You never forget the lessons you learn in the deer woods.
Some people claim to hear voices inside their heads. Most of the time, that’s not good. Hearing voices means you’re either crazy or touched by the Divine, with the former being most likely.
If hearing voices means you’re crazy, I’m certifiable. I don’t hear strange, psychotic voices, though. The voice I hear belongs to my dad, James.
Hunters who’ve had a father figure introduce them to the sport can relate to this. Whether it’s hunting or life lessons, you remember the guidance of that person.
There haven’t been many times that I’ve gone hunting or scouting without hearing my dad’s voice in my head.
Before I go further, let’s rewind 22 years to the small town of Miley, S.C., in Hampton County.
Even though my dad had me in the woods as soon as I could tag along, there is one particular moment that stands out as my first real memory of deer hunting.
Dad and I used to travel down to Miley, where driving deer with dogs is permitted. We belonged to a hunting club where the main focus was conducting dog drives.
I remember the excitement of loading up in the back of the truck and being dropped off to await the moment when the dogs were released.
One day, Dad and I were dropped off on the edge of a swamp. I was only 7 years old at the time, but I still remember the sound of the dogs as they moved closer. Suddenly, bursting through the brush in front of us was a huge buck.
Dad shouldered his Remington 1100 and fired. Unfortunately, the combination of the rushed aim and a frantic leap from the buck resulted in the shot striking the buck’s back leg.
Then, in another stroke of bad luck, my dad’s gun jammed. As he scrambled to correct the malfunctioning weapon, the buck was bent on escape.
I can still hear my dad’s frantic shout, “Shoot, son, SHOOT!”
I really don’t know how, but I pulled it off. I raised my single-shot .410 and fired. As I watched in utter shock, the buck collapsed to the ground. I had killed my first deer.
After we calmed down, I started to realize I had just shot a really BIG buck — at least that’s how the nice 8-pointer looked to a 7-year-old.
I had no idea how much the events of that day would go on to affect my life, but since then, I have been completely hooked on hunting whitetails. If you ask my wife, she’ll say I’m obsessed.
While I don’t recall much of my time in the woods prior to shooting that 8-pointer, I’ve heard stories of how a majority of my dad’s hunts were cut short. Apparently, my attention span was rather short, and a few minutes after finishing the drink and snacks Dad had packed for me, I was ready to go back to the house.
To his credit, he always made time to take me out and share his knowledge with me. He probably thought I wasn’t listening, and I’m sure there were times I wasn’t, but somehow the lessons took root.
He always cautioned me to walk quietly since you never know what you might see. “Take your time and look ahead,” he would say.
He taught me to watch for the slightest movement and how to recognize just part of a deer in the backdrop of the forest.
Dad was never one to get caught up in the latest trends or the next big thing in hunting, and he was more successful than most. He still resides on the same land he grew up on, and he knows it like the back of his hand.
He knows the right places to go, the locations of all the best trails and the best places to set a stand. When I was young, he always pointed out what to look for, like as a section of fence that was down or some other break in the terrain that would make an easy deer crossing and funnel deer.
It took awhile for me to embrace all that Dad tried to teach me. I guess I wanted to prove I could be successful doing things my way. It wasn’t that I didn’t respect his opinion. Truth is, there is no other man I respect more. It’s a shame young men like me don’t often realize the best way to impress our fathers is to listen to their advice so we don’t repeat their mistakes.
Although I always loved hunting and the outdoors, the whitetail passion didn’t really hit overdrive until around 2000.
I remember a particular occasion that year when my dad’s advice came back to me in the form of that voice in my head.
I was carelessly walking down a stretch of creek bottom when I heard him say, “Son, move slowly and watch ahead.”
I slowed down and began scanning the brush in front of me. Next, I caught a glimpse of movement. I paused and picked out a big doe. I shouldered my Winchester .270 and fired a lethal shot. As I began to track the doe, I was still walking slowly and scanning the woods when I saw another doe. The .270 again found its mark.
Another example of The Voice happened in 2003. I was working third shift then, which allowed me to spend a lot of time hunting.
I would get off work in the morning, go straight home, grab my gear and hit the woods. I had taken a few decent bucks that year, but it all came together one Sunday evening.
It had been raining most of the day but turned to a light drizzle toward evening. I distinctly heard Dad say, “I have killed a lot of nice deer in drizzling rain.” I grabbed my gear and headed to my stand.
After settling in the box blind, I began to daydream. The rain had stopped, and the sun was shining through the trees, illuminating the wet forest floor.
While I paused to admire the beauty of the forest after the fresh rain, I noticed movement to my right.
At first, all I saw was how the rack shone in the sun. It was one of those deer that didn’t require a second look to know it was a mature buck.
I eased up my rifle and tried to locate the buck in the scope. I managed to find the vitals through a small opening in the brush, but my nerves were making the crosshairs dance a lively jig.
Most hunters have experienced that sensation and know there’s a critical moment when panic can easily set in and cause a rushed – and almost always poor – shot.
Luckily, Dad’s voice sounded in the back of my mind again. It was like he was sitting in the stand beside me as I heard, “Just slow down, son. Take your time and squeeze the trigger.”
I lowered my rifle and took a couple of deep breaths. When I raised the gun and found the vitals again, I was steady as a rock.
I gently squeezed the trigger and didn’t have to watch the buck fall just 25 yards distant to know the shot had been perfect.
It took a moment to compose myself before I got down to inspect my new trophy. The experience was that much sweeter when my dad, also my best friend, joined me to help get the buck out of the woods.
I heard his voice again, only this time he was standing right there with me: “I am proud of you, son.”
I hear my dad’s voice a lot, whether hunting or in everyday life. He might not have thought I was listening when I was younger, but I was.
Anybody who has the chance to introduce someone to the sport of hunting, please take it. You never know how your time and words might influence someone’s life.
And if the person who introduced you to the woods is still living, let them know how much their gift has touched your life.
I have begun to take my 4-year-old son Dylan hunting with me. I hope our trips will impact him as much as time in the woods with my dad influenced me.
Thank you, Dad, for everything.
Read Recent Articles:
• ‘Squiggles’ Makes a Mistake: You never know when a giant might mess up and make a daytime appearance.
• Never Stop Scouting: You can’t adjust to changing deer patterns if you don’t have the right information.
This article was published in the October 2014 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.