Father, Son And The Missing Deer

When your little hunting buddy grows up and moves away.

Todd Cliett | April 2, 2011

This grainy old photo shows Jake, 11 at the time, on the phone and spreading the news after killing his first deer, a fine 8-point buck.

I walked into the living room of our Terrell County home and immediately noticed something amiss

“Where’s the deer head?” I asked my wife who sat on the couch folding a load of laundry.

“He took it with him,” she responded never looking up from the shirt in her hand.

“Took it with him… What do you mean he took it with him?”

“Well, it is his deer.”

I stared blankly at the wall where two heads hung now instead of the three that used to stare back at me as I watched television. My only bow-kill hung beside our oldest son’s first buck, but the second son’s first buck was no longer where it had been hanging for the past seven years. My mind drifted back…

He was only 11 years old. My wife, Leslie, and I had agreed long ago that when we had kids, and if they wanted to hunt (like they would have a choice), there had to be some ground rules. My rule was to present them with a gun at birth and get started, but unfortunately she did not see it my way. So we compromised and went with her rules.

1. Don’t force them to hunt.

2. They may start hunting at 10 years old and sit in the deer stand with me but no shooting the gun.

3. If and only if they can conduct themselves appropriately, then at 11, they may shoot the gun.

So again, he was 11, and the big moment had arrived. He and I had been hunting for several weeks with no luck in finding a deer when my brother, Bryon, called and invited us to go hunting with him and a friend of his, Toby, who owned some hunting land in Early County. I was bummed. I had to work the afternoon he wanted to hunt, and I was sure my son Jake would take his first buck (his first deer) without me there.

My brother picked him and his older brother Josh up early on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2002, and they headed for the hunting land. They planned to get there early enough to do some practice shooting and let Jake get used to the gun he would shoot on the hunt. Days of shooting plastic army men with his Daisy BB gun still did not have him quite prepared for the kick of the .223 rifle he was borrowing.

The afternoon began to drag on at work, and all I could do was think about missing the opportunity to have Jake sitting on my knee as he squeezed off the first shot at a deer just as his brother had done two years before. I began to rush my work and watch the clock. Finally, enough was enough. Some things are just more important than work. I snatched the cell phone and dialed my brother’s number as I hopped into my truck.

“I’m off work and on my way,” I yelled into the phone. “Gimme some directions on how to get there.”

He told me where to meet them, and I was on my way.

As a man, Jake, of Parrott, needed his mounts to decorate the walls of his own home. But the empty space on the wall in the author’s home served the same purpose as the mount itself; it reminded him of the day his son killed his first deer.

Arriving at the spot just minutes before we had to be in the stand, Jake and I climbed into Toby’s truck and headed for the ground-level box blind. Toby informed us we would be hunting a lane between some old hardwood growth and a field of planted pines. The deer loved to walk the path and one in particular was a good buck he had seen on several occasions. He told Jake to “be patient” and to “not shoot the first deer to come out because several does would be ahead of the buck.”

It was a sunny afternoon with temperatures in the mid 50s, and we eased into the stand and began to fight the mosquitoes. Jake sat upon my right knee eyeing the lane while I sat anxiously awaiting the arrival of the deer and silently praying for better accuracy than Jake had displayed at the range earlier in the day.

About 45 minutes into the hunt, I felt Jake freeze on my knee. A doe had just stepped into the lane about 80 yards away. Even though I knew we would not be shooting this doe, I wanted him to get the feel for sighting a deer in the crosshairs of the scope.

I slowly leaned closer to him and whispered into his ear, “Take your gun down and check out the doe. Don’t shoot or even take off the safety. Just have fun looking at her.”

He nodded ever so slightly and slowly put the gun to his shoulder and eye to the scope. Just as he settled the rifle and got a fix on the doe, something moved in the background. He looked at me to see if I was seeing the movement also. We both paused and held our breath as the 8-point buck made his way into the clearing.

“This is the one. Take him,” I whispered.

Jake laid his cheek along the stock. I whispered another prayer. He eyed the scope. I folded my hands and prayed harder. He took up the slack on the trigger, and I almost jumped from my seat as the buck folded on the ground from the impact of the bullet as it struck home. We grinned at each other, gave high fives and watched to make sure the buck would not stand again. About 15 minutes later, we walked to the buck 100 yards down the lane.

A movement to my left attracted my attention, and I snapped back to the present as my wife arose from the couch with folded clothes neatly stacked in the laundry basket. I turned back to the empty spot on the wall feeling both the loss of youth and the growing pains of adulthood. I realized a turning point had been reached in which the boy had become a man. I shielded my eyes from my wife as she brushed past me and headed down the hallway.

“Oh yeah,” she called over her shoulder. “You know that bass that he caught on Father’s Day when you and he were fishing?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“He took it with him, too.”

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