The Time Had Finally Arrived.

Almost seven years ago, I sat in a hospital room rocking my son in his swaddle. I can’t remember how many times I held back tears of sheer joy and thankfulness over those few days. I also remember, in one quiet moment in the middle of the night, thinking about all the firsts that he would experience. Some painful, some filled with joy. Of course this moment stood out as one of the first I considered.
 
The first morning of his first Missouri Youth deer hunt, he experienced his first miss. He experienced the pain of getting your hopes so high in the midst of the excitement and then the sudden crash of failure. My heart broke with him as I saw a tear from each eye, quietly stream down his cheeks. It was a good thing for it to register with him that he had fired at an animal and failed to hit his mark.
 
Instead of giving up, he became resolute. After we searched for any sign of a hit on his first opportunity, he said, “Dad, I’m not going home today until I get one.” Apart from a brief lunch break and a swing by the farm store to get some boots that actually fit him, he did just that.
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Notching his first tag.

Then Everything Changed

 We hunted hard. Glassing various set ups, rattling, and several spot and stalk efforts proved fruitless. By the time the evening sit came around, he was so tired. Dozing off from time to time in the stand, I finally asked him if he wanted to go back to the truck. He said, “No dad, I’m not leaving until I kill one.”
 
Then, as the chill of fall tends to bring, I heard the familiar crashing of hooves seemingly ripping the woods apart. Two does, followed by a young buck, ran by us only a few feet from our ladder. They made a 90 degree turn and bolted for the ridge in front of us. They were out of sight in a matter of seconds. No chance for Easton to draw a good sight picture for the shot.
 
He turned to me and said, “Dad that was crazy.” I reached for my grunt call and began to attempt to challenge the young buck. I could hear foot steps just out of sight. I snort-wheezed and in a few seconds, Easton said, “There he is.”
 
At 80 yards, I stopped the deer with a quick whistle. I saw Easton’s back and shoulder muscles relax as he looked through the scope. I could tell his shot would be true.
 
The next several seconds are branded in the front of my mind. As I watched through my binoculars, I heard the gun fire. I watched the bullet impact the deer’s side. The deer kicked his back legs high in the air. Indicative of a vital hit. He began to run, we heard a crash, and then silence. I could see the deer laying only a few feet from the place he stood at the time of the shot.
 
Like a movie, everything came back to full speed. I grabbed the gun from Easton as he asked, “Did I get him?” I smiled and said, “You did son. You hammered him.” He laughed and squealed and wrapped his arms around my neck. He had never experienced this volume of excitement any time in his life.
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First Whitetail

The Moment

 When we approached the deer, Easton was shaking. He said, “Dad, I can’t believe I just killed my first deer.” I watched as he ran his little hand over the fur and struggled to raise the head to see the antlers. His eyes were wide with astonishment. My mind was flooded with a pride that I had never experienced before.
 
I said, “Son, we need to thank God for this.” With his head on my shoulder, he prayed, “Dear Jesus, thank you for this day. I had so much fun with my daddy.” His voice cracked, I swallowed the huge lump in my throat and squeezed him tight. He continued, “Thank you for this deer and the good food it gives us. I love you. Amen.” We looked up at each other. This time two tears of joy ran down his cheeks as we hugged and laughed under the bright yellow maple and hickory trees in that quiet Missouri hollow.

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