“Dad, I want to move my stand. I’m not seeing any deer.” Those words reflected a mixture of teenage enthusiasm and boyish impatience. As a father, my response was simple. “Son, every main ridge on this farm leads to your stand. Just be patient, you will see deer.”
But as anyone who’s raised teenage boys knows, repeating oneself is a necessity. So there have been a multitude of conversations that revolved around moving my son’s stand and if he relocated, would he have a better chance at killing a buck?
These debates usually ended with me saying what I had already said a dozen times or more. “Be patient. It’s the rut and the bucks will be cruising those ridges in an attempt to find a receptive doe.”
On November 8th, the wind direction prevented us from hunting in the morning. Anxiously waiting for the wind to switch from it’s southerly direction to a more westerly one, I quietly wondered if this day would end in a bust. A bright moon had illuminated the previous evening and the deer had no doubt been very active throughout the night. “Would we even see any deer at all,” was the nagging question as I walked to my stand.
Around 2:00 in the afternoon, almost at the exact time the moon was underfoot, I saw a button buck feeding in the nearby corn. Not long after I heard deer running and saw a flicker of tail. The deer were moving. This was a sign of good things to come.
Meanwhile an impatient teenager was sending his father regular inquiries and asking if I was seeing deer or not. “C anything,” seemed to appear every five minutes on my phone.
Knowing the timing was right and all things were in his favor, I texted my son and told him to try rattling and grunting.
Literally in a matter of minutes, my phone was ringing.
A shaky voice on the other end of the line said, “Dddaadd, I jjjusst shottt the biggesttt buckk of my life!”
The rewards of a rattling sequence and a well-placed arrow had him rattled (in a good way). Matter of fact we were both a little excited, to say the least.
As a father, my emotions were sky high! I couldn’t help but think how 400-yards away from my stand was a boy who had practiced shooting his bow nearly every day. He eats and sleeps archery. He doesn’t play sports—he hunts. He’s never been interested in video games—but he has watched dozens of educational videos on whitetail hunting. He lives to be outdoors in God’s creation. And today he was rewarded with a respectable whitetail that he rattled in himself. My son had just been rewarded for his dedication and persistence. Rewarded for doing what he loves to do even though others may not understand.
As I walked up to a grin that stretched from ear-to-ear, we hugged and shared the moment together. Sharing this experience with my son was the ultimate reward.
Rattled and rewarded never felt so good.
It was Christmas and the old farmhouse rang with laughter. Gathered around the dining room table our family spent the evening sharing memories and spinning yarns. As always, this included the telling of hunting stories.
Seated at the far end of the table, my 93-year-old grandfather kept us in stitches. Blessed with good health and a sharp mind, he still remembers more than he has forgotten, including how to use his dry sense of humor.
Wanting my three boys to hear their great-grandfather’s hunting stories, I asked, “Grandpa, when did our family start hunting in Grayling, Michigan?” He cleared his throat and said, “It was around 1927… ” and for at least an hour we sat captivated by his stories.
His gnarled hands motioned as he described drooping pine boughs and big antlers. Tales of bad blizzards and the biggest buck he ever saw captivated our attention. Spellbound, we listened of the War years when ammo was scarce and all he had was a couple rounds for an old .32 Winchester Special.
We grew tense as grandpa remembered being lost in the big Michigan woods. His experiences of tenting in the cold and stalking bucks in the snow were book worthy. We smiled as he told of all the effort that went into crippling an old car across the miles, just so he could hunt another season.
It was an honor to listen to sixty plus years of hunting reminisces.
When Grandfather finished, I asked if he had kept his little red hunting hatchet and he assured me that he did. This was the little red hatchet he carried for as long we had hunted together.
It was with that little red hatchet and a swift stroke that Grandpa would send a piece of pine bark flying. Exposing a bright white blaze on selected trees, those marks would become my roadmap to and from where I was hunting. With a Marbles compass and those ivory crescents, he made sure I could find my way in the dawn or darkness.
My interest in the hatchet is founded in the belief – this isn’t an ordinary hatchet. Maybe I’m just sentimental, but in my heart I believe the hatchet represents a whole lot more.
There is a legacy represented in that pitch stained piece of steel. That hatchet is a memoir of a mentor who passed on a heritage of hunting and the great outdoors. Every tree he blazed not only pointed me forward but it pointed back to a man who found it important to give his grandson an appreciation for the finer things in life. From that old Remington to his dog-eared Bible, he taught me there are some things you hold on to forever.
Today, my reason for hunting exceeds a high scoring set of antlers. Through experience I have learned there is value in spending time in the outdoors. The passion that began with a little red hatchet is now carved deeply into my family’s lifestyle.
As grandfather finished his stories, my mind began to wander. On this Christmas, I realized the greatest gift I had ever been given couldn’t be packaged under a tree. The greatest gift my grandfather ever gave was the time he spent teaching me about the great outdoors.
Eight-five years have passed since my grandfather started hunting. Times have changed and hunting has changed with them. The one thing that remains the same is my opportunity to teach another generation about the best things in life.
You may not own a little red hatched, but each of us holds the power to blaze a way for the next generation. Lets pass on the marks made by the little red hatchet. Take the time to introduce someone to hunting and God’s great outdoors. It may be the best gift you’ll ever give.
By Randy Hynes expressly for The Sportsman Channel