Oftentimes when I drive I will listen to a popular hunting and fishing podcast put on by my hero, Steven Rinella. The podcast is named “Meat Eater” for the television show that he has on Netflix. If you’re a hunter or fisherman and haven’t watched the show or listened to the podcast, I strongly encourage you to do so. It covers a wide variety of topics in the outdoor world, and I’ve learned a great deal of things listening. One of the topics of the conversation the other day was recovery dogs. I have a dog, Tessie, that will blood trail a deer, but I highly doubt she’d know what to do if she stumbled onto a ticked off buck that was still alive. However, I’ve seen some really good recovery dogs in action over the years, and the podcast made me think of one hunt in particular.
I think I’ve mentioned before that my dad doesn’t do much hunting. He would much rather fish than suffer the misery of sitting in the cold waiting for a deer to walk by. However, he will sometimes accompany me on a trip to spend some time together. I’m pretty sure he does it knowing that the only way he’s going to see his son in the fall or winter is by getting in the woods. When it comes to deer season I’ll admit that I’m pretty selfish with my time. I’ve missed friends and family member’s weddings and funerals because they interfered with deer season. Hey, it’s not my fault they chose to get married during the rut!
I got Dad to join me and an old friend from high school, Weston Windham, on a morning hunt in December 2016. It was a pretty chilly morning, and I expected the deer to move well as soon as the sun started getting higher and melting off the frost. We got up early and met Weston at a chunk of land outside of Laurel that his family owned. Weston, being a gracious host, made sure to send Dad to a good stand that is nearly impossible not to see deer from. I hunted a ladder stand not too far from Dad, in the event that he actually pulled the trigger that I could go and help him. I settled into my stand just as the sun started coming up. Almost immediately, I began to start seeing deer going about their morning routines. I can’t remember just how many I saw that morning, but I remember it being a lot. I wondered if Dad was having the same luck. At the time, I was thirty years old and my dad had never killed a deer in my lifetime. He says he shot a few back in the 70’s, but I have no proof of that. I did know that he’d never killed a “rack buck” before, and I anxiously awaited hearing a gunshot in hopes that his days of deer-less-ness ended.
By 10:00 that morning, the action at my stand had dwindled, so I began to climb down. I still hadn’t heard a gunshot, so I was a little disappointed. As I walked down a lane headed back to the truck, a buck stepped out into the lane and stopped about 100 yards in front of me. The sun was almost directly in my eyes, but I could make out his rack well enough to know what I was shooting. I shouldered my rifle, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. The buck dropped right in his tracks. As I walked closer to the deer, I was startled by a loud gunshot not far away. The shot came from where my dad was hunting. My heart began to pound with excitement wondering what he had killed. I pretty much forgot about the buck that I shot, and I hurried to his stand. When I got there, he was still shaking from the adrenaline. He explained that he had shot at a buck and felt confident that he’d hit him. He showed me where the deer went, and we found blood. This is where the fun ends and the work begins.
We trailed this buck for as long as any deer that I’ve ever trailed. We trailed him through the thickest briars that you can imagine. We trailed him for over two miles that went in a big circle. There were multiple times that I thought the deer had to be close and multiple times when I thought we should give up. Finally, we backed out and brought in the secret weapon, Tank. Tank is Weston’s pit bull that serves as a catch dog. Tank will catch wild hogs, deer, and pretty much anything else that you put him on. Tank also happens to be my dad’s favorite dog in the world and for good cause. Weston rigged Tank up with a GPS collar and put him on the trail. It wasn’t five minutes later Weston was screaming at me to bring a gun! When I arrived with a shotgun in tote my brain couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. Tank had ahold of the buck by the snout and the buck had picked the dog up and was slinging him back and forth. The dog never let go of the buck. Weston quickly grabbed the shotgun and finished him off, giving my dad his first ever buck.
I tried to argue that Dad still hadn’t actually killed a buck, but after we examined the wound we decided that the deer would have died if we’d have given it more time. After loading up the deer we made our way around to the buck that I’d killed and loaded it as well. As we began to skin the two deer I remember thinking of how cool it was to double down with my dad. The two bucks weren’t going to make any record books, but neither one of us cared. We took our time cleaning the deer, and we all three shared our versions of how the morning unfolded. It was a moment that I’ll probably never be able to recreate. Then again, maybe one day I’ll double down with one of my kids.