Two Good Bucks, Two Great Kids

A story about how kids can cause us to realize what's important.

Hal Wiley | October 31, 2012

Was it luck, or was something bigger at play when Hal Wiley, of Fitzgerald, killed his best-ever buck during his 4-year-old daughter’s first-ever deer hunt with daddy?

I had been hunting pretty hard for about two weeks. The rut was in full swing, and everyone was seeing bucks chasing does. Myself, I had seen some deer and even the occasional small buck, but nothing I really wanted to shoot. Prior to that 2010 season, I had spent the time and money to plant food plots, put up stands, put out trail cameras and do all the things hunters do to get ready. Now the rut was here, I expected some results. I was getting frustrated because I was putting forth such great effort and doing everything I thought was right.

So it was mid November when my 6-year-old son Drew said he wanted to go deer hunting with me. Well, that made my day because going hunting with my son was one thing I had looked forward to ever since he was born. Some of my best memories as a child were of times I spent hunting with my Uncle JW. The first hunt was pretty much uneventful, as most of my hunts had been that season. We didn’t see anything. One thing I did learn is when you take a 6-year-old deer hunting, you must take plenty to keep him occupied. We had snacks, drinks, toys, crayons and coloring books. Heck, he even peed out the back of the stand. It was that or leave after hunting only 30 minutes, so he let it rip, and I just hoped we were downwind from the deer.

That first trip was definitely a memorable experience, and he and I both enjoyed it, so he asked if he could go again. I told him yes, and in my mind I resigned to the fact that each time I took him the hunt was over before it started, but I wanted him with me.

It was a Thursday night, and I told him that I was going hunting in the morning. I told him I was only going to call him once to get up, and he better be ready. Deep down I was hoping he would choose to go another time because this particular morning was supposed to be the best day to hunt. The weather had just turned cold again and everyone said this was the weekend.

At 5:30 Friday morning, I called once, twice, and on the third time he sprung up and said, “Don’t leave me!” I had already packed the snacks, drinks, toys, crayons, coloring books and Nintendo DS game to help keep him occupied in case he really did get up. We got dressed, and we were off. It was amazing, it was almost 6 o’clock in the morning, and he was wide open making plans on how we were going to kill a big ol’ buck. Asking question after question like, “How are we going to shoot a deer in the dark? If I throw my pop tart out of the stand will the deer come eat it? If he does, can we shoot it?”

Finally we parked the truck and got out, and it was cold, very cold. We walked to the stand in the pitch-black dark. We both had our lights on our hats, but Drew wanted to carry a flashlight just in case his head light went out. We got to the stand and unpacked all our stuff. At first he was looking all around shining the flashlight out into the food plot looking for deer. I convinced him to settle down and eat a pop tart and play his game until the sun came up. Around 15 minutes later the sun did come up, and it was the coolest sunrise I’ve ever seen because I watched it with my son. We took a break from all the other stuff we brought, and I had the chance to explain how, why and where the sun rises and sets. For a few brief minutes we watched the world wake up… then he looked at me and said, “Can I play my game now?”

About 20 minutes after daybreak, a little basket rack 8-pointer stepped out into the food plot. I quickly nudged Drew and took out his ear phones and instructed him to stand up and look at the deer. He immediately started asking questions.

“Where did he come from? Does he know we are here? Are you going to shoot him? Can I scare him? Why don’t you shoot him? You said if we see one with horns we would shoot him! So shoot him!”

I told him we wanted to wait on a bigger buck. Drew informed me that I told him we would shoot one with horns, and that one had horns. For the next 10 to 15 minutes we watched and debated on whether or not we should shoot the deer, and eventually the little 8-pointer disappeared into the woods. Drew was a little aggravated with me because we were hunting for a deer with horns, and we had one right in front of us. The whole idea of what just happened didn’t make any sense to him.

Finally, he went back to playing his game. Five minutes later, a big, wide, heavy 8-point buck came sprinting out into the food plot and put on the brakes right where the basket eight had been feeding. This was a shooter buck, and it was obvious that this deer was not going to hang around very long. I immediately punched (not nudged) Drew and said, “There he is son. Hold your ears just like I told you.”

I threw up my Browning .270, found the deer in the scope, waited for him to stop walking, and BOOM! The deer spun around and took off into the woods. I knew I hit him because there was an exit wound very visible as he made his way back across the food plot.

I looked at Drew and said, “What did you think about that?”

He said, “Daddy, you shot before I could hold my ears! What was that big red spot on his side? Where did he go? Did you miss him? Can we go shoot him again?”

I explained that we had to wait a little while before we could go into the woods to recover him, and believe me, that was the longest wait ever. We did go to the site where I shot him and found some blood. I marked the spot where the deer was hit, and we went to get the truck and made some phone calls telling some fellow hunters that Drew and I had a good one down. Around 45 minutes after the shot was fired, we started looking and quickly found our trophy. It was a good day I will always remember, not only because of the big buck, but because Drew and I harvested the big buck together!

Fast forward a year to November 2011. Again, I was in the woods as often as I could be, and most of the time Drew was with me. He seemed to really enjoy deer hunting, and if he put in to go, I made sure for him to have all his items to keep him occupied and quiet. I even purchased him a youth-model .223 so could begin practicing to shoot and maybe he could harvest his own first deer.

One Sunday afternoon, I asked Drew if he wanted to go hunting with me, and he said he did not. As soon as those words came out of his mouth, my little girl Emmy said, “I want to go hunting with you, Daddy.”

Now, Emmy was 4 years old, and I waited until Drew was 6 before I ever thought about taking him. But it’s very hard for daddy to say no to his little princess, especially when the only reason is “you’re just too young.”

That answer was not going over very well with her, or me to be quite honest. So, I agreed to take her down to a little area less than a quarter-mile behind my house where I had put up a stand and planted a food plot. I figured that by going down there we could ride the Polaris, and when she got ready to go, we could go. Just like last year, I didn’t have much confidence in the success of the hunt. My plan was to get in the stand about a quarter to five so we wouldn’t have to sit there long. I packed up all the snacks, drinks, toys and a Leapster game to help keep her quiet so maybe we could see something.

As I was getting all her items together, I quickly realized that this trip was not about hunting. It was about what “Hunting Costume” she would wear. She changed a few times because she didn’t like the way her pants that I bought her looked. After mixing and matching the camo that I had bought her and some of Drew’s camo that he had when he was that size, she finally had her “Hunting Costume” ready.

Oh, she was still not ready. Her mama had to fix her hair. She had to get her ponytail fixed so she could wear her Browning hat with the pink trim. When her “Hunting Costume” and her hair were just right, we loaded up on the Polaris to take several pictures (because of course we have to get pictures on an occasion like this). We finally made the two-minute drive to the stand. When we got there and started walking to the stand, I realized Emmy was having trouble walking in the brush. The brush wasn’t that tall, but Emmy stands at a whopping 3-feet tall, and she was having trouble keeping up. So, now I’m carrying a bag that is three times bigger than usual because of all of her stuff, my rifle, and my new hunting buddy. We made it to the stand and climbed on in, and, just like Drew one year ago, she starts asking questions. “Where are the deer? What is that black thing out there? (Feeders are legal in 2011.) Are the deer in the woods? Kill that spider!”

I start unpacking everything, and she is walking around, sticking her head out of each window of the stand and climbing in and out of my lap. After about 30 minutes, everything is going just as I expected—plenty of noise and no deer. We did have a cow from a neighboring landowner get through a hole in the fence feeding in the food plot. Emmy was quick to point out that was a cow and not a deer, and we shouldn’t shoot it. With the cow and everything else going on, the afternoon was still great because my little princess and I were deer hunting. For the next little while she played the Leapster, we watched some Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber YouTube videos on my Motorola X2 Android device, talked about numerous subjects, some having to do with deer hunting but mostly about other things. Then she climbed in my lap and lay across my chair, and I held her as if she was a newborn about to take a nap. This was my favorite part of the entire hunt. I told her that I loved her and she said she loved me, and for the next five minutes I stared out into the food plot and she stared up at the roof of the deer stand with the only sounds being the occasional squirrel and the wind gently blowing through the trees.

At that point, the hunt was a total success to me, although I still wanted her to see a deer. But if we didn’t, I really didn’t care. Then those big south Georgia mosquitoes started flying, and Emmy declared that it was time to go. Even though there was about 15 more minutes of good light, I didn’t argue with her, and I started packing up. The previous five minutes of silence was broken by the sound of talking, zippers zipping, jackets being put on and feet climbing down the ladder. Finally we were on the ground and were ready to head back home. As we started to walk away from the stand, I noticed that the cow had moved out of the food plot and closer to the woods. Then I looked closer and realized the cow was actually still in the food plot and that what I saw was a deer. I quickly told Emmy to be still and not move a muscle. When I first saw the deer, he had his head down, so I didn’t know if it was a buck or a doe.

Then he picked his head up, and everything changed! If you are a deer hunter, you know what I’m talking about. I went from a Daddy who was enjoying an afternoon in the woods with his daughter to a Daddy who was enjoying an afternoon in the woods with his daughter and was about to lay the smackdown on the biggest buck he had ever laid his eyes on.

I’m telling you the truth, my little princess did so good; she didn’t move a muscle and didn’t say a word. I think she was amazed that her Daddy’s behavior could change so fast. I can still see her face with her eyes wide open waiting for my next instructions to her. She sat quietly on the ground beside the stand while I got my binoculars out of my bag. I wanted to get a good look at the deer to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. When I got him in view I confirmed that this was indeed a shooter buck. I threw my binoculars down and picked up my gun and found the deer in the scope. Then, I realized that Emmy was standing right underneath my feet and I couldn’t shoot over her head, so I put my gun down and picked her up and sat her about 5 feet behind me next to a tree and told her, “You’re doing great, just be still and don’t say anything.”

The author shot this big Ben Hill County 8-pointer in 2010 while sharing the hunt with his then 6-year-old son.

I then turned back around hoping the buck was still there, and he was. I picked up my Browning .270 and found him in the scope again. At this point the deer was in the brush at about 200 yards and walking toward the food plot. I watched him in the scope and debated with myself… should I shoot now or let him get closer? If I let him get closer, he may pick up our scent and run off; there is a cow ready to meet him in the food plot—don’t know how that will work out; Emmy is bound to break her silence soon; what to do, what to… BOOM! I decided to go ahead and shoot. The deer fell, then got up and made his way into the woods. I was beside myself, and my little princess was just sitting by the tree, eyes wide open and watching.

Emmy asked, “Did you shoot a deer Daddy?”

I said, “Baby, I shot at him, and I hope I hit him. We will have to go see.”

I told her how good she did, and we packed everything back up and headed to the Polaris. We took our time getting back to the Polaris. We loaded up and went to see if I hit the buck or just scared him really bad. After looking for a few minutes, I found some blood with a good trail, and I knew he was down somewhere close. By this time it was dark and the mosquitoes were out in full force, so I threw my orange vest on the ground to mark the site of the shot and headed to the house. I dropped Emmy off at home with Jennifer and Drew and called my buddy Nate. Nate and I met up about 20 minutes later and went back to the site of the blood trail and very quickly found the biggest buck I have ever harvested.

I wrote these two stories because I can’t get these two events out of my mind and am amazed I have had such good experiences. A lot of people hunt for years and don’t kill one buck like these. I’m certainly not an authority on how one should live or on deer hunting. I enjoy all types of hunting, and I’m particularly proud of the two bucks that I was fortunate enough to harvest in two consecutive years. I’m most proud of the way it all went down with Drew and Emmy. Drew and I have a deer on the wall, and now Emmy and I will have a deer on the wall, and I think that is pretty cool. I don’t know why or how it happened, but I do know that all the time I had spent working toward killing a big buck was beginning to feel like work! I was going hunting because I felt I had to, because I’ve put all this effort into it and I can’t stop now. Sometimes it wasn’t even fun, but the minute I stopped caring so much about the results and started enjoying everything around me it just happened. Was it just chance? Maybe. Was it that my efforts finally paid off? Could be. Was it the Lord telling me to stop focusing on myself and everything I’ve done and start being thankful for and enjoying what He has given me? I like to think so. So I’m going to keep planting my food plots, putting up stands and going to the woods every chance I get, but now with a little different attitude.

Next time you are sitting in the deer stand, the duck blind, in the boat, or in the dove field, I encourage you to pay attention to your surroundings and think about all the things that God has put in front of you that you may have never thanked him for. As hunters and outdoorsmen, we get to see things in the world a lot of people who do not share our passion for the outdoors don’t get to see. So going forward, why don’t we try to enjoy everything that God has created and blessed us with; like our wife and children, friends who care about us, every sunrise we get to see, every sunset we get to watch, the changing seasons, the small bucks we let walk so they can grow another year, the fog that lifts off the water while we are sitting on the river bank waiting on the woodies to come in, the mallards that circle as they try to decide if they want to come down as the sun shines on that green head, the big bass that just rolled and told us where to make our next cast, the turkeys that like to hang out in my food plot and under the stand when it seems like they know it’s not their season, the donkey up on the hill that likes to let the world know where he is late in the evening right at dark, the train going by on the tracks that are 3 miles away but sounds like it’s just across the powerline, the shot fired by my buddy on the other side of the club because he finally got was he has been hunting for!

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