As another year wound down, I again took part in an annual holiday tradition. It was December 29, and I was on a late-season bow hunt in north Missouri
From the ground, I watched as dark clouds rolled across a gray sky. The weather had been relatively mild, but an approaching front was dropping temperatures fast. It promised to be a good night for deer movement.
I was trying to find a good stand location, and eventually I came across an ideal spot. On the edge of a grassy hillside, I noticed several trails funneling into a hardwood thicket. Multiple tracks and fresh sign indicated several deer were using the area.
Unfortunately, the only straight tree big enough to hang a stand in was a thorny locust. As I debated how much I really want to sit there, I was reminded of a lesson my grandpa taught me years ago: If you want something bad enough, you’re going to have to work for it.
So, armed with his advice (and a good pair of gloves) I began the tedious job of clearing thorns and hanging my stand.
I got set up, and within minutes movement from the side caught my eye. Carefully, I leaned around the tree for a better look. Sure enough, a large deer was working across the hillside, 90 yards behind me. Through the briars and tall grass, I could see antlers as he raised his head. A couple of soft grunts from my call got his attention, and he started working my way.
From what I could tell, he looked like a decent 8-pointer. A nice surprise, as I only expected does this late in the year. At 65 yards, he made it to a little clearing and turned his head. By then I was really excited. He had four points on his left side, but he was showing six on the right, with good width and tremendous mass.
“He’s a giant!” raced through my head.
Eventually, the big 10-pointer made it into my 30-yard shooting lane. All I needed was for him to look away, look down or look anywhere else so I could draw.
Finally he looked away, and I drew my bow. Just then, he swung his head back and picked me off in the tree. I hurriedly settled the 30-yard pin behind his shoulder and squeezed the release. At the same time he whirled around. I watched the arrow sail harmlessly over his back as he bounded away.
My only thought was, “No! No! No! That didn’t just happen.” I hung my head against the tree and stared down in disbelief.
Back at my dad’s place, I told the story with a halfhearted smile. My 4-year-old son, Sam, listened intently. He told me he wanted to feel the antlers and touch the fur. “Daddy, I want to go to deer hunting,” he said.
“Not tonight, Bub. Daddy blew it,” was my only reply.
My wife, Katie, and our 1-year-old, Tyler, arrived to a full house the following night. I related the story again, and by then I was able to tell it with a whole-hearted smile. What was more important to me was that our families made the trip safely, and we were celebrating a belated Christmas together.
A day later, on New Year’s Eve, the phone rang and my stepmom answered. “Yeah, he’s right here,” she said, and handed me the phone.
Right then I knew what it was. I could hear Mom crying on the other end of the line. “It’s your grandpa,” she said. “He passed away in his sleep early this morning.”
My grandpa, who I am proudly named after, was 91 and had been in failing health for some time. We made the trip to Iowa that past Thanksgiving to say our final good-byes. I wanted him to see both of his great-grandchildren, the oldest of which is also named after him. I knew then it would be the last time we’d see him down here.
I had tried to prepare for this moment because we knew it was coming. But it’s still a shock when it finally happens. I consoled Mom as best I could, and we discussed the funeral arrangements.
“Wednesday afternoon,” she said. I told her we’d be up Monday. Thankfully, I was surrounded by a supportive family. Most everyone on my dad’s side knew and loved Grandpa, and they mourned his loss along with me.
By Sunday morning, New Year’s Day, the initial shock of Grandpa’s passing had worn off, and we continued to enjoy time together with our families. Everyone else was heading back home that day, so we said our goodbyes and Katie and I started packing for our trip to Iowa.
I then remembered leaving my stand in the woods. I wanted to retrieve it before we left, so I decided to hunt from it one last afternoon and bring it in after dark. A quiet evening in the woods was just what I needed anyway—a chance to reflect and enjoy the solitude after an emotional weekend.
As I drove to the cattle gate where I enter the farm, I noticed a beer bottle in the road. For a second, I debated whether or not to mess with it. I preach in my hunter education classes about leaving your hunting ground in better shape than you found it, and Grandpa always taught me that actions speak louder than words. So I tossed the empty bottle into the back of my truck and continued toward my stand.
By midafternoon, I was safely strapped in my tree and ready to enjoy the hunt. The weather was calm and the woods were unusually quiet.
After about an hour, movement from the side caught my eye. I looked back and glimpsed another buck moving through the tall grass. He was in the same area where my big 10-pointer came from.
As I peered through my binoculars, I was thinking, “There’s no way it’s him. That brute has got to be in the next county by now.” But sure enough, there were four points on his left side, six on the right. It was him. And he was coming down the trail right to me!
After an excruciating 10 minutes, he finally worked to within 20 yards and was walking past a giant sycamore tree. As soon as his head disappeared, I drew my bow. In the quiet calm of the woods, the friction of the arrow sliding against the rest made just the slightest noise. Unfortunately, it was enough to stop him in his tracks.
All I could see was his back end. I watched him tense up as his hind leg made a slight step backwards. For a second I thought, “Oh no, not again!”
After a lengthy standoff, the giant buck finally stepped out. I put my top pin behind his shoulder and squeezed the release. The deer jumped straight up and bounded off into the thicket.
A bloody arrow was sticking in the ground where the deer once stood. It was a perfect shot—a clean pass through, right behind the shoulder.
Then I got the shakes. The remarkable chain of events that led to that moment finally sunk in. Throughout my 30 years of deer hunting, I’ve never even heard of a second-chance story like this. Two chances? From the same stand? With the same deer? It just doesn’t happen that way.
Then it dawned on me. I had help.
With a rush of adrenaline, I hurried down the tree and sprinted up the hill to get a phone signal. I had to tell someone. I got a weak signal and called Dad at the house.
“Get the four-wheeler and bring my family,” I hollered through the static.
Next, I gave Mom a call, and this is when I really lost it. The events of the last three days were taking their toll. When she answered the phone, I babbled incoherently.
“Grandpa did it, Grandpa did it,” I finally said. “He was with me tonight. He’s OK!”
Later that night, after I gained my composure, Dad and I loaded Grandpa’s 10-pointer onto the four-wheeler and brought him back to my waiting family. Everyone was just as excited as I was. Sam was bundled up and anxiously waiting.
“I want to go to deer hunting, Daddy. I want to feel the antlers,” he pleaded.
Three days later, at Grandpa’s funeral, I placed a photo of our family and the deer in his casket. On the back I’d written a note thanking him for all he’d taught me throughout his life and, most important, for letting us know he was all right.
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