Jared’s Buck -By Jeff Murray
BOWHUNTING WORLD Annual 2006-2007
A Father and Son Bond Through The Best Moments in Bowhunting
For many years, I’ve read about what it’s supposed to be like to.”pass on” the legacy of
hunting. But instead of reading about it, I’m finally experiencing it. Yes, I’m talking about a father-and-son story with a happy ending, but I have to admit it didn’t start our that way. If you’ve ever listened to the enchanting tune, Cat’s in the Cradle by the late Harry Chapin, you’ll understand and appreciate my perspective.
Here’s the chorus:
“And”the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
‘When you coming home, dad?’ ‘I don’ t
know when, but we’ll get together then.”
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
It’s a familiar refrain for many dads. We have to work hard to support our families; kids grow up before we know it; they become adults and get busy before they know it. Today’s life cycle just
doesn’t seem very friendly to endearing and rewarding relationships. And Lord knows I’m as guilty as the rest: It wasn’t until the death of my step-father that I realized I’d cheated him out of precious intimate times together. Now it seemed to be happening to me. Hear the confession of my now-27-year-old son, Jared: “While I admit to wanting to spend more time hunting with my dad, I find myself too busy to make good on my promises. At first, it was a high school and college football career. Then I got married early and we had a daughter. Life is good but tough.”
Though I tried raising Jared with a bow in his hand, he was born an athlete. He was remarkably fleet. He ran (not walked) at eight months and had a chiseled physique right from the cradle. Even as a toddler he lacked so-called baby fat, and his biceps looked like golf balls. He was destined to pump iron in preparation for the gridiron, which ended up out-muscling time on the target archery range during his teen years. But there was always a spark in his eye when we’d shoot our bows. He’d anguish over every shot that didn’t find the 10 ring. I was confident this trait would eventually drive him to become an accomplished archer and bowhunter.
I just hoped it would happen during my lifetime! If it didn’t, however, I had nobody to blame but myself. As a full-time journalist, I wrestled with projects and deadlines that always seemed to steal weekend hours. So as Jared pursued a football career, I pursued my writing career. We
just couldn’t get on the same page….
THE BIRTH OF A
When Jared graduated from college in 2001, we were finally able to hook up together in the deer woods. Jared went
antler-less that year, but it taught him bowhunting’s most valuable lesson: the role of commitment. In 2002, we spent time together scouting a patch of woods that produced some impressive rubs. I remember turning Jared loose, challenging him to hang a stand at the highest percentage spot he could find. When we reconvened a week later, I congratulated him on finding the second best spot.
“But this is a super treestand [location],” he protested. “What are you thinking?”
“You made a classic mistake of stopping where you thought it couldn’t get any better,” I said.
“Follow me and I’ll show you where you can’t miss.” We walked about 100 yards, stopped
where four trails came together like a tic-tac-toe grid, and soaked in the fresh deer sign surrounding us. If that weren’t enough, an aspen tree grew tall and straight in, about 25 yards away.
The only remaining question was when. I remember counseling Jared to plan on some vacation time in October instead of an all-November schedule. From decades of studying the timing of the rut I was positive it would hit
early that year, and I didn’t want Jared to miss out. Fortunately he listened to me. He ended up
arrowing the biggest-bodied buck I’d ever seen. I still remember getting the call at dinnertime.
The date was October 23rd. “Dad, I need help,” Jared said. “l shot a really nice buck!”
“Great, son,” I said. “But what do you need me for? Call one of your football buddies. I’ll meet you later at-.”
“You don’t understand,” Jared interrupted. “He’s huge. I mean, he looks more like a Clydesdale than a whitetail.”
The buck was big, all right. Everything-from his head to his hooves-was enormous. The dressed-out 1O-pointer bottomed out the scales of a local check station at 260 pounds. He was Jared’s first Pope and Young buck, and that magic moment hooked him for life on the cat-and-mouse game of bowhunting trophy whitetails.
But like so many young bowhunters today, it took awhile for the lad’s dedication level to match his expectation level. The next year, for instance, I managed to score on a nice buck while hunting weekends with Jared. He got out early and got out a lot, but by the time we could put things together, some other hunters moved into our two best spots. The following year, Jared ended up shooting a buck that he was convinced would make the Pope and Young minimum. He shot it at first light from a treestand we’d just hung the day before, which was prompted by a week of steady southeast winds. Long story short: the buck shrank by the time he hit the ground. I’ll never forget the look on Jared’s face when we recovered the deer. You could read his mind like a book: Is this really my buck?
Ironically, Jared would be asking the same question this past fall, but for a completely different reason. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself ( but instead of witnessing ground shrinkage, his 2005 buck would grow about 35 inches.
Finally, the two of us were able to hunt
together as a team. The rules of a local deer
-control hunt prevented us from scouting the way we’d like, but we still managed to set up a few stands that looked promising. Truth be told, my whole game plan revolved around anticipating where rutting bucks might cut corners. None of our stands were high-traffic spots.
On opening weekend, we each harvested a doe in compliance with one of the management hunt’s requirements. We spent the next month hunting the “fringes”-observation stands- while we knocked off some more does for a local venison donation effort. Predictably, as the days of October came and went, so did Jared’s confidence. I knew what he was thinking before he said it.
“I haven’t seen a single decent buck, not even next year’s shooter” he complained. “I really think we need to make a move, Pa ”
I’ve been there and blown that. The last thing a serious bowhunter needs to do is make a move for the sake of making a move. “Jared, that’s the best way to mess up a perfectly decent setup,” I lectured.
“These are our best spots, based on our best guesses. Second-guessing ourselves right now
with no new evidence isn’t going to get us anywhere.'”
That evening, I looked at my contour map one more time “just in case.” I found a subtle
bottleneck that I hadn’t seen before. The next time it rained hard or the wind howled I’d toss
a Lone Wolf over my back and hang a backup stand. As luck would have it, the very next day
a northeaster blew at 35. I found what l was looking for right away, and this stand location became Jared’s personal favorite the very first time he hunted it. A narrow ridge paralleling a gurgling creek proved to be a deadly combination: the ridge funneled deer, the creek muffled the kid’s comings and goings.
Now all we needed was a cycling doe or two to pull the bucks out of their aspen and pine woodwork. Bingo! Jared sat the next three mornings and watched the woods explode overnight with sniffing and grunting bucks. The first day for instance, he saw five different bucks,
including one that was about twice the size of his “ground-shrinkage” buck of the previous year. On the next day, Jared passed on a buck that, ironically, I ended up arrowing about week later
(another story for another day). I had to give the kid credit: He was willing to go antler-less if that’s what his quest for a record-book buck ended up dishing out.
Slow-forward to November 3rd. This date’s right up there with the day I married my wife and the days our children were born. I slept in Jared’s basement the previous night, and I remember beating the alarm clock that morning. Before I
hit the shower, I walked outside and tested the elements. It was cool and still-a perfect morning for rattling.
We were situated about a quarter-mile apart and comfortably perched in our treestands long before sunrise. As the eastern sky began to light up, I was seconds away from a hard-core rattling session.
That’s when a vibrating cell phone intervened.
The phone number was Jared’s. I knew something very good or very bad had just happened.
“l think I just shot a
“‘What do you mean, think?”
After some awkward silence that made me real
nervous, Jared said he was nervous. “I’m not sure about the shot. It was a little high and a little far back.”
Frankly, I wasn’t concerned one bit about how
far back the shot was-I’d find that darn
deer if it took us all day and all night. But
a too-high shot can be a buck of a different color. -The”undead zone”of the backstrap area is a non-lethal shot. I didn’t want to go there, but I had to. “How High?” I asked. “Do you think you penetrated the cavity?”
Well, Jared admitted he rushed the shot a bit, but he didn’t think it was that high. After mulling it over we decided to wait till after lunch to track the buck. That’s when I discovered a new rattling technique, compliments of my son. Turns out he rattled before sunrise. His reasoning was that he’d heard deer running around in the dark, and he wanted to keep them in the immediate area till it was legal shooting hours. It worked! His third rattling session produced a big buck, standing motionless in a thicket, behind his right shoulder. The buck was directly down-wind from a well-placed tarsal gland, and he was ticked off. As he tore into a fresh scrape, Jared quickly and quietly exchanged his rattling antlers for his Mathews Switchback.
“l tried focusing on a narrow opening’ about 20 yards away, instead of on the buck’s rack,” Jared recalled. “When his head disappeared behind a tree, I drew and timed the shot when he slipped into the opening.” As I heard those words, I swelled with pride. That’s the
only surefire recipe for meeting the challenge of the Moment of Truth, and my son had mastered it.
The blood trail wasn’t exactly copious, but with each step I grew more and more confident that we’d find this buck-it was a liver-shot blood trail if I’d ever seen one. Indeed, all of our anxiety proved to be a waste of adrenaline.
The buck didn’t make 75 Yards from the impact of the shot. I spied him first. I had to bite my tongue when I got a good look at the rack. Wow I knew this was going to be a whale of a moment,
and I wanted to squeeze every drop of endorphin out of it. We’d split up with Jared examining the last speck of blood, while I monitored the trail and scanned the landscape ahead of us. When I told Jared to come closer for a better look at a new spec of blood, I grabbed him and told him to look over my shoulder. “There! What do you see?” I said. The whites of his eyes widened, we hugged and kissed, and he sprinted for the buck without hesitating. I paused to give thanks and let the kid soak up the ambrosia. Man what a rack. Earlier Jared said he thought it was “150-something.” Now we could not believe our eyes. All we could do was
stand and stare in a daze.
“Are you sure this is the buck you shot, boy?”I teased. “This ain’t no 150-buck … this is a booner!” Instead of ground-shrinkage, this buck enjoyed ground-growth: we later green-scored the rack at 184 1/8 inches! What’s more, it was impressively unique. The tines looked like menacing daggers; they were bladed and sharp-edged, not round and smooth.
Simply put, the score doesn’t come close to reflecting the mass of the tines. As I said, our story ends quite happily, no small thanks to a buck of many lifetimes.
But here’s the main point I want to leave you with: Experiencing another hunter’s triumph can be many times more gratifying than experiencing it yourself. It doesn’t hurt if it’s your son or
daughter, of course, but it shouldn’t matter if it’s a neighbor, a buddy or even a new acquaintance. Perhaps this is the quintessence of “passing it on.”
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