How Much Dad Really Means to Me

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Some of us hunt for trophies, some for meat, some for whatever legal critter mistakenly walks within range of "the most deadly set of hands in the woods" (mine of course). No matter which excuse you use to spend anywhere from a few days to a few months in some of the nastiest weather in mother natures bag of tricks, day after day we venture out in search of wonderful hunts and favorite memories afield.

Your first deer may rate towards the top of the list, mine certainly does. How couldn't it, two years of anticipation turned out to be everything I had dreamed of. At 14 and t-minus 2 weeks before arrows across New York state would fly, DISASTER STRUCK!!!

I was innocently watching a buddy beat up on his older sister when things got ugly. In her fiery, she managed to bench press him and throw him onto my left arm, my bow arm.......SNAP.

A year later with hundreds of hours spent practicing in the basement and a few 3-D tournaments under my belt, I had no doubt that I could nail any squirrel inside 25 yards. Add two antlers and a hundred pounds or so and it's all over. I don't approach hunting or anything lightly. Practice hard and play like you practice or stay home. That attitude pays off for me every year.

My first deer was a 7 point shot from a stand that dear ol' Dad helped me build behind our house. A 15 yard double lung pass through sent him on his last 50 yard dash. My head was bigger and glowing brighter than the ball dropped at Time Square every year. I called half of my home town to tell them the good news. That same year I tagged along with Butch and the gang for the first time, a group of characters that are always quick to invite me along and show me some new tricks. Opening weekend found us in Pennsylvania for my first rifle season and of more than a dozen experienced hunters, I was the only one to fire a shot and I went home with a spike and a doe on the first day. The title Great White Hunter isn't such a long shot after all 'ey? My first year wasn't the only lucky season I have had. In five years of deer hunting, I have tagged 3 bucks and a doe with my bow and 3 bucks and 4 does with a gun. I've harvested some decent bucks with both my bow and gun for New York standards. I remember almost every detail of those hunts, the weather, the location, birds and squirrels that entertained me, the sounds, even the feel of the wind blowing my stands about. I've had possums climb my tree, owls fly almost into me, bear cubs wrestling and playing tag under my stand, I've seen some pretty cool things on those hunts. So of all the great hunts I've had, which was my favorite? I used to think hands down that my first deer would always be my favorite, but there's another one that always comes to mind. A hunt that I never fired a shot, actually, I think I slept in that day.

My Dad has never really been into hunting that much. He really loves to be in the woods, but I think the only reason that he carries a gun rather than a camera or an easel is to please me. He killed a doe while hunting with some college buddies a long time ago, and he's gutted many gut-shot deer for friends that couldn't stomach the smell. That's about as far as my Dad's hunting experience goes. His life became very busy upon beginning his art teaching career and starting a family. He stopped hunting for a long time, only taking it up again when I became interested in the thrill of the chase and needed someone to take me. He's been deer hunting steadily now for the last 6 years and hasn't had much success. I used to poke fun at his hunting abilities. My big head had killed more than my fair share of deer and couldn't find any reason that Dad couldn't do the same. I'll admit, he is a much better shot than I with his iron sighted Ithaca Deerslayer featherweight. He can stand at 50 yards and roll tin cans back until he can't feel his shoulder anymore, yet I have seen him miss two mature does standing only 40 and 50 yards away. I will never let him live that down.

"The flats" that my Dad stomps over during New York's slug season are full of deer sign. There are plenty of briars for cover, usually corn, alfalfa or winter wheat in the fields by the river, and even a small island that only few hunters bother with. It really is a great spot. All summer long I scout bachelor groups of bucks in those fields. Dad would kill a nice buck every year if he would just listen to me and hunt where I told him......right? As the leaves begin to change and the days become shorter, the bucks only have one interest, GIRLS!!! Their patterns change and they enter the fields later and later, eventually becoming nearly or completely nocturnal. By the time gun season arrives, the only way you will get a deer to come out of that river bottom mess (the flats) is to send some crazy kid in after 'em.

For two years Dad didn't see a deer during gun season. I don't think it really bothered him though. It sure bothered me, I was seeing and shooting plenty of deer, what was wrong with him? I guess he had other things on his mind. From where he sits, the sunrise on the flats is beautiful. The river usually has ducks or geese and a beaver or two swimming by. The farm that I spent a large portion of my childhood on is only a short walk away. Looking into the timber on the hill brings back memories of my sisters and I "helping" Dad cut and stack firewood, or chasing the family dog Kelly around in an endless search for woodchucks and rabbits. Every Friday my parents would go to the McCarthy farmhouse to play cards, a tradition they still enjoy. My sisters and I would argue over M & M's while watching TGIF, occasionally tripping over each other in a desperate attempt to escape McGee's (their beagle) rude and very foul flatulence problem. I remember being so scared when Bill's barn caught on fire. Dad and Bill couldn't afford to wait for the fire department and went in to battle it themselves. The relief I felt when they both came out was overwhelming. The snakes that Mom so despised and the many toads that hung around the pool always roused some excitement amongst Mom, Nancy and my sisters. The meat turkeys and chickens were always a challenge and adventure to outrun. I remember Dad and Bill expertly herding around the rambunctious heifers that were always willing to find or make a hole in the fence. As a kid growing up on a farm I learned a lot about life. I saw my first birth on McCarthy's farm, the question (where do babies come from?) had finally been answered. I also experienced the reality and harshness of death and sickness. These are only a few of the lessons learned and memories that I have from growing up on the farm, I'm sure Dad can recall and reflect on many more while sitting on "the flats" waiting for ol' mossy horns to make an appearance at the river bank. What about now, he's got to feel a little sense of accomplishment. Both of his twin daughters are nearly done with college and have steady jobs. Jess is engaged to a great man, a local farm boy who just finished his enlistment with the Marines. Amber is in a steady relationship with a lawyer (none the less still a great guy, just kidding Wess). I'm doing my best to serve well in the Air Force and earn my education. My Mom and he have been happily married for years. They have done a wonderful job raising my sisters and I in today's society, a task that I'm afraid of tackling any time soon. They are great people and I love them more than hunting, and that's saying a lot coming from "The Great White Hunter". I wish I had appreciated the time spent with them during my teen years. Now I'm on the opposite corner of the continent and left only with fond memories of days past and the anticipation of going home on leave to visit.

One beautiful Turkey Day morning, while I was sleeping, Dad was enjoying his usual peace, quiet and deerless morning on the flats when two "does" disrupted the peaceful scenery. I was sleeping of course because I had already bagged a nice buck mid way through bow season and another on opening morning of gun season, why sit in the cold with no tags. Dad managed to hit the larger of the two running deer. He knocked it down but it regained its footing and continued to cross the river onto Kaine's flats. I awoke to his voice on the phone asking for permission to track and retrieve it around 9:30. I was in my gear and waiting in the van lickety split. "Dad shot a deer on the flats!!!", I had to see it.

I love to track and since Dad had the gun, he stood at the previous spot on watch in case she made a run for it while I went ahead to look for more. She circled a few times and after a few hundred yards, the splatters were few and far between until I couldn't find anymore sign. It wasn't looking good. I did my best to think like a deer and made my way to some tall grass on the river bank. I guess the war hoop I let out when it jumped up and hobbled to the river edge gave Dad the right impression as he was soon at my side with sights aligned. If it had made it across the river, it probably would have suffered, died of gangrene, and gone to waste. Dad dropped it right in the middle of the chest deep and swift river.

"Imagine that, Dad killed a deer on the flats". We stood on the bank in a daze, watching her float down the river. We snapped back into reality as it dawned on us that someone had to go get her. Dad's smile implied that he wasn't about to do it........"who me?" I didn't wait for a reply and darted down the bank after his floating prize. She turned out to be a he, a spike, DAD'S FIRST BUCK!!! The nerves were making the legs and head flare about when I got to it and left me wondering how I was going to do it without getting hurt or drowning. I didn't get hurt but swimming wasn't quite what I had in mind when Dad said he needed help that morning.

I owed Dad a gut job and we both dragged it back to the van. We were half way home with myself and Dad's buck soaking wet before I realized that I wouldn't be able to pick on him anymore. The grin on Dad's face will never escape my memory. He knew he had finally quieted The Great White Hunter. It may have been the smallest buck that either of us will ever shoot, but I'll never forget that grin. That sunny Thanksgiving morning with my Dad on the flats will never be replaced as my favorite memory afield.

My Dad's back is very bothersome to him. When I went home on leave this past fall, he didn't dare venture into the woods with me. That's okay Dad, I know you can kill bucks. I don't care whether you carry a Deerslayer or a Nikon, just as long as we enjoy God's creation together next season. Thanks for being such a great man and doing your best to raise me to be the same.

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