My dad was determined to raise his sons with plenty of father/son bonding time—a relational cornerstone that eluded him while growing up. He chose several activities for us to enjoy together; however, to this day, hunting is one we come back to every year. Memories of hunting with Dad began more than 30 years ago and are still fresh today. One of my favorite memories involves Dad’s efforts to keep me warm in a deer stand with him by wrapping me up in a trash bag.
Years later, as deer and turkey populations began to flourish near our home in northwest Arkansas, Dad purchased a 105-acre tract of land only 25 minutes from our home. Recently, my 12-year-old son harvested his first black bear on that property. The hunting tradition has now come full circle.
A Special Bond
In 1993, I was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease, where my immune system was destroying my kidney tissue. The disease can result in kidney failure, and had done so for me by early 2003. Dad was the first to insist I take one of his kidneys. At the time, he was 59 years old and the usual “cut-off” age for donors was 57. I was honored and thrilled as he passed all his donor tests with flying colors.
I’ll never forget the chills I felt watching my dad being prepped for surgery. It was so incredibly scary and humbling to see my father risking his life for me. Most of us grow up looking up to our fathers, thinking he’s the strongest man in the world. On September 3, 2003, my dad proved it by donating a kidney, taking our father/ son bond to the ultimate level. I now take advantage of every opportunity to spend time with Dad, and what better way to do so than to get outdoors and enjoy a special hunt together?
Most recently, Dad and I celebrated 4 years of good health in Wyoming, with our first Western adventure featuring a combination spot-and-stalk hunt for mule deer and pronghorns.
The drive was an adventure in itself: from seeing familiar hardwood forests give way to open plains, watching temperatures drop from the 80s to the 40s; and witnessing Dad spot his first muley and first pronghorn from the truck.
On the first day of the hunt Dad and I woke up to rain that kept us anxiously pacing at camp until noon. But soon we were in the field experiencing our first close encounter with mule deer when we bumped two small bucks, and later several does.
The second day of the hunt was incredible. On our guided hunts, Dad is always up to bat first, and during day No. 2 our guide spotted a few shooter bucks feeding a mile away. It was amazing to see how he used open country to hide us as we closed the distance. When we arrived near the landmark where the deer were last seen, they were nowhere to be found. Little did we know that they were bedded less than 100 yards away, and soon their satellite-dish ears had us pegged. We located them again only after they were hopping away.
Dad could barely spit out, “That was a big one!” before our guide had us running up a nearby hill to get Dad a shot at one of those muleys. Sure enough, he set Dad up with a 300-yard broadside shot on the bucks in the saddle below us. One had a tall rack and the other had a wide rack; Dad took aim at the wide-racked deer.
Without the time to consider the howling wind in the saddle, he shot just in front of the deer. They were off and running again with no chance of a second shot. My heart sank. Dad soon said, “That would have been a great one to get.” I’ll never forget our guide’s next words: “Well, the day’s not over yet.” His words turned out to be prophetic—after all, it was only 9 a.m.
The next 7 hours sent us on a multi-mile and very scenic journey that included lunch on a pine-studded hillside, hiking through old Native American teepee rings and watching several deer—including a few smaller bucks. Around 4 p.m., while Dad and I were entertained by a 2×2 muley on a hillside 200 yards away, our guide spotted a shooter deer feeding on a hillside nearly a mile away through his spotting scope. The deer soon bedded down, revealing his friend currently enjoying an afternoon break. Could this be the same two bucks Dad had a chance at earlier this morning?
Once again the guide devised a master plan to get us in shooting range, and before I knew it, Dad was getting set up on a small knoll only 78 yards from the bucks. Once Dad was set, the guide brought me up incase the opportunity came to take the second deer. We couldn’t believe our eyes … these were the same two bucks Dad shot at earlier!
The deer were still bedded and seemed to be looking directly at us. Fortunately, there was a rock at the top of this hill to hide our movements and provide a great gun rest, but Dad could not take a shot because one deer was bedded in front of the other.
Dad decided to shoot the first deer to stand. Soon the tall-racked buck stood and Dad’s .300 Win. Mag. hit its mark, dropping the deer in its tracks. The second deer jumped up the hill, stopping for a moment to survey the intrusion, giving me a brief window of opportunity that rarely presents itself. My .300 WSM hit its mark as well. A surreal moment forever etched in our minds. Our first father/son double on great mule deer bucks!
More anticipation awaited us on the third morning of the hunt as our pronghorn tags burned holes in our pockets. After surveying and passing on several bucks, our guide revisited an area that had held a mature speed goat the previous week. True to form, our guide found the buck and put Dad in successful shooting range once again, and again his shot hit its mark. The buck was gorgeous, carrying his mass from the base of his 14-inch horns all the way to his ivory tips.
We still had enough light to search for a pronghorn for me. Just a few hillsides away, I was awestruck with a gorgeous buck with a heart-shaped set of horns. We waited for him to feed behind a small hill and made our move. When we were set up, the buck was feeding 300 yards away. This was my chance. Dad’s gun training had proven itself in the past, but never had the target been so far away. The shot rang out—and hit its mark. Wow, what a feeling to harvest a beautiful pronghorn just moments after Dad had done so.
How fortunate I’ve been to have a giving father. Yes, I’m spoiled and, yes, I’ve asked more from my dad than most. But the transplant experience has been a priceless gift. The experience continually reminds me that the greatest trophies in life are moments spent together with loved ones. Thank you, Dad, for ensuring that there will be many more of these moments.