Tommy was never going to be classified as a great deer hunter.
Or a fisherman, for that matter.
Tommy was hard luck in both of these departments... always had been and I suspect he always will be.
I am his older brother and I know these things after watching almost four decades go past.
Oh, he was inclined enough, of that I have no doubt.
Ability was the issue.
Follow a trail? Forget it, Tommy was just as likely to go the wrong way. And often did unless someone was there to correct him.
Sit still on a deer stand? Never happen - he was always swatting mosquitoes in the heat or vigorously rubbing his hands together to stay warm when it was cold.
Observant as a hunter? Don't think so... althought I would never recommend this, I once stalked to within one yard unnoticed to the tree he was sitting in. I did not come from the rear, either... I came from the 3 o'clock position.
Saddled with some medical issues, Tommy also ended up with some physical challenges that made hunting all of the harder.
After a seizure and a horrific car accident that required months of operations, therapy and recovery - it seemed as though Tommy may never hunt again.
But, let me say this - of five brothers Tommy was the youngest and was also the first one to ever take a deer (I will save that for another story!) so he deserves some "professional courtesy" from hunters who found it a little easier than he did.
I gained access to a great farm in Southest Georgia back in the 80's and eventually, Tommy was able to make it to the farm to hunt for several days. By now he was not able to work and fully on disability. Unable to drive as a result of some medical issues, this was a real treat for Tommy.
The rut in this area of Geargia really peaks around Halloween. Tommy's birthday is 25 October and this special day found him perched, well before daylight, in an 18' tall deer stand in a small block of mixed hardwood and pines that sits between an agriculture field and a wide beaver swamp. We had hunted this slight hill for years and the deer sightings were frequent and there were some great bucks roaming the area. The stand was in a tall bay tree and the large, deeply green leaves formed a wonderful canopy over this treestand.
Daylight came slowly that morning - it was unseasonably warm and a dense fog moved in with the daylight.
Mosquites buzzed - and while I was not there - I was reasonably sure that Tommy swatted away the morning.
Since he was well equipped with coffee and a book to read, I was fairly comfortable that he would have a good morning, though.
I chose to hunt the same type area as Tommy was hunting but I was further north along the same creek and only about 200 yards or so away.
I waited as the fog burned off and I sat the morning hours very contentedly. No deer passed my stand, only a lonely racoon as he moved from the fields and down toward the swamp a little after daylight.
Well aware that a monster buck could appear at any moment, I kept myself very attuned to the surroundings and was shocked when a giant BBOOOOOOOMMMMM echoed across the wooded area! I almost jumped out of the stand - the shot seemed so close!
I did not hear the impact of the bullet and that worried me some... but no worries, we will see what we see.
Sitting tight, I wondered if some deer could get pushed my way by the noise of the shot (which I do not actually think they care much about) or perhaps by some fleeing deer?
BBOOOOOOOOMMMMM, again! Not five minutes later!
No more than one minute after this, I hear the most God-awful hollering!!!!
Knowing what was likely up, I knew I had to go see. My guess was that Tommy shot one and it later struggled to get up and he shot it again. Or heck, for that matter, maybe he shot a doe and then a buck wandered in and offered a shot!
Great thoughts - but very wrong.
I moved toward Tommy - making a little noise and calling out as I did so (don't wanna be a statistic, you understand!) but before I walk us over there - let me tell you the story from Tommy's viewpoint...
Man, that morning, the mosquitoes chewed me up. I heard a deer go by in the fog early that morning and he was grunting up a storm. If there were any does down there, I never saw them. Finally, the fog burned off and there were no deer to be seen. I waited and I watched - but no deer. I just knew Jimmy had taken the best spot and put me over here... I am not even sure this stand ever gets hunted.
A few hours passed and I did not see anything, so I got out the coffee and the book and started reading. There was a branch there that was real handy so I just hung the rifle on it.
I had the coffee cup in one hand and the book in the other. I had some squirrels playing around behind me and heard one come right up to the back of the tree. I glanced around to see what he was up to....
That's when I saw the buck!
A six pointer. Standing right behind the tree!!! Now, I have never taken a buck in my life... man, my heart is pounding!!!!
I sit the coffee on the floor of the stand and I am so excited, I spill it all over the place....
I stuff the paperback between my legs and slide it further rearward on the seat as I stand up as slowly as I can.... and reach out to get the rifle.
This deer is not going to stand still for all of this, is he?
Up comes the .243 and I can aim straight down on him..... I shoot - BANG - and he takes about five jumps straight out in front of the stand and collapses right there in plain sight!!!!
I GOT HIM!!!!! I think to myself...and I dance a little jig up there, fueled by the Little Feat song "Oh Atlanta" as I realize I have just taken my very first buck!!
So, I sit back down, hang the rifle back up and refresh the coffee... I just know Jimmy (I had not outgrown the Jimmy and become Jim yet) will be here in a moment.... man, I am gonna sit here and enjoy this "vicotry" coffee before he gets here... this is my birthday - what a great present!!!
I am sitting there and I hear Jimmy coming through the woods but I am just gonna sit here real cool and act like nothing is going on... like I do this all the time!!!
I hear him rustling in the leaves and on he comes but he does not call out.... so I lean around the stand to look at him.
All breath leaves my body.
I can not speak - can not even utter a sound and can do very little thinking.
Not ten yards.... buck... big buck.... big antlers.... breathe, son, breathe... you have to breathe to remain among the living... remember???
Finally I remember to breathe - but I do not remember to hold on to the coffee cup - it slides from my fingers and I see the brown droplets of coffee, cream and sugar fly in spatters as the cup hits the ground!!!
As if entranced, the buck moves closer.
In a dream now - and looking out the left side of the stand - with the rifle hung over on the right side of the stand... I can not figure out what to do!
Slowly the buck circles out in front of the stand and I am transfixed... he moves over to the dead buck not more than 20 yards in front of the stand. Sniffing at him, he turns and walks straight for the stand and passes directly below me.
Knowing I have blown it, I stand, grab the rifle and look behind the stand but the buck is nowhere to be seen.... how did he get away so quickly????
I wait a moment and then sensing I have really blown it, I turn to sit down - and there he is again... sniffing at the dead buck!!!! What in the world? He must have gotten under the stand and done a 180 and walked right back over to the dead buck!
The .243 comes up again, settles on the shoulder and once again, I fire... BANG - and this time, the deer does not flinch - just falls to the ground... almost actually touching the other one that was killed earlier.
This is too much for my nervous system.... I start hollering at the top of my lungs... I GOT HIM, I GOT HIM, I GOT HIM... when in reality, you could say I GOT THEM!
So, you can imagine the scene when I arrive.
Tommy, still trembling, sitting in a tree and drinking coffee directly from the thermos.
Oh yeah, and grinning from ear to ear.
To this day, the second buck he shot that morning stands as the largest bodied buck we have ever taken off of this farm. He tipped the scales at 217 pounds and had a very respectable rack.
I cannot find a photograph of the smaller buck, he sort of got lost along the way somehow... in fact, he sort of wrote himself out of the story as the years have progressed.
But on that day, and it was a birthday to be remembered, my littlest brother Tommy was the King of the Forest.
Can I get an amen... or maybe a good old Tarzan yell for the boy???