IF Only I Could Have Made Time Stand Still…
The fruits of our labor came to fruition that December, ‘97, but as with all good things my son, Tylers’, 1st PA deer season started long before hand, with several spring and summer preseason scouting trips at camp, installing a safe tree stand later that summer with the help of our fellow camp members, taking the Pennsylvania Hunter’s Safety Course together, shooting in Tyler’s Winchester 7-30 Waters at the local shooting range, spending many an evening looking over deer photos together discussing proper shot placement opportunities (and as important, when not to shoot), heading out to the local sporting good stores to spend dad’s money purchasing all the huntin’ gear for Ty’s 1st season, and more.
We hunted small game, mostly squirrels, in the same area where we would hunt deer a few weeks later, providing us added opportunities to watch some whitetails moving through in the mornings and evenings, better determine what bucks were traveling in the area, the trails they were using and just as important for my son to become accustomed to having deer move by us in the woods. And as enjoyable and memorable as that first small game season was together, photo ops and all, it went without saying the real focal point of our season would be deer season, a true Pennsylvania tradition and my first w/ my son. Like dads out there everywhere with sons growing up, I’d been looking forward to this for a number of years and the time had finally arrived.
Reality set in Sunday afternoon, Nov 30, ’97, when we headed to camp that afternoon after church, complete with all kinds of gear, guns, camp food, tree stand grub, sleeping bags - you name it, we packed it. Our other camp members arrived throughout the day as well and we enjoyed all the fellowship you can at camp, a memorable evening meal together and all the fun and kidding around that goes with bein’ at camp. Following a few late night card games, all were off to bed with great anticipation, with big whitetail bucks dancing in our heads. It was my first deer season with my son, something I looked forward to with tremendous anticipation over the last few years without question. We shared this experience with another camp member whose son was also experiencing his first Pennsylvania deer hunt, which made it all the more special.
That Monday morning it didn’t take much for all of us to make it to the breakfast table for a high cholesterol feast of eggs, bacon, ham, milk, toast ‘n coffee. Everyone prepared for the slow long walk up the mountain to their respective tree stands without saying much of anything….but conversation wasn’t necessary, all understood what was about to happen at sunrise, it was the first day of Pennsylvania buck season and we knew from much preseason scouting nice bucks were there for the taking. Ty & I hiked in together, we had the longest walk, carefully placed the tree steps in, climbed up what I knew was a well-positioned stand, loaded up the deer rifle and got comfortable. There was truly no better place to be in the world at that moment, I was sitting beside my son watching the sun rise on the first day of Ty’s 1st Pennsylvania buck season. All was right with the world. As the day awoke we had the good fortune of watching game all day, from big gray squirrels to red tail hawks screaming overhead to wild turkeys feeding across the flat below us. We saw quite a few deer that day as well, including a dandy buck mid afternoon clearly in rut attempting to breed a nervous doe that, unfortunately, never provided Ty a solid shot. As much as he wanted to bag that buck, my hat was off to him for passing on shots we both knew weren’t good opportunities. No matter, we stayed in that tree stand ‘till dusk, something I was accustomed to but quite impressed my son would stick it out at his age. We walked out that evening together, my son & I, in the same darkness we walked in with that morning.
Back at camp we quickly learned 2 camp members connected with nice bucks that day, and most of the fellas were leaving camp to return to those worldly obligations that undeservedly take men from the mountains. Only 1 other fella & his son remained to hunt Tuesday, and I left to Ty whether he would cut school and hunt another day; the conscientious school student he was, he honestly wrestled with it, eventually deciding to my surprise (but true satisfaction to be honest with ya’) to stay and hunt w/ the old man.
This sound wisdom proved to be a decision that made the scrapbooks for all time. It was early to bed that night after another great dinner, not so much from having only a few guys in camp but more so as we were totally exhausted from all day Monday in the tree stand. Up just as early Tuesday, Dec 2, and after downing another heart threatening high cholesterol breakfast, we made the long trek to the tree stand, climbed up, loaded the rifle and settled in well before another beautiful sunrise. Only my son carried the rifle these days as this was his time, and I was along for the ride and to soak it all in. And that we did, watching a beautiful red fox shortly after daybreak come dancing up the hollow by our stand, more gray and a few fox squirrels running through the tree tops and even a couple more wild turkeys coming off roost.
At 7:15 AM, I saw “him” coming up the hollow from well below us; I wasn’t sure it was he at first, but it didn’t take long to see the flash of the horns. I knew with my first good view of him we were not looking at a small young buck coming up the trail. I wasn’t sure Ty was even awake and saw him coming, and didn’t want to say much ‘till I determined the trail the buck was on. I then nudged Ty to be sure he had all his faculties together, suggesting he lay his 7-30 Winchester across the stand’s rail and then pointed out the big bruiser slowly walking up the trail. Within moments the buck was within 100 yards, for whatever reason he stopped abruptly broadside just shy of an opening along a well used trail that would have provided my son a great shot, and then to my utter disappointment, as whitetails often to with that keen sixth sense of theirs, the buck jumped the opening and stood rock still in an overgrown thicket, showing us only his legs, head and neck and no solid shoulder shot. A neck shot was the only proper shot placement at that moment, but this was at 100+ yards and with a 12 year old boy shooting at his first deer, “no way” I thought to myself. My heart was pounding; I can only imagine what shape he was in! I said nothing as Ty viewed him through the scope, and then with a surprising calm he whispered, “Dad, I have a clean shot”. I knew a neck shot would be a clean harvest or a clean miss, so quietly advised he take a breath and drop that buck, and after a few seconds, when the 7-30 barked, Ty did just that and that whitetail buck dropped like a sack of potatoes, true to form. I watched Ty eject the brass and reload a new cartridge, and as hard as it was we sat for a few moments (until I couldn’t stand it any longer) to be sure the buck was down. Ty then emptied the rifle; we climbed from the stand, reloaded and walked toward the bruiser. Some halfway there, I looked over my son’s shoulder and saw that beautiful buck laying there harvested cleanly, with a widespread 6-point rack the likes of which I’d not harvested in PA in some 30 years. I couldn’t have put an “X” on a more perfect spot to hit that buck, a testament to my son’s efforts at the shooting range that summer.
After a whooping celebration that hunters in the next county still talk about to this day, we sat together, my son and I, and admired his PA trophy over some hot chocolate in Penn’s Woods. I soaked in every moment that went by way too fast. Field dressing the buck together, tagging him and dragging him down the mountain to camp all went way too quickly.
Tyler’s first Pennsylvania deer season is now a sweet memory I will cherish all my years, one my son will not forget I am sure as well. We’ve shared many great times together in Penns Woods since, but there’s just something about that first time. Ty’s buck mount now hangs proudly in our den for all time, I look at it more often than I care to admit and relive very detail of that morning. All was truly right with the world for those moments that morning…..if only I could have made time stand still.