He Wanted To Hunt in A Bad Way
To say he wanted to hunt badly would be an understatement. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it a reality. Until we did.
Despite his enthusiasm he conked out in the backseat as we headed down progressively smaller roads, for an evening deer hunt. We pulled up to the ranch and began glassing. Ignoring a piece of advice my uncle once gave me – “Always to look close before you look far”– I scanned the sunlit slopes of sage and rock that rose from the river bottom. We spotted a few mule deer in the distance and decided to get a closer look. Maybe there was a buck among them for my buddy to chase.
Putting the truck in gear, I caught a glimpse of movement and noticed three whitetail does feeding into the open just fifty yards away, practically in the driveway of the ranch house – exactly what my son and I had come for. But it seemed almost too easy and he was still asleep. So we left fish to find fish.
We found no bucks. We returned for the whitetails. They were feeding between a line of willows and the arena. The iron rails of the arena precluded a shot so we parked the truck to see if we could sneak around. When a barn cat joined the effort we brought together nearly all aspects of a classic ranch hunt.
My son, clad in his snow pants, was on his knees playing with the cat as we began our stalk. I needed to work a bit closer. My son and friend opted to stay behind watching me close the last few yards. The cat decided to follow. Meowing incessantly, the cat was with me every step of the way. Even without the cat, I didn’t have much chance, but he sure wasn’t helping. The deer heard me, or the cat, before I could get into position and the opportunity was lost. We moved on.
With roughly two hours of light remaining, we drove into a series of hay meadows. Planning to set up and wait for last light, we spotted a good whitetail buck chasing a doe. With only a doe tag in my pocket, my son and I watched as our buddy made a stalk from the truck. Playing with binos and listening to country music on the radio, we waited. Ultimately, my buddy was busted and the deer happened to run our way.
Hopping out of the truck, I thought an easy shot might come our way. They passed at high speed through cottonwoods on the other side of the meadow and the shot didn’t materialize, but the movement caused several other deer to get up from their beds. Seeing an opportunity, I tapped into the ranch hunting skills I’d developed as a teenager, and fired up the truck.
We closed the distance and got to a spot clear of horses and a wheel line. Everything was coming together. My son spotted the deer and I hopped out of the truck. He plugged his ears and I put the cross hairs on a doe. The shot rang clear and the doe dropped to the ground. Still kicking, it looked like a follow up shot might be necessary.
Holding hands, we walked toward her. I wished I had made a clean shot and was not sure how my son would react to what was about to happen. But hunting doesn’t always go as planned. This was not the time for discussion. We simply had to finish what we’d started. At close range, I was able to make a final shot, and lay the deer to rest. My son seemed unfazed. We both kneeled and pet her, looking at every detail and giving thanks. My son held a leg as we field dressed the deer. We examined every organ and upon his insistence cut open the stomach, something he will no longer feel the need to do on purpose. With a short drag to the truck, we were able to share every aspect of the hunt.
Darkness was now upon us and we went to drop off a case of beer for the rancher. The temperature plummeted as we stood in the driveway talking under the illumination of the porch light. From the barn my son cried out in pain. Once I reached him he managed to inform me that he had been scratched on the lip by the cat. The blood stopped soon enough and I asked for more details. “I picked him up”, he stammered. It had been his best friend a few hours earlier.
I think he learned a lesson about barn cats.