What’s Really Important

Tagging out on opening day with two bucks that won’t make him Instagram famous helped put things in perspective.

John Henry Spann | September 18, 2023

John Henry Spann with a pair of opening-day bucks he killed in Fulton County on Sept. 9. Even though his buck hunting is over for the season, it may have been one of the best hunting decisions he’s made in quite some time.

As I write this, it is 8:40 p.m. on Sept. 10, the day after the archery opener. I am sitting with my four oldest children during Family Movie Night after a lazy Sunday afternoon. My wife is bathing my newborn daughter, Georgia Anne. She was born five days ago. I am not hiking out of the woods, following a blood trail or driving home after another day of sitting in a tree, but I do have blood under my fingernails and need to wash out the back of my F-150.

Hunting, trapping and the occasional fishing trip are my only real hobbies. I don’t watch football, play golf or follow politics. Over the course of the last few years, I have gotten more and more invested in bowhunting, particularly in the suburbs of Atlanta. As you probably know, this has become something of a trend in recent years. I have gotten hooked on YouTube channels focused on hunting the suburbs and followed various suburban hunters on social media. I have many friends who also spend countless hours pursuing suburban bucks and love the chess game we play against these magnificent creatures.

Compared to hunting public land or private land out in the country, hunting the bruisers found in the suburban sprawl surrounding our capital is a totally different game. There are big risks and big rewards. You tend to see more deer, and if you are in the right spot, your shot at killing a mature buck go way up.

I’m proud of the success I’ve had over the last few years. I have put in a ton of effort and consistently killed big bucks that I have been proud to hang on my wall. I have asked strangers’ permission for hunting their backyards, spent my afternoons checking trail cameras and driven countless miles to and around the metro-area from my home in the north Georgia mountains. I have been able to achieve this success from a combination of luck, patience, a small amount of skill, but mostly time; time in the stand, time tending food plots, time in the car, all of it time spent alone, devoted to killing bigger and bigger deer.

While hunting the suburbs has been a wonderful experience, it has caused me to fixate exclusively on hunting giant racks, comparing my success to those of social media personalities, as well as my friends hunting the same suburbs. The need to not just hunt big bucks, but to post and share their pictures and win bragging rights has become all-consuming.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with my friend Greg Grimes, a frequent GON contributor and avid outdoorsman, who’s hunting acumen and love for all things in the Georgia woods is something I aspire to. In short, I was talking about a deer that had shown up on my trail cameras in the weeks leading up to the opener. It was coming into my plot daily, and I knew that there was a hunter nearby who was after him. I told Greg that this was “The One” this season, and like other deer from years past, I couldn’t think about anything else. I also mentioned how hard it was going to be to juggle the hunting season with the fact that I had a baby girl due the day before the archery opener.

To paraphrase Greg, he said, “It’s all about the experience, not the deer. It’s great to shoot a monster, but the older you get, the more you realize that being out there and experiencing new things with the people you love is way better.”

If I’m being honest, I completely brushed this off in the moment. I had a deer that I wanted to kill, and I would chase him to the end of the Earth this season. I planned to do whatever I needed to in order to make sure that I had someone watching my kids, helping my wife, etc. so that, despite the fact that I would have a brand-new baby, I could chase this deer, kill it and show everyone my accomplishment.

I don’t want to make excuses here. My mindset was selfish. I am absolutely not painting everyone who takes suburban hunting seriously with this brush, but it was true for me. I would hyper-focus on killing a certain deer, the biggest I could find, and neglect my primary vocations to my wife and children, and it was with this mindset that I set off into the woods last night.

My daughter was born Tuesday evening, a few days early. So I had time to make plans for the opener. I had my son spending the night out, I made sure my wife had support at home, and I woke up at 3:45 a.m. to make the hour-long trek to the north Atlanta suburbs with plenty of time to set up, lock-on and prepare for the morning hunt.

I watched the sunrise over Atlanta yesterday morning 20 feet up a poplar 23 yards from my food plot. I said my morning prayers there, I watched the backyard floodlights fade as the sky brightened, and I watched the birds and squirrels come out to start their day. I got to see a doe and a fawn (late dropper, still in spots), get up from their bedding spot and feed down through the bottom. I watched a few stag parties come into my food plot, but did not see “The One.”

At 9:45 a.m., I headed down the tree and drove to Cumming to watch my son’s football game and drove him home to try to earn some husband-points before heading back for an evening hunt.

By 5:30 p.m., I was back in my climber, watching the deer slowly materialize from the trees around me and start their evening activities. I heard car horns and a neighbor’s deck being built. I watched sweat drip from my brow and ruin my face-paint. I sat until around 7 p.m. when I saw a nice group of bucks moving through the bottom, freshly clean of velvet and occasionally tickling tines.

It was at this point that I thought of Greg’s words about the importance of the experience rather than the kill. I am a religious man, a believer in Jesus Christ, and a sinner, constantly falling short of perfection, but trusting in His mercy, and I thought about all of the blessings God has given me. I thought about my wife, at home with my children, eating dinner and taking turns holding my newborn. I also thought about the bucks in front of me.

They were good-looking deer. Deer that five years ago, before my serious dive into the world of suburban bowhunting, I would have been thrilled to have a shot at. They were deer that weren’t gonna earn me Instagram likes from those who were after 150-plus-inch racks, and they wouldn’t make the Pope and Young minimum. But they were great deer that would scratch my itch to participate in nature and fill my freezer to the brim.

I thought hard about how I wanted the next few months to go. Did I want to be alone in a tree stand, praying and hoping for a B&C behemoth that would get me pats on the back and attaboys from friends and strangers? Or did I want to keep my family fed with fresh venison, and go home to a wife, infinitely understanding and supportive of my passion for hunting, and to my 11-year-old son, who is the best hunting partner I’ve ever had? Did I want to go home to my (now four!) daughters who have me wrapped around their little fingers, or keep trying the outsmart “The One” through mid-November?

I thought about who I wanted to be and who God was calling me to be, and then I thought about the 9-point buck, standing at 21 yards, broadside. I let an arrow fly, watched the buck run and heard him crash. A few minutes later, after his running buddies all settled down from the commotion, a few came back through, and I had another shot opportunity at a second buck that was not going to make a magazine cover but would feed my family and fill my last buck tag. I took this shot too and watched him pile up 40 yards away.

I’ve never tagged out on day one before. I finished quartering them out and putting them in the deep freezer earlier today, and now I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. I look forward to tagging a couple does. I look forward to hunting in a blind with my son. I look forward to spending evenings with my wife and kids who are immeasurably more worthy of my time, love and affection.

It feels a little clique to pine about what really matters. It still feels in some small way to be a “cop-out” or an excuse for the fact that I can’t hunt bucks in the rut or chase them through January, but I am happy to have made the decision I did. I truly feel God was calling me to something higher, not to abandon my pursuits in His creation, but to re-prioritize my pursuit, to chase after the formation of my children and relationship with my bride and to spend my time in His creation with and for those who matter, pursuing what is really important.

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  1. AtlantaDeer on September 19, 2023 at 10:25 am

    Focused on the family, love it! Congrats on the hunt John Henry!

  2. flintlife on September 18, 2023 at 2:04 pm

    Welcome to maturity.

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