As I sit here at my desk on this beautiful Monday morning in October, my eyes are a bit heavy from a long weekend of both hunting and working with my little boy, Brantley. We left home around 3:00am on Saturday morning heading to go for a morning sit in the deer woods on a brassica plot after a buck I named, "Boss." He was there the evening before (picture below), but we got skunked Saturday morning. Brantley and I were both pretty tired, but we had work to do. One of my Zone 5 bowhunters made a trip up to help us out during the day and also scout the farm he's hunting in some odd weeks. He's a father and grandfather, and he fit right in with us. Brantley loved him! We went to go check cards on two farms before heading to his farm. We spent about about five hours going around these three farms, so it was time for me to get Brantley back out after "Boss."
Honestly, this late in the youth season, I'd be challenged to force a pass on any decent buck that we could turn into a mount, but with management in mind, spikes, forkies, and yearlings are all off limits. We saw a spike on the end of the plot, and then another followed behind. The following one gave us easy shots in the plot, but we passed. Afterwards, I saw it in his eyes that he wanted to shoot him, and I felt sick. I should have let him shoot. I just couldn't give him the green light. That hunt ended without any does being seen or any good buck. We packed it up, headed to our hotel room, changed, and went out to dinner with my hunter. Brantley passed out on my shoulder in the booth at the restaurant. I was beat too. Once we got out to the truck, I said, "are we going to go kill something in the morning or sleep in." He chose to more comfortable option. We got up around 7:30, and I finally got him out the door and loaded the truck with our things by 8:45.
We immediately went to other farms, pulled cards, checked stands, and then turned around for the evening sit. We had an absolute blast yesterday just running around on the Polaris Ranger, playing outside, and just doing dad & son things. Yet, in my mind, I was anxious that we had to make it happen this evening sit (Sunday 10/4) as the Youth Season technically closes after legal light expires. I tried not to let him see my anxiousness towards the last sit. He was oblivious to it. He's just being a kid, enjoying the time with his old man, and hopefully, making memories that'll last forever. Heck, I even had him laughing so hard he couldn't breathe. I've never heard him laugh so hard when I said I had to use the #2 restroom on one of the farms. Obviously, boys can make jokes about some stupid and gross things, and that we did.
Mind you, thus far in the youth season, Brantley has passed two chip shots, one marginal shot, and had multiple deer encounters. It was kind of odd to think we didn't shoot one yet.
As we decided to head out to the evening setup, I checked the wind again, made sure we had all of our gear, and we headed out. There was a different feeling about that hunt. I was feeling "deer-y"... Brantley and I were just happy, simply happy. So, we got packed up at the truck, and headed across this huge bean field to the same spot we turkey hunted this spring. This is where the irony started building up in my head.
We had about a 600yd walk through the dry soybeans to a little knoll in the field that gave us a good approach to our food plot.
As we got to our spot and just put the BOG tripod down and still standing there slightly exposed, I catch a glimpse of a deer out of the corner of my eye. Brantley was looking down at the ground trying not to make noise by stepping on crunchy bean stalks. I got him to freeze. This yearling doe was at 50yards and looking right at us. I ask Brantley, "do you want to shoot her?" He goes, "yeah!" As he stood up to shoulder the gun in the tripod, she kind of bounded back into the woods. I got him set just in case she came back out in the plot, and she did. Yet, she wouldn't sit still enough for a shot. It would have been a very rushed shot, which he isn't prepared for yet at his age, so I didn't try to stop her with a bleat or a grunt. She waddled over the hill down toward our creek out of sight. I thought that maybe momma or a sibling would step out, but nothing appeared. We exhaled and sat back down into the beans to get some photos of the scene.
Darn it! Another chance that didn't come together. He was a little disappointed because at this point, he is getting itchy to pull that trigger. I don't blame him. I blame me. So, as we sat through the hunt, I just kept expecting deer to come to the plot as my cell camera has shown time and time again, almost nightly 5-15 deer. Conditions were great. Then the wind switched instead of being out of the north, it went out of the east. That was still okay for this setup, but it would really put a stalk out of the question. As we sat there, I started to soak in all of the hunt, the surroundings, the vibes, the visions and memories of him playing in the dirt with the bean pods and pieces of old corn stalks. I just told myself that I was so blessed to be in this moment, to be a father, his father, a hunter, a free man, and fortunate enough to do these things with him. Man, what a sensational feeling!
As I watched the clock on my phone, I realized we were approaching prime time. The last hour of light. Nothing yet had shown up, and that was very weird. It didn't start cooling off as early as the night before. I knew that would influence movement a bit. I look down again at the clock and back up. There a little buck was! On the neighbors side, of course. He was about to jump the fence at 80 yards by my cell camera facing a scrape. He turned away from us with his head, and I told Brantley to get up. I should have waited for him to jump the fence, as instead of sitting up, Brantley immediately jumped up to his feet to shoot. The deer was looking at him. Not knowing what we were, I knew he wouldn't jump the fence now. Brantley had him in the scope, just tracking his movements. He didn't spook, but he walked down and away toward the creek and bean field on the other side parallel to the yearling doe earlier but on the other side of the fence. My heart sunk. We waited another 20-30 minutes to see if he'd come back up the other side as many do. Nope.
Nothing else showed. The nerves got going for me. My boy's first hunting season. His last hunt. Last 20-30 minutes of light. No deer in the plot. Wait or make a move? Now, I have been sitting on my knees for almost three hours now in the hardening mud field. I look over at him and ask him if we should go after them or sit tight. He said, "sit tight"... I said, "but Bubba, this is our last chance..." He knew I wanted to go make something happen. This is exactly what we did in turkey season when we left the blind to go stalk one gobbling on the other edge of this big wood chunk and evidently producing for me a marginal shot that I passed on a longbeard.
I rocked backwards onto my heels like a catch and baseball sits, and I look down. There is this cross made out of cornstalk pieces just naturally there. We did not make it. I showed Brantley. It hit me pretty hard in the moment. I took a picture of it, thinking it was a sign. So, off we went. I told him to leave all of our stuff, and just stick right behind me being as quiet and mindful of every step. Avoid sticks and leaves. Let your toe land before your heal, control the planting. Pick your leg up and put it straight down. There's an art to this. Being quiet with rubber boots is challenging, especially when you're seven. I left the gun in the tripod grips so all I had to do was set it down and he jumps on. We got through the plot without a single deer blowing. We walked right past a cell camera I had moved to a scrape the day before that Brantley could see from our bean field setup.
The wind was very still, so noise echoed. We got through the woods where we could see a long ways to the creek covering about 30 acres of beans. Nothing. Where did those deer go!? I forgot my binos, so I used the scope to glass. Nothing. WAIT! There's a buck! About 400yds, there's a buck feeding in the beans. We hightailed it down the hill and up the other side getting to about 100-150yards of him. We did so perfectly without much noise. Truly, we did a great job. He wasn't there. A buck started rubbing a tree just inside the woodbine about 100yards ahead. Had to be him! I got the tripod setup for Brantley. It was getting dark... as in like the last 1-2 minutes of light. The buck didn't step out. As time expired per the clock, I found two bucks at about 175 yards out in the beans. I couldn't tell how big they were. I told him to find them in the scope. Let's go! Now's the chance! We are standing literally at the very spot that I passed those longbeards this past spring. Brantley looked at me, looked through the scope, and looked back at me.
"Dad, it's too dark and I don't want to make a bad shot." I said, "Brantley this is the last 5 seconds to shoot. There they are." I couldn't zoom in with the scope without it getting too fuzzy. We were at 4x power and could see them. 12x power (full) was just a blur, but he would have shot easily if he could have seen them at that zoom. He said, "dad, I'm not going to shoot." The moment hit me hard as his season ended. I watched the two bucks with the naked eye as they evaporated into the evening shade. I looked at him. I was worked up with both frustration and sadness, none of which is directed at him. He felt bad though. He said, "you really wanted to get me a deer, dad." I said, "I know, but I'm just sorry you didn't get the deer that we've hunted hard for." He said, "are you mad at me?" I said, "no, not at all, Bubba. I'm just sad and upset that I didn't get you one." It was a somber moment. We were both sad.
Feeling like an absolute failure, I hate losing and I hate failing (especially my son), so I said, "Bubba, let's go. You have school in the morning and a long walk back." We took off without speaking. He knew that I was upset, but he didn't understand why. How could I expect him to understand that feeling I had as a father? I can't. Yet, I put my hand on his head and rubbed it and said that we'll get one next time. We kept walking, this time not caring as much about our noise. I wanted to get out of there and get on the road home. So, we walked back past our cell camera in the plot we were originally hunting over, back to our setup in the beans, grabbed our stuff, and headed back to the truck. I left the gun, bipod, and his hat there as I'd go grab it from the other side with the Ranger.
He's a trooper. He kept up with me the whole way. Bless his heart. He tried his best each and every hunt, which was 5 total sits over the last three weeks. We missed one weekend in particular due to a schedule conflict, but honestly, we put in some good hunting time. So, after getting everything packed up, we hit the road. We called Momma Bear back at home and she was heartbroken for us. I didn't say this earlier, but I was almost in tears as legal light expired. Ugh... the heart strings. I really wanted this for him.
Before I told him to get some sleep in the back of the truck, I explained to him why I was so worked up, and not at him, and that I was so very thankful and happy for the memories and time that we shared hunting together. At the end of the conversation, I said, "Bubba, I love you." He said, "I love you, too, Daddy." He went back to watching some TV on the iPad as I focused on the road. He passed out not long after. I still felt sick. How could I, an outfitter, not get my boy on a buck? Well, I specifically didn't go after so many bucks as I wanted to save them all for my clients. I wanted to target a specific bully buck that we spent 3 sits on. The first sit was very non-invasive and more of a scouting mission and test run to see what he could handle physically and mentally on the hunt, so the last sit was kind of our best attempt, the most real unhinged attempt, and we were that close. Okay, maybe it wasn't so bad. It would have been way different if I just went after any number of our bucks saved for clients. I bet we would have shot something first weekend. The cell cameras showed them there in daylight. I did put my clients about him for all of the hunts except the last one. So, I guess I can't complain too much. It was my choice, and I guess it was the right one. Maybe next year, we will be more aggressive and go after any one of the bucks we find early on. They usually move with the rut anyway. Obviously, I was overthinking things a bit, but I was sorting out the thoughts and emotions.
My phone vibrates in the car with two 'Spartan GoCam' notifications. I unlock the phone and two videos download on the cell camera in front of our setup from earlier in the evening...
Three hours late to the party.... He would have been smoked at 80 yards right there almost perfectly broadside in the above video.... My heart literally sunk. I just couldn't believe it...
Just before these videos appeared, I had texted my good buddy down there expressing my discontentment about the hunt. I then sent him these videos... He felt bad for Brantley too. I sent them to my hunter we had hung out with on Saturday, and I said, "that's deer hunting."
I looked to the rear of the truck, and he was fast asleep. I didn't show him the videos when we got home, as he was tired and it was late. When he woke up, we got him into the bath tub and ready for school. I then showed him the videos. "Are you kidding me!?" "Nope. That's deer hunting, Bubba."
The lifelong chase as started for him.... he wants to go kill one so bad. It will be two decades at least from now before he could ever understand what I feel. The chase is different when you're trying to get your kid a good buck and have limited time to do so. Every moment counts. I guess that defines fatherhood in general. Every moment counts. So, as I get back into work mode here getting the finishing touches done on the farms prior to my clients showing up in Iowa in about 3-4 weeks, I am anxious to get back after it with him. I know he is anxious too, and that is a good thing.
If you are a father, I hope that you have and continue to spend time with your kids in the deer woods making everlasting memories that will eventually turn into those campfire stories that get passed down from one generation to another. It's a true blessing to be able to do what we do.
Thank you all for reading and following along. The feedback that I have received has been truly remarkable, and I sincerely appreciate it. Happy hunting this fall! If you're coming up to Iowa with me in a few weeks, know that I am beyond hungry for this...
I WANT BIG DEER TO DIE! LETS GO!!!