The only division in this family is when debating who had the best time.
While every day spent hunting is a good day, some are better than others. For James Whetzel Sr. and 11-year-old Starr Young, their best day ever started at 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 30, 2017.
The adventure started with a softly whispered “Wake up, Starr. It’s almost time to go.” That quiet prodding from Paw-Paw to his adoring grandchild was all it took. Hurrying out of bed, Starr was dressed in a wink. Maw-Maw’s breakfast eaten and snacks packed for later, the two headed out the door.
Anticipation was running high during the 45-minute drive to the Floyd County, Virginia, hunting land. So was doubt and nervousness.
Paw-Paw James knows those feelings, too, so he keeps Starr occupied with quiet talk and a quick prayer to ask for blessing on whatever the day might bring.
The drive finished, yet another hurdle remained, a 1-mile walk to a little hunting shack, nothing more than an oversized wooden shipping crate resting on a wood base. Cut-out holes allowed for shooting in several directions.
Two hunters, one blessed of many years and one just beginning her outdoor adventures, settled in.
Minutes move slowly in the quiet, but Paw-Paw’s stories of his younger days soon make them fly by. Starr loves her Paw-Paw’s stories, visualizing each one in vivid detail.
“Paw-paw, can I take a nap?” she whispers.
“Yes, you can,” he says with a slight grin. “If I see anything, I’ll wake you up.” James feels her snuggle up against him as she has done numerous times before.
Ten minutes pass before James hears some rustling below. Looking around, he spies a deer about 40 yards away.
“Starr … Starr, wake up!” James whispers, adding a few taps against her leg. “I see a deer.”
Sure enough, a deer has crossed the fence onto their side of the property. Sitting up, Starr tries to focus her blurry eyes to the area where Paw-Paw is pointing.
“I know it’s a buck,” he said. “I can see antlers, but I can’t see how many.”
“I think it looks like 6 like my first buck, but bigger,” Starr said.
“When you are ready, take the shot if you want to,” he responds.
Raising her youth-sized .243, Starr slowly puts the barrel out the window. Even in a youth version, the rifle is unwieldy for the little girl's tiny frame.
As she fidgets to get the buck in her scope, she says, “What if I miss?”
“Take your time,” Paw-Paw James says.
It’s a real struggle for the hunting veteran to try to remain calm for his granddaughter as every second that passes could be the one when the buck decides to flee.
“Are you going to shoot?” he asks.
Fortunately, the buck doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. He remains under an apple tree, stretching his neck to grab another bite.
“Are you going…”
BAM! James can’t help starting violently as the sound hits him like a physical blow.
“You got him, Starr! That’s my girl!” he says, grabbing her for a one-arm hug.
“I didn’t think you were ever going to shoot,” he said. “I was sure he was going to get away.”
“I was nervous,” she says with a grin. “I was afraid I wasn’t going to hit him and you would be disappointed.”
“You did an awesome job,” James replied. “Let’s go see your deer.”
Paw-Paw James and Starr step out of the shack and eagerly walk the 40 yards to the apple tree. Starr looks at her Paw-paw and says, “He’s big.” Then she walks over and kneels beside the deer and starts to count points.
Eight, nine, 10, 11... It’s an eleven pointer, Paw-Paw!” She exclaims. Paw-paw walks over for a high-five and a hug.
“I knew you could do it,” he says, squeezing in another hug.
Hearing the shot, the landowner soon shows up with his tractor to haul the giant buck to the truck. “That’s a really big deer for such a young lady,” he says.
Later at the check in station, Starr proudly hands the woman her hunter safety card as others gather to look at the buck and congratulate her. Paw-Paw stands nearby wearing a jaw-cracking grin.
It’s hard to tell who had the better day, grandfather or grandchild. When asked, both claim the day as theirs. Maybe it really can be both.