My dad and I lost three of our best hunting partners in 2016. Jim, Lew, and my Grandpa Gene, my dad's dad. Our year obviously wasn’t going so great, and our archery season was going the same way. But in his last days, I had promised my grandpa I'd get a buck this year for him. And that's what kept me going out until sure enough, I did.
The beginning of my 2016 Pennsylvania archery season can be described in three words: slow, warm, and frustrating. Now trust me, I'm not going to complain about the sweatshirt hunting weather. But no matter how hard I was trying, the deer did not want to cooperate. I'd heard all the local stories of the trophy bucks being tagged, and it only gave me more reason to believe that there was something out there for me. And I never lost that feeling of wanting to come home from school and get back into the treestand.
After all, we'd been getting beautiful trail camera pictures of many bucks throughout the summer and early fall. Having tried multiple stands and blinds throughout the first month of the season, we couldn’t comprehend where all the deer had gone.
Late in the season we arrived at one of our unused stands and got settled. My dad and I sat a long time with high hopes because we had not disturbed this stand all season. Our hopes were crushed after the sun had set and our total deer count that evening was zero.
As we started gathering our gear, my dad stood up and turned toward the area we'd been watching. I heard my name being whispered. I turned around to look at a buck standing proud and broadside.
Time stopped, and we stood there having a staring contest for quite awhile until finally he started strutting off, giving me a chance to grab my Tenpoint.
I got the bow up and went to catch a view of him through the scope. But somehow during the process I had breathed into the scope, leaving a fog around the ring. Once I cleaned the glass, the buck was in an area where I couldn’t get an arrow to him. Normally this would have discouraged me a little, but I was so excited to have a taste of a buck in front of me that not getting a shot didn’t seem to matter.
Fast forward to the final day of the season. I was starting to get doubts about going, but they were all pushed aside by my promise to my grandpa. I was, of course, running late getting in the stand that day. My sweatshirt weather had since been long gone by this point so my dad and I bundled up and climbed in.
We spent the late afternoon going back and forth sending grunts, rattles, and bleats into the woods. I could hear the rustling of leaves behind me so I turned to check it out. I spotted movement coming closer. It was on the verge of darkness, but I made out the image of four doe. But I could still hear something else moving when I could see all of thee doe were stationary. I closed my eyes to listen to where it was coming from. I opened them in that direction, spotting a buck coming over the bank, straight for me. I grabbed the range-finder after he stopped and ranged the closest tree to him. Everything was working out perfectly: he was at 32 yards. My only problem was that his front quarters were behind a tree and I only got the glimpse of his nose. But I was ready once he took that first step.
I heard the ear pleasing "thwack" after pulling the trigger and watched him run off. He took that last step then tumbled to the ground. In Pennsylvania on the day of November 12th, you could hunt until 5:26 PM, I shot my buck at 5:22. Now if that isn't waiting until the last minutes, then I don’t know what is. On the last day, last hour, last minutes. I got my beautiful seven point. With the help of our good friends Mike and Nick, we loaded him on a four-wheeler and hauled the buck out.
I spent my nights watching the green of summer turn into the vibrant colors of fall and soon the bare, cold winter. So much happens in nature, so quickly, that we can't control it. The trouble is you think you have time. I got two short years to hunt with my grandpa. But in those two years, I made memories I’ll never forget. The fallen crisp leaves of autumn that blanket the ground will grow back in the spring. And everyday so does my grandpa. I saw him in the orange sunsets on the cool fall evenings. I saw him in the cardinals that sat by my stands. I saw him in every snowfall, sunrise, and winter breeze.
Hunting without him made it hard, but I started to notice these small things that meant the world to me and reminded me every day of my promise to him. Don't take any chance you get to watch the sun rise or set from a treestand for granted. You never know if that bittersweet moment on the last day of deer season, when you hop in your truck and tell your buddies goodbye, might be your last.
Even when the frustration was building and I wanted to give up, I kept going. It was both difficult and rewarding for me. And even though I didn't shoot the biggest buck in the woods, I am very pleased with how I ended the season. One person’s scrub buck might be anothers trophy. Sometimes good things take time, and for me, it was worth the wait.