him having made him pee at least three times while we were dressing and loading our pack?

“Yessir daddy, I gotta go,” he said sheepishly.

“Can you wait,” I asked in vain knowing that his bladder only has about five minutes of capacity but hoping he may somehow have developed in the last five minutes a fraternity boy tolerance to urination.

“No sir, gotta go,” he emphasized with an inspired “not gonna have any accidents today daddy.”

“Well, that’s good,” I thought to myself. “I can’t wait to tell his mom that the key to avoiding potty accidents is to put the boy in a deer stand.”

As I helped him use the bathroom through the metal grates of the stand, I was a bit disappointed.  There was a part of me that believed him when he said we were going to see a big buck that day. He seemed to truly believe it.  There is something so pure about the hope in a boy’s eyes that it is contagious and it had stricken me like the Swine Flu.  I really thought we were going to see a buck, but now that my son had just marked its territory, I knew there was no way.  Using the bathroom anywhere near a deer stand (ever) is the kiss of death.  Anyone who has ever hunted whitetail will say as much.

But, the boy had to go, so I let him go.  What can you do?  After two years of telling him over and over not to go in his pants, I could not go back now.  Besides there is no difference whether you go in your pants or through the grates of the stand.  Once the scent is released, the deer will smell it for days and the hunt is over.  So, he went.

After he was finished, I helped him get his pants up and he sat back down next to me, “Dad, we are gonna see a big buck today,” he looked up at me and through his cammo face-mask all I could see were two big blue eyes of hope.  He had a look of hope that I had long forgotten.  It was pure hope, a look that had not yet been jaded by any of life’s disappointment.  It inspired me.

“You never know, son,” I said with a smile feeling a part of that hopeful look fill my thoughts.  “You never know.  You never know.”

My thoughts drifted into daydreams of “you never know’s.”  I was thinking about all the times when I was around his age that I dreamed things would happen so hard they seemed to happen.  I felt feelings I hadn’t had for many years.  I remembered times that I had been wading in the Ocean with a baited hook with an old Pen reel for what seemed like hours.  I waited through the rise and fall of a high tide with my dad telling me to check the bait.  I just knew I shouldn’t.  You never know.  I thought if I reeled in that line to check, it would be at that very moment that a Whiting or a Spot-tail would cruise by the place where my bait had been sitting and I would miss him.  That’s what teaches you patience – hope – you never know.

I was startled out of my memories like a fish slamming my bait in the surf after that long wait by the sound of the bushes rustling 10 yards in front of our stand.

“Did you hear that,” I asked my boy as I shifted my body to look.  “That’s not a squirrel.  I think it’s a deer,” I whispered to him as he looked up.  “SHHHH.”  I looked back at him as he stared intently into the woods.

“It’s a buck,” he said, not in a whisper.

“SHHH,” I paused.  “Maybe,” I paused again listening intently.  “We need to be as quiet as possible,” I hushed almost inaudibly.

“Got it,” he whispered back as quietly as I did.

I saw its front legs first.  An overhanging tree branch hid its head, which quickly emerged from the woods, adorned with antlers.


“I know.”  It stood there ten yards from us on an old logging road.  I was shocked.  It stood ten yards from where my son had not ten minutes ago used the bathroom.  Broadside, eight points, wide but not tall, it stood staring right up at us.

“It’s a buck daddy, shoot it,” my son whispered as if he were a seasoned hunting guide.  He was so excited he had forgotten about the fact that it was his turn to shoot a buck.

It was a nice buck by any measure.  Its antlers were outside of the ears.  It had eight, nice symmetric points, but it was young, maybe 2 and half years old.  It still had a lot of growing to do.  It was not yet a shooter.

“Shoot ‘em daddy,” my boy exclaimed in a whisper so loud I could not believe the buck did not bolt for cover.  It just stood there.  It was a bow-hunter’s dream shot.  He was giving my son the best look he may ever have at a buck at such close range.  He was burning himself into my son’s memory.  I could see it in my son’s wide-eyes.

“I can’t shoot him, son.  He’s too young,” I whispered.

“What do you mean he’s too young.  It’s a buck.  Shoot ‘em,” all he knew about hunting was that we were out there for bucks and we were staring at a buck ten yards away. It was close.  It had eight points.  It had a good spread. To him this buck was huge, the biggest buck he had ever seen – his first buck.

In a voice that I can only describe as a “letting him down voice,” I whispered back, “I can’t.”  I knew we shouldn’t take this buck.  He had many better years ahead of him.  “Son, I can’t shoot him,” I whispered one more time in a voice that hoped he would understand.

I turned to look at him hoping I wouldn’t see what I knew I would, the face of dejection.

By this time he was standing up in the stand next to me, looking over the rail at the buck.  There was no dejection in his face and there was no dejection in his voice when he said,

“Well then, give me the gun.  I am the man for this job.”

I laughed so hard it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to know what that buck did.

My son’s first buck was a great buck for him and for me.

“I am the man for this job.”