Where My Story Starts
Leave Nothing In The Tank
Her name is Lauren. And that’s where my story starts.
In October 2002, she was 11 years old. The little girl from Morgan County grew up on a farm but had never done any hunting. I spent a lot of time in my high school and college years on that same farm so I had pretty much watched Lauren go from diapers to pre-teen.
I can’t remember what spurred me to one day put a rifle in her hands, but I did, and before I knew it, we were planning a trip down to see some friends in Emanuel County for a mid October deer hunt. Hosted by the Swainsboro Jaycees, it was a youth-only hunt where I’d be guiding Lauren in search of her first deer. It was the first time I’d ever taken a kid hunting. I was 28 years old, had been married all of eight months and would be leaving for Iowa two weeks later on a bow tag. I’d go up there and kill a 160-inch whitetail and come back to Georgia and rack up 11 deer that fall. Life was different. Up until that time in my life, hunting had been all about my accomplishments, my trophies, my platform to brag… certainly not about any one else. Just me.
Little did I know how that Saturday afternoon would produce a spark that forever changed the direction of my life.
We were in a wooden box blind overlooking a roadway and a small food plot out front. I remember laughing to myself watching Lauren kick off her boots because it was so warm. We sat and whispered back and forth waiting for prime time to arrive.
Just a few minutes before dark, I looked over my right shoulder and a button buck was walking into the roadway 20 yards away. An unexpected dose of adrenaline welled up inside me, the same way it did when I hunted alone and saw a deer.
We sat still as the deer calmly walked to the front of the ground blind. By some miracle, we were able to get that .243 out the window without being seen or heard. All that was left was a quick look through the scope and a short shot. However, with the deer only 10 yards from the barrel, all she saw was brown. In my first of many coachable moments, I had the scope’s power jacked up way too high.
It wasn’t until the little buck bounded off in front of the stand and into the food plot 30 yards away that Lauren was able to find that deer. I remember so clearly the still moment before the shot rang out across the Emanuel County countryside. The deer was quartering slightly away, just standing there looking back at us like a picture. Lauren put the crosshairs in the boiler room and fired. The deer stumbled and crashed off into a little bottom below us. There was no doubt that she had connected.
Lauren’s first reaction was to hit the ground running, socks and all. For me, I needed a minute to recover from whatever had suddenly come over me. That shot of adrenaline that had been pumping through my blood for the last couple of minutes had now turned into a case of the shakes and a build-up of emotions that I’m not sure I’d ever felt in a hunting situation up until that moment.
After I stalled for a couple of minutes and Lauren slipped her boots back on, we eased down the hill to where the button buck was standing. The deer made it maybe 20 yards. For Lauren, her first hunt was over. But for me, it was just the beginning.
Back at camp that night, Lauren was the only kid to have killed a deer. The guys and gals made a big splash about Lauren and that first deer. I stood back and just soaked.
Last Saturday while I was working the Buckarama, I saw Lauren. Now 32 years old and living in Monticello, her husband Adam and their son Henry were walking the aisles getting ready for hunting season. The young 7-year-old came up and shook my hand. The conversation quickly turned to the first deer he killed, a trip to Ossabaw they plan to take in a few years and Arkansas ducks and geese. The little guy reminded me a lot of his mama when she was a little girl.
After my deer hunt with Lauren, I’d spend the next 20 years of my life watching kids hunt or trap about every critter that walks this great state. I don’t do it just because statistics encourage us to preserve the future by taking a kid hunting. And I’m certainly not trying to paint some picture that I’m an extraordinary person—I am not. I do it because it feels good. Better said, it feels right. I do it because I’m trying to do what God has clearly told me to do with my remaining days of this earth. And I’ve learned that when you step out in obedience, God will bless that.
Watching them walk away at the Buckarama, that Emanuel County scene from 2002 played back in my mind. That October hunt produced Lauren’s first deer, a very special day she’ll always remember. For me, it kicked off a whole new life. It was on that day when my hunting passions took a turn from being so much about me and my arrogant and prideful ways and started becoming about others. Life really is sweeter when you live it for others.
If you’re feeling that inside nudging to take a kid hunting, or maybe do something entirely different with your hunting passion, let me encourage you to step out in obedience. You never know what God may be up to. I can promise you that He will bless your obedience.