Hunter’s Journal – January 2022

Reader Contributed | January 5, 2022

By Den Holder

Growing up in the time before the internet, without cable TV and before cell phones inspired me to find the outdoors as a place of enjoyment. I can’t remember my first fishing trip or first hunting trip because I was too young. I spent every moment I could outside. I have hunted nearly every animal in season at some point in time. After many years I finally killed a deer worthy of putting on the wall, and 20 years later I am still just as proud of it today as I was back then.  

As I got older, life began to get busy and the time I could spend in the woods was cut very short. I have been blessed with a wonderful family that includes four children. I have tried to instill my love of the outdoors with my children but will be the first to say I have some stiff competition. Electronic gadgets, sports, friends and school all seem to compete in ways it never did with me. I understand deer hunting can consist of hours of boredom sitting in a cold stand, especially when you are not seeing any activity. When my boys became old enough to hunt, I wanted to keep them interested and engaged so I gave them the green light to take any deer they wanted. We hunt a small tract of private land that is not large enough to hold many deer. After each of my sons had killed a few smaller bucks I started encouraging them to wait on a big one.  Last year when checking my camera before the season, we found a nice buck showing up. I was super excited when my 12-year-old told me that he wanted to hunt this deer.  I knew how hard connecting with a mature buck would be, and I knew a 12-year-old had no idea. Since he loves sports, I tried to put it in terms he would understand. I told him that “big bucks are like national championships in college football, every fan wants one but few fans get one.” Unless you are an Alabama fan, but since we cheer for the Dawgs, we still hope.  

This year we hunted hard. I need to expand on what I mean about “we hunted hard.” I never took a gun in the woods. This was Drew’s buck. I would not have shot him if I saw him standing in my backyard. I believe this is what dads do. We want to see our children succeed. I worked like a professional guide by running cameras, planting plots, moving stands and scouting. I sat with him in the stand on every hunt and only took snacks and binoculars. My little man surprised me in several ways this year. First was his commitment to go to the woods. Next was his desire to wait on one particular deer. He let several bucks walk during the season, ones that would have never stood a chance if I were still 12. The buck we were after would be on camera and then disappear for weeks and then show up again. Each time we were in the stand and heard a shot, he would turn to me and say, “I hope that was not the big one.” I knew our chances were slim to none. We finally had an encounter with him during the rut. He came into the food plot and chased a doe out quickly, never giving us a shot. I turned to Drew and told him to say a prayer that he comes back and Drew replied, “I already have.” Seeing a mature buck coming through the woods is something magical and something I hope every hunter gets to experience. This just lit a fire in our excitement because we knew there was at least a chance to connect with him.

Hours turned into days of not seeing Drew’s deer. We got tired of seeing the same does each trip. Nothing on camera, no signs, nothing. Rut was over, deer were going nocturnal and the hunting got tough. Season was winding down. The buck was gone. Weather was cold and sitting in a stand had lost its appeal. Needless to say I had lost interest. At this point we basically stopped going. I knew this was just one of those disappointments deer hunters face all the time. Until…we realized he was still alive and had come back.

Now it seemed different. It was late in the season and the rut was over.  He was paired up with a smaller buck, and it was all about food. We had some cold weather last year, and the deer needed the nutrition. We turned our attention to the food sources. With just a week left in the season, we were sitting in the stand with our usual compliment of does and the smaller buck he has been paired with came in. I was so excited I could not stand it. I knew they were hanging together, so I knew he was close. Then all of a sudden he just walks out of the woods, comes into the plot and starts eating. Drew had his gun up and on a rest. Conditions were perfect. I whispered for him to take his time and make it count. His .308 Win broke the stillness of the cold January evening, and I watched the buck give a big donkey kick and take off. I turned to my little man and said all that was left to do now was take pictures. We took off with excitement. I could not believe how it worked out. This was awesome. Much to my amazement the buck was not laying just inside the woods. We found about five specks of blood then nothing. My heart sank. We looked everywhere. I ask Drew about his shot and began to think he made a bad one. I reached out to someone with a tracking dog. Nothing. I have never been so depressed. Everything we had worked for. Everything we had hoped for. Nothing. Another one of those big disappointments deer hunter face. I am old enough to know we all have hopes and dreams and the harsh reality is that many of them never come true. It was over. I could not sleep. I could not eat. I was truly depressed. You don’t get a second chance on mature bucks. Until…he comes back two days later.

Drew’s birthday was Friday, Jan. 8 and turned 13. What better gift than to finally get his buck. Nothing.  Last Saturday of the season was cold and overcast. Perfect conditions. Does show up on time but nothing else. But for some reason I had hope. One last chance.  

Last afternoon of the season we are in the stand and I was antsy. At 5 p.m., no deer, not even does. The does show up about 15 minutes later but no bucks.  Then with about 15 minutes of shooting light left the small buck walks in. I knew what was about to happen. I told Drew to get ready. Here he was coming. We watched him come through the woods and into the food plot. It is a sight I don’t think I will ever forget.  Head down, slightly turned, I whisper to Drew to squeeze the trigger and just let the gun surprise him with the shot. This time the .308 Win found its mark, and the big buck was down. He dropped like a sack of potatoes. He did it. Might sound crazy to some but I believe with all my heart that God had that buck for Drew and He meant for him to get it. I don’t know who was more proud of the buck, Drew or his guide. I think his guide.

Drew Holder, of Macon, with his Jones County buck from Jan. 10, 2021.

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1 Comment

  1. jack on January 7, 2022 at 2:30 pm

    awesome deer

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