There are many things in life to be proud of but for a hunter there is nothing more absolute on the proud scale than the moment when your child harvests their first deer. I would like to share with you my recollection of the events that led to this proud moment of mine.
My son, Nikolas, was eleven at the time when he really developed an interest in hunting and shooting. He was your normal 11 year old at the time – 2001. He was more interested in video games and cartoons at this time in his life. But one thing stuck out… he was a darn good shot when it came to firing a weapon at the determined target. When I observed this I decided it was time to get him his own shotgun and start training him in the finer points of gun safety and shooting techniques.
For Christmas 2001 I talked my wife into getting a Remington 870 youth 20 gauge shotgun that came with a rifled deer barrel as well as the standard barrel. It was easy to accomplish this as I told her that she too could use it for her skeet shooting as well as bird hunting. I could go into detail about my wife Ann and her hunting/shooting – but that is another story. On that Christmas morning Nikolas’ eyes lit up when he tore off the wrapping from the long rectangular box and revealed his very own shotgun. The smile on his face was only second to the one he would give later.
In Ohio, like many other states, they require you to go through a “safe hunter” course. To prepare Nikolas for this classroom style safety course I began to take him out in the woods and fields with me teaching him the fundamentals of gun safety. I did the standard stuff – i.e. always treat a gun as if it was loaded, where to always be aware of pointing the barrel, when is a safe scenario to shoot and when is not, etc…. The additional challenge we had with Nikolas was his ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Meaning Nikolas cannot sit still and his mind races around on several items on mind at the same time. This was a challenge that he was focused on to ensure he could see deer and be in a position to be able to harvest one on his own.
Nikolas went through the safety course and passed with a great test score. His ability to also hit the target at various distances using different shooting positions looking at different lines of sight was fantastic. Just like most ADD or ADHD children – focus on a subject like shooting is awesome when they are focused. You just have to spend the time with them to ensure this happens.
Nikolas now had the gun, the safety training that I and the state of Ohio DOW had provided, the marksmanship practices, and the desire to hunt - whitetail deer just happened to be the focus. Now it was time to start the process of scouting the hunting area, ensuring we had the correct hunting clothing, prepping for opening gun season with license/tag, educating Nikolas on how to properly field dress the animal, etc….
My Dad lives on a 151 acre piece of property in Southeast Ohio – very prime whitetail area and one of the top 3 counties (Harrison) for whitetail harvesting every year that I have been watching the numbers myself. I have been hunting that land of his since 1999. I have always seen some very nice bucks every year. The largest was what we called “Mr. Dave” – a non-typical that was at least 30+ points. We called him Mr. Dave because my older brother Dave had shot him during bow season with one of those expanding-on-hit broad tips. He shot Mr. Dave in the shoulder. The broad tip never opened. And that very majestic animal just trotted away like nothing had hit him… but that is another story I will publish later. (Side note – we never did harvest “Mr. Dave” and never found his antlers – Dad said he was at least 30 points and a 36 inch spread…and nobody within the county came forward with this massive rack). Nevertheless we had the property and the deer - two-thirds of the equation. I almost wish I was still living in Ohio as it is so easy to hunt there. Being a son of a land owner in Ohio has its privileges. I need not purchase deer tags – I only have to document the information and secure it on the deer. You still have to take it to a “certified” Ohio DOW location to get checked in but where Dad lives you are able to harvest 4 doe and 1 buck for the past several years. I love Ohio deer hunting and was there last year/2010 for bow and gun season but this year I am hunting Cow Elk here in Colorado the week prior to Thanksgiving so most likely I am not making it back to Ohio for gun season the week after Thanksgiving. That is okay – as long as I harvest that Cow Elk!
Back to Nikolas… he was eager, he had the marksmanship, I taught him the focus… it was only the wait for opening day – the first Monday after Thanksgiving!
It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving 2002. We had a great feast Thursday. The wife along with other extended family members did their part on “Black Friday” to assist the economy. Saturday was filled with anxiousness waiting for Sunday. We went to church Sunday morning and then came home to a packed truck.
Nikolas and I packed the Jeep Cherokee with our hunting gear and were off to pick up “uncle mike” before we made the 100 mile/two-hour trek to my parents place. “Uncle Mike” is not a relative but was a co-worker of mine. He was not a savvy hunter at first but became better each year. Mostly Dad and I had taught him the skills of hunting Whitetail Deer. He harvested at least one deer ever year he was invited to the farm. I liked Mike and he has a heart of gold so I invited him to Dad’s place every year for the past 4 years. Now that I live in Colorado Mike has lost his hunting place – Dad and Mom really want me to be with anybody I invite to hunt there.
Dad’s farm is not actually a farm. It is 151 acres of mostly old oak trees. Dad had cleared four different areas to make them into feeding fields. One field area about 5 acres in size is just southwest of the house and you could see the tree-stand atop the hillside from the front porch… but you can’t see the field it overlooks. The second field area is due west of the house and atop of an ATV track. This is the largest of the field areas and is about 50 acres in size. The third field also about 5 acres in size is located above his 1000 square foot pole barn – Northeast of the house. The fourth field is southeast of the house and is approximately 10 acres. Each field has at least one deer stand with the largest field having three stands. Dad also has several stands strategically placed throughout the wooded acres. The whole place is a perfect hunting setup.
So Nikolas, Uncle Mike, and I drove down to the farm and unpacked the SUV. We were now ready for three days of deer hunting. Dad was sighting in his gun up by the pole barn so after getting our sleeping gear and hunting clothes in the house we ventured up the hill to see him. Dad is a great shot as revealed by the three slug holes all within the bulls-eye drawn on a paper plate. Dad was finished so he asked Nikolas to show him his shooting skills. Nikolas gleaming at the chance to show Grandpa his marksmanship pulled out his 20 gauge with the rifled barrel and open sights. Dad set up another paper plate at 50 yards. Nikolas sat at the shooting table and proceeded to load a slug shell. He aimed carefully using his open sights, exhaled, and squeezed the trigger. Bulls-eye! A dead center shot. “That’s my boy”, I shouted! Grandpa smiled and said Nikolas was ready and will get a deer. Nikolas had the gun sighted in for 100 yards but most shots on the farm are within 50 yards. We spent the remainder of Sunday evening assigning each of us a specific deer stand, taking the hikes to each one to review the layout and deer runs, plus re-telling hunting stories from previous years. Nikolas chose the deer stand that was southeast of the house – a very good choice. I asked Nikolas if he wanted me to go with him in the morning. He said no and that he could do this on his own.
It was very early Monday morning – opening day! We all got up and had a good hot breakfast then started out in the dark towards our respective stands. I was going the opposite direction so I wished Nikolas luck and watched as my son started up the hill. I knew he would see deer. I just hoped he would be able to get a shot. The plan was to meet back at the pole barn at noon.
Well the morning hunt was not productive for me (all deer I saw were either too small or on the opposite side of the field from me) and it was getting close to noon so I headed for the pole barn. Nikolas was already there as his stand was the closest. I said to Nikolas, Well?! He explained how he had seen some deer come out into the field but he couldn’t get a shot at them. I gave him my story too and we decided to go back to the same stands for the afternoon hunt. I asked Nikolas if he was okay or needed me to go with him. I knew his answer.
It was 1pm and was again time to leave for our stands. Nikolas, now even more eager, was the first with his hunting clothes back on with shotgun in hand and headed towards his same stand. I wished him luck and watched again as my son headed up the hill on his own. The plan was again to meet at the pole barn 30 minutes after sunset.
While sitting in my stand I could hear the sounds of distant shooting. I was hoping to hear a shot from across the property from Nikolas’ direction. There were definite shots fired but I couldn’t tell if they were coming from Nikolas. I anxiously sat there looking over my field waiting for the time we would meet up back at the pole barn. There was 30 minutes left of legal hunting. I heard one shot from across the property.
It was now time to head towards the pole barn. I unloaded my gun and proceeded at a quick pace. Upon arrival I saw Nikolas turn the corner from the opposite back side of the barn. I asked, “Did you get one”? With the biggest smile on his face he said yes! I was elated – to say the least! I asked Nikolas to tell the story. He proceeded to tell of several doe coming out into the field when he spied a buck making his way towards them. He could have easily shot one of the doe but Nikolas waited until that buck was within shooting range and with one shot he dropped the 4 pointer in his tracks. It turned out to be a perfect shot – heart and both lungs were hit. Dad heard Nikolas’ shot and drove his ATV up and assisted him in bringing it back. We hoisted his deer up on the rack and watched Nikolas do a great job of field dressing his first deer.
I was so proud of my son. I still get a smile when he re-tells the story. Since it was his first deer and it was a buck I had the head mounted. It hangs proudly next to mine. Since that first season he has joined me for 5 consecutive years. Each year Nikolas has harvested at least one deer. I love to listen to him tell of each hunt.
We now live in Colorado. Nikolas has joined me on one Elk hunt in 2007. We didn’t harvest one that year. For the past four years Nikolas has been in college and working so he has been unable to join me hunting. He is now 21, married, and a Dad himself. I hope he can join me next year. And I hope to be there when he teaches his daughter how to hunt and see her smile on that very special day.