The first complete week of the Mississippi archery season has passed. I have seen some very nice bucks hit the dirt already all across the state. Even better, I’ve seen more than a handful of first time archery kills from youth, as well as adults. To me, this is one of the best times of the year. I enjoy seeing the pictures of folks across the state taking trophies that will provide meat for their families for the year as well as stories that will last a lifetime. With each picture I see and story I hear it takes me back to some great memories that I have made in the woods and on the water.
At our house in the evenings, bedtime can be chaotic. Making sure three kids have gotten a bath, brushed their teeth, and have their clothes ready for the next day has its challenges. For the most part, my wife oversees this process because it has been proven multiple times that I will mess up this seemingly simple task. My involvement in the bedtime routine is the story before sleep. The kids always seem to want a bedtime story involving some hunting trip or fishing voyage, or at least they humor me by asking for these stories. I use this as an excuse to keep going hunting and fishing so they don’t have to hear the same stories over and over! The other night my oldest daughter, who killed her first deer last season at age 8, asked me to tell the story of my first deer. I was obviously happy to do so and thought with seeing so many firsts this past week that I’d share it here as well.
Growing up in South Mississippi we didn’t have near the bountiful land to hunt that my kids have been able to enjoy. Year after year we’d scour the woods in hopes of just seeing a deer, much less shooting one. I began to show an interest in hunting when I was around 6-7 years old mainly because I probably wanted to spend time with my Uncle. As a young kid I pretty much thought he was the coolest thing ever (and still pretty much do) and I loved the fact that he’d let me tag along with him. My dad would go from time to time but fishing was more of our thing rather than hunting. Dad didn’t like cold weather and still doesn’t to this day, but I’m working on that. Uncle Barry, however, was an outdoor maniac and I loved it. About the time that I got old enough to probably actually shoot a deer we moved to Florida for a couple of years and the urge to hunt was extinguished for a while. Upon moving back, I was once again enamored by the woods and all of its glory. My dad got us in a hunting club just outside of Taylorsville, MS and we began the quest to get me my first deer. It was a slow, painful process full of missed opportunities and missed shots. When we were fortunate enough to see a deer my heart would leap out of my chest and I’m not even sure I’d aim my rifle before I pulled, not squeezed as I had been taught, the trigger. I was 11 years old before my luck would change.
On this trip, I was fortunate enough to go hunting with another major influence in my outdoor life. My grandmother’s brother, Elvin, was and is basically a living legend in the hunting world of South Mississippi. He was killing giant South Mississippi bucks before anyone else was and doing it often. Today, at the distinguished age of 90, he is still killing deer and turkeys from time to time when his health allows. We began our trip early in the morning to a little piece of land along the Leaf River. He dropped me off at a stand and went to his own spot. Imagine dropping an 11 year old off with a high powered rifle nowadays, what could go wrong? The real question should be, what could go right? Of course, I had two deer come right by my stand only for me to watch them run off with white flags trailing behind. Another chance missed. By 9:00 or so, with my spirits broken, I climbed down and went to where our four wheeler was parked. Uncle Elvin was already there, assumingly anticipating that his 11 year old great nephew wouldn’t sit still in the stand for much longer than that. He was right, but we didn’t leave. He said he wanted to go sit in another spot for a little while so the two of us took off through the woods again. Instead of being in a stand we both sat up against a large oak tree that was raining acorns all around us. We weren’t sitting there more than 5 minutes when he nudged me and pointed up ahead. To my amazement, a deer was walking right toward us no farther than 60 yards away. I propped my .243 rifle on my knee and took a deep breath. This time I aimed carefully and squeezed the trigger. The shot rang out through the crisp November morning air and the deer kicked its hind legs up into the air and took off crashing through the woods. It stopped about 30 yards away from us at the edge of a thicket. Uncle Elvin raised his rifle and finished off the deer before it entered the thicket. Twenty-four years later I can still remember the adrenaline rush from that moment. I hurriedly scampered over to the deer lying on the ground. My first question to Uncle Elvin was, “Is this my deer or yours?” He assured me that this was most certainly my deer and he only shot to avoid having to drag a deer out of thick briars. My first deer! The feeling can never be repeated. It was a most special moment that I got to share with someone that I’ve admired and loved my entire life. Even at 90 years of age, Uncle Elvin will still tell that story from time to time, and when he does my heart swells with pride and affection.
I mentioned that the feeling can never be repeated. I’ve been fortunate enough to kill some very nice bucks through the years, but none compare to that first deer. The only feeling that I’ve found that comes close was being able to share a similar moment with my daughter last season. I hope that one day she will look back on her first deer with the same excitement and love that I shared with my uncle 24 years ago. Maybe in a quarter century she will be the one telling her children a bedtime story of her first deer with dad.