My son Taylor was 3 years old when he and his older brother, Ben, watched “Bambi” for the first time. Ben's reaction was fairly typical for a 5-year-old, but Taylor's was different. As the credits rolled, he turned to me and stated, “I wanna go deer huntin', Dad.”
Interesting, I thought, but surely it will pass. You see, I wasn't a hunter-just wasn't raised to hunt-so I attempted to pacify him with, “Maybe someday, Taylor,” and went on. Well, before long Taylor was asking when that day would come. I finally succumbed to his questioning with an answer: “When you are 10 years old.” He was 4 at the time. Like clockwork, he began reminding me every month or two for the next six years that when he was 10, he was “gonna go huntin'.”
His ear-to-ear smile on his birthday said it all-he was going deer hunting. Unfortunately, I had not prepared well. We did practice a bit with a rifle I borrowed from my dad, a Savage .250-3000, a beautiful lever-action piece of history. When the season began, we spent the first day of the hunt sitting in a weak excuse for a blind I'd built, waiting, but nothing showed. As we walked away from the stand I said with unconfessed guilt, “Well, we went deer hunting, Taylor. We just didn't kill anything.” I wouldn't have known what to do if we had. The good news is God was looking down on that little boy and his somewhat lame father and said, “That boy's a hunter, and I've got a plan.”
At the same time of this “hunt,” my father-in-law (“Pa Pa” as he was known by the grandkids) was laying rock in central Texas on a large ranch. We had barely gotten home from the field when he called and asked if I'd like to bring Taylor up to hunt on that ranch. There was no need to ask Taylor. We started getting ready for a real hunt.
When we arrived, Pa Pa put us in a treestand and told us he was going to be a distance away hunting himself. I think he, out of love and pity, allowed me to accompany Taylor alone. It wasn't long before a young 4-point buck jogged in front of us, not stopping, and then headed for the hills. Taylor put the Savage up to his shoulder as soon as he saw the buck and watched it through the scope as it briskly moved up the hill about 150 yards away. I knew it was all over when Taylor fired the shot. The buck immediately dropped. This was a first for both of us, and it was absolutely breathtaking.
“Wow wee, I can't believe it!” Taylor said.
“Pa Pa's not gonna believe it!” I replied.
We were downright giddy. Over and over we stated that we could not believe what happened. What a shot. What a beautiful animal. What a grandpa!
After a while we decided to get back in that stand and see if something else might come along and, sure enough, a nice-sized doe stepped into view. Taylor sent another animal to deer heaven. This one wasn't as clean, but Taylor took it well. We dragged that deer away and got back in the stand. This time I said, “Taylor, you think I might shoot the next one if another comes by?” He quickly agreed and, again, another doe came by to offer an easy shot to a virgin hunter.
When Pa Pa came back for us we had three deer waiting for him. Was that ever an exciting time! My father-in-law was so kind, so generous and such a good Pa Pa. We had to depend on him to teach us how to clean the animals. He warned us that three knives slicing away on an animal could lead to someone getting hurt and, wouldn't you know, it was Pa Pa that I cut-but not too bad, nothing a couple Band-Aids couldn't fix.
The next year Taylor took me hunting, and he invited his older brother to join us. Sure enough, both got their deer that year. Taylor's other grandpa, my dad, started getting in on the action, too, taking Taylor on hunts in South Texas. With him, Taylor not only killed deer, but also took his first of many hogs. Before long he was onto coyotes and birds.
Most dads teach their sons to hunt, but it was the other way around for us. Taylor taught me, and he continues to do so. Thank God for hunting and grandpas taking up my slack. This is a beautiful life.