“Popo, I want to go deer hunting this fall. Will you take me?”
I looked down into the questioning eyes of my 8-year-old grandson, Jake. Before I could respond he blurted out, “I think I’m old enough, and I’ve been going to the range with you and Mama and Daddy shooting my .22. I can keep all my shots in about 4 inches at 50 yards without a really good rest. And I’ve shot some of your deer rifles. I know where to shoot a deer!”
I continued looking at him, recalling how when he couldn’t even talk yet, I’d show him trophy mounts in my office and home, telling him what they were. One afternoon during what had become a ritual when I was home, I pointed out a pronghorn. “Jake, this is a pronghorn antelope.” To my amazement (to this point he’d never spoken any words that would be considered English), he succinctly replied in a questioning manner, “pronghorn antelope?” A few weeks later, as I was about to walk out the door for an extended trip, he came running after me wearing one of my old hats, carrying a small case in one hand and a copy of North American Hunter in the other … “I go wit you!”
I continued looking at him recalling how his mother, my younger daughter Beth, just like her older sister Theresa, had shot her first whitetail when she was 8. Jake kept looking with pleading eyes. “Jake, sounds like a good idea to me! But first, I want you to go through a hunter safety course, then I’ll visit with your mom and dad and discuss it with them. If they say it’s OK I’ll set up a hunt where you can go hunt a doe.”
Ready to Hunt
Texas, where we live, allows parents and grandparents to decide when a child is old and mature enough to hunt. In Jake’s case, there was no doubt in my mind he was ready to pursue a deer. I’d watched him shoot at the range, spent considerable time with him looking at deer, determining whether he’d take the shot depending upon the deer’s angle, distance and other circumstances.
After he passed his hunter safety class, Jake, his parents and I bought his first “official” Texas hunting license. I’d been buying him, just as with his younger brother Andrew, and his cousins Josh and Justin, hunting licenses since birth. But this would be the first year he’d really “use” it. As the hunt approached, during the Christmas holiday, we made several trips to the local rifle range, getting Jake used to shooting a scoped rifle from a hunting position. We also continued looking at deer photos to determine where he’d place a bullet depending upon the angle of the deer.
Finally the day arrived. I’d made arrangements with a rancher friend, McClean Bowman, to allow Jake to take a deer. We packed up and headed to the ranch, spending the night. It took a while but I finally heard Jake sleeping soundly. That night I switched the .22 rimfire barrel on Jake’s Thompson/Center G2 Contender rifle to a .375 JDJ barrel. I knew if he fired it at a deer he’d never feel the difference in recoil.
“Popo, Popo, time to get up!” I felt a gentle nudge on my shoulder. “Popo, let’s go!” We arrived at our hunting spot more than an hour before first light. We listened to the coyotes howling, then slowly watched gray shadows turn into forms, far different than what our imaginations had told us they were.
The morning was slow; several does and bucks walked by, but none that offered a decent shot. I’d chosen the area we hunted because I felt assured we’d see lots of critters, not just deer but also wild hogs, javelinas, coyotes, rabbits and a tremendous number of birds. While we waited on a deer to be in a “proper” position for a shot, Jake practiced getting his crosshairs on a variety of targets.
About mid-morning, three does appeared at the edge of the small opening about 100 yards away. To get properly positioned, Jake had to crawl on my lap to be able to align the scope properly on the doe’s shoulder.
I felt his rapid breathing and increased heart beat as he got the crosshairs exactly where he wanted them. He moved his head away from the scope and took several deep breaths to calm himself. Then when all seemed ready he cocked the Contender’s hammer, then took a few more deep breaths, shaking a bit all the while from a mild case of “buck fever.” I noticed the rifle barrel steadying, then become near rock solid steady. Just then he pulled the trigger, and I watched as a prayer was answered and the doe dropped in her tracks!
“I got her, Popo! I got her, I got my first deer!”