Nine years had passed since I last set out to hunt a big game animal with a rifle. Coincidently, my oldest son, Isaac was just nine months old at that time. This season, I wanted Isaac, now nine years old, to accompany me on a "real" hunt. He has sat for hours in antelope blinds and been with me on several other hunts over the past nine years, but this year I wanted him to feel the emotions of a real big game hunt. Sore legs, tired feet, cold hands. I decided to open the gun safe and bring out my Remington 700 XCR in .300 WSM and head north to my old stomping grounds for a whitetail hunt with my dad.
The night before we left, Isaac and I spent a few hours out in the desert sighting in my rifle, which I had recently adorned with a new Vortex Viper PST 4-16X50 scope. Isaac also got his first experience shooting a high-powered rifle, and although he took it well, he was OK with only taking one shot. The next morning, we drove the five hours north to my parents home with my wife and other two children, and prepared for hunting deer the next day.
On Thursday morning my dad, who had scouted out a great whitetail area just a few minutes from his home, accompanied Isaac and me. We arrived at the end of the road above the deep canyon and packed our gear into our packs. It was clear and cold - perfect conditions to spot a big buck chasing does. With enough food and gear to stay out all day, we headed down into the canyon. It's a special feeling to have your son at your side, decked out in camo, toting his own backpack, and excitedly soaking in the sights and sounds of the great outdoors. As we hiked down the rim of the canyon, I kept stopping to point out certain features and signs of the hunt, as well as reminding Isaac to take deliberate steps to keep his feet from making too much noise. He softly reminded me that his steps were noisier than usual because he was just trying to keep up with me. I slowed down, smiling, grateful to be the student on this special day.
The hiking was easy, but I knew that what went down had to eventually come back up, and I was concerned I might be dragging Isaac into more of a hike than he was expecting. His continuous smile eased my worries and we continued on. As we approached the bottom of the canyon we side-hilled up a grassy slope to get a vantage point above a large creek-bottom flat. We stopped to put our Vortex optics to work and my Dad immediately spotted a buck chasing a doe out of the bottom and onto the flat below us. We weren't able to get a good look at the buck before he dropped into a ravine, but he appeared to be a mature buck and we instantly headed for the bottom of the draw to plan our stalk.
We reached the bottom and began scaling the near vertical hillside that would bring us directly above the flat the buck had been traveling towards. My first instinct was to sprint up the hill and get into position before the buck passed through the flat, but as I turned to take Isaac's hand to help him up the muddy hillside, I knew better. This was his hunt. It was true, I had the tag and the rifle, but this was Isaac's hunt. He was going to be sitting by my side when I pulled the trigger, or I wasn't going to shoot.
We crested the ridge above the flat and found a doe, but no buck. He had already passed through the opening and had disappeared into the ravine to our left. Isaac and I were both glassing the creek bottom when my Dad whispered, "There he is." The buck was following a doe from the ravine back out into the flat. My Dad quickly whispered the distance as I dropped to my rear and rested the rifle on my knees. I glanced back over my shoulder and could see Isaac covering his ears, preparing for the shot.
The buck only made it 40 yards after the shot before piling up in the middle of the flat. My Dad reached out to bump my fist as Isaac expressed his concerns that he didn't think I would be able to hit the buck. Three generations of hunters made their way down to the buck, led by Isaac's youthful and tireless steps. He walked up to the buck and grabbed its rack like he had been doing it for years. His smile said it all and didn't leave his face, except for a brief moment while he was running his knife up the belly of the deer. Even after a short, odoriferous lesson on anatomy, the smile wasn't to be wiped off his face.
It's going to be a long, 3-year wait until Isaac is old enough to carry a big game tag of his own. I'm not sure who will anticipate his first shot most. I do, however, know that when he takes that first shot, I want to be at his side. For me, hunting has always been about more than trophies and success. If I had to compare though, it'll be hard to beat the success and the trophy we found on this trip.