By Mark Fike
As a father one can hardly triumph the feeling that comes with seeing your kids succeed in life. I had such a moment when my daughter had just turned seven years old. I have always taken my kids into the woods or onto the boat and they have spent time with me learning about the “real” world even when they were so small I tucked them into my backpack.
My kids don’t wonder where dinner comes from. Safeway or the local grocery store is not where all meat comes from. At our house we get our own. My kids also know that death is an important and revered part of life. Death does not upset my kids like it might some kids that are unexposed to it. Hunting is a favored activity by all in my household.
This was the year that I had hoped my oldest daughter would take her first deer. Was she ready? I thought so, but I was not going to push the issue.
It turns out that I did not have to do that at all. Perhaps it was the lead that their mother provided by going on a women’s hunt that past spring for Russian boar where she took down a fearsome, charging beast and brought home the meat from it. Every since then the girls have wanted to go hunt just like their momma and provide dinner too.
The first day of muzzleloader season my girl leaped out of bed and was ready for me by the door by the time I was looking around for my boots. She was decked out in her camo and had her Rossi Miniloader ready to go.
A short time later we were heading to the woods after visiting with her “Uncle” Gary who is a lifelong friend of mine. Gary had graciously offered to let us hunt his place. After a quick prayer for our safety and true shots we headed down into the woods.
After we arrived and scraped out a spot among the dry leaves overlooking a marsh I whispered to her “Be sure of your target, look past the target before shooting to be sure it is safe, aim for the chest or heart behind the shoulder and don’t shoot unless you are sure the deer will go down fast.“
I did not want any wounded animal running around hurt. Neither did she. We had hardly unwrapped her morning snack when I saw a small doe running towards us.
“Get the gun up,” I hissed!
Right behind the doe was a young buck that was nosing the ground as she fled. The buck stopped right in front of us but behind a few leaves. My daughter raised the rifle and tried to lock the sights on the deer but was having trouble. I was frantic. The deer was less than 30 yards away broadside. Ray Charles could take this deer down without blinking.
A gray cloud obscured the foggy marsh bottom and I was praying to see a deer crumpled up in the bog.
As the cloud cleared I was saddened to see absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. The deer had run off and I was not even sure she had hit it. I was getting a sick feeling in my stomach. We had prayed for a clean shot or a clean miss. I hoped it was the latter.
A quick check for hair and blood turned up nothing.
So, we waited.
At nine o’clock I heard movement and a small buck, the same one, came running up from the right side. KD got the rifle up but the buck kept moving around, snorting at us, prancing, stomping his hooves and ducking behind trees. She could not get the sights settled on him long enough to squeeze the trigger. He finally bounded away.
At eleven o’clock I was ready to go back for lunch and possibly go home. My daughter would have none of it. She wanted to stay all day. After some slick salesmanship I got her to agree to go out for lunch. About that time we heard a close by explosion, which meant Gary had burned a tag nearby.
He chatted with KD over lunch after we helped him get his deer out of the woods. He took a few minutes and heard her hunting tale and then shared his. It was another proud moment for me as I watched her share her experiences and hear of my friend’s.
Gary then took the time to show her the deer he bagged and explain where the bullet had hit and a few other facts about the deer. She listened intently. She was fast becoming one of us and she was proud that she had gotten to see deer and had gotten a shot. She was also determined but not bummed about missing her first opportunity.
When we headed back into the woods Gary called to her, “Now go finish the job. Get a deer and do us proud.”
KD waved and smiled as we headed back to the spot that had provided a good chance that morning.
The afternoon wore on slower than the morning had expired. The sun was warm and I was tired. I wanted a nap. As the sun dropped and we had not seen any deer I was beginning to wonder if her chance disappeared with the ghostly buck that morning. At that very moment I heard a shuffling noise to my right and once again a small buck bounded into the gully.
“Get your rifle, get your rifle up!”
KD fumbled with her rifle, I squatted down in the dry leaves and cringed as she knocked my hat off my head with her arm. The deer shifted a little and then the gun roared and the deer raced off into the swamp.
Because light was dying fast I moved out into the swamp and began looking for clues to the shot placement. I could find no blood or hair once again and thought that the deer was not hit. However, as I walked back to where KD stood I realized the deer ran off with a strange gait and his tail was down, not up high and waving goodbye to us. I asked KD if she shot like she was supposed to.
“Daddy, I know I hit him. I shot just like you told me. I got him. Besides I heard him fall”
That was all I needed to hear. I knew my girl learned to shoot well enough to do the job otherwise I would not be letting her attempt to take a deer. Taking a life is sacred and not to be taken with risk or lightly.
So, we headed off across the marsh where KD told me she heard him fall. I told her to take my light and walk up the knoll on the trail and keep watch for the deer. Meanwhile I would skirt around the knoll and put him down should he get up and try to run.
I thought I saw a brown body lying in the leaves in her light but kept quiet. This was her moment of triumph not mine.
“Daddy, I found him. I got him!”
My voice gave a little as I congratulated her on her first deer. It was a large spike buck with a nice, strong body full of good, lean meat. I bent down and we thanked God for the blessing and the safe trip we had as well as the good meat.
I spent a moment talking to her about how difficult it is for a deer to live and how harsh the conditions are that deer have to stay out in and how short their life is. I also explained that although we had reason to celebrate the deer she got, we also needed to remember that we took a life. She nodded and patted the deer and looked up and told me that she knew we would eat it and it would be good for us.
The prior training and the time we had spent in the woods paid off. I also suspect that because she was so young and had not heard all the stories about people getting buck fever helped. She had seen enough deer in the woods that she did not get overly excited.
As for me I think I got a touch of it as I watched the scene unfold. I hope that someday she can take her own kids out in the woods and teach them the things her mother and I have taught her. What a blessing it is to see your child take their first deer.