Dad’s Rifle – A Rite of Passage
I carried that trusty rifle into the cold November woods of upstate NY with the hopes that I would have an opportunity at a legal buck (the past 3 years we have been under a 3 point per antler restriction). It was 20 degrees with little wind and a nice fresh snow cover. I sat in a stand I’d occupied on opening day for the past 2 years and seen numerous bucks, but none that would meet the antler restriction.
As I climbed the steep mountain to my stand, I was flooded with memories of hunting with my dad and all the great times we shared as I made the trek in the predawn darkness. I glanced down at the rifle and looked up at the star-filled sky and said a little prayer in the hopes that today would be the day. It turned out to be rather eventful with a couple small bucks and several does passing near my stand. As the day drew to a close, I looked at the setting sun and was discouraged, but I kept telling myself over and over to stay alert because things can change in an instant, especially with the rut just kicking in.
I heard the sound of a running deer and turned to look over my right shoulder to see a doe bounding across the plateau of the mountain, only stopping to turn back from where she had come. I knew a buck had to be chasing her so I slowly stood up and faced her back trail. A few seconds later I saw a body running through the thick cover coming from the same direction as the doe. As it entered my first shooting land, I could tell that it was a racked buck, but had to be sure that it had at least 3 points on one side before I could shoot.
I shouldered the rifle and started to track it in the scope and saw immediately that it had 3 points on the closest main beam. I grunted to try to stop him, but he kept going. I grunted louder a second time with no luck. He was about to clear the top of the ridge headed for the doe when I gave the call all it had. He stopped with a couple of trees blocking his vitals, but there was a tight window that offered a clear shot at the base of his neck. He was about 70 yards.
Since it happened so quickly and the deer was on my right side, I was forced to shoot offhand. It seemed like I went into auto pilot as the gun felt almost like an extension of my body. Before I even knew it, the rifle barked and the buck folded in its tracks. As I came out of recoil, I got back on the fallen buck just to make sure he was down for good. Lowering the rifle and looking over the scope at this majestic buck laying in the snow, I glanced down at the rifle in my hands and almost could not believe what had just happened. After ten hours in the stand, the conclusion unfolded in a matter of seconds.
I climbed down and walked over to kneel beside the buck. Placing my hand on its shoulder, I took my hat off, bowed my head and thanked the good Lord for giving me the opportunity to harvest this animal. I field dressed the deer and started the drag down the mountain as the light began to fade. It was already dark when I got to the bottom of the mountain where my buddy was going to pick me up. I sat down next to the buck, with the rifle by my side and looked up at the star-filled sky and said “Thanks, Dad.” I wept for quite a while as I was overcome with an emotion that is hard to explain. I have been blessed to have hunted quite a few places across the country and kill bigger bucks, but I don’t think any of them have meant as much as that one.