Finding time for son’s first deer

A year ago at this time I was writing a column reviewing that fall’s archery season. It was my favorite to date after two magical experiences.

I was able to harvest the largest buck of my hunting career in late October. And while that was definitely a thrill I will never forget, it was a distant second to sitting with my daughter Bella as she shot her first deer on her first ever hunt a few weeks earlier with a crossbow.

Going into the 2018 deer season I made it my goal to once to enjoy that same experience with my son. River practiced with the kids’ crossbow over the summer and I was confident the 8-year-old would be able to make a good shot if the opportunity presented itself.

Opening morning we were on the mountain in hopes of getting a close shot at a standing whitetail. However, no deer were spotted on his initial sit. We headed back to camp to grab some lunch and make plans for the evening. While enjoying down time at our cabin I gave him the option to hunt or head home and do something else.

I didn’t want to push him to hunt more than he desired, especially knowing deer movement would likely be at a minimum because the warm temperatures on the September opener.

After discussing options, he chose to hunt. We picked a location where he would be comfortable and give us the best chance to see deer. That selection was a good one as three does appeared to our right. I quickly got his crossbow into position as we watched the whitetails work to our left through some hemlock.

His best chance for a shot would be if the deer continued left into a nice opening. Young hunters have trouble picking up animals in a scope, so I hoped one of the does would give him a quality shooting chance. Unfortunately, the group started to feed away from us as we watched them disappear into the thick trees.

My favorite part about that hunt was that River was not upset he did not get a shot. He commented how it was cool to see deer that close. I also was proud he was able to see them initially and followed them through small openings while waiting for a good shot. They were close enough for a seasoned archer, just not in a location I wanted him to shoot.

Rain, wind and a busy fall sports schedule kept the second grader off the mountain the next few weeks. As I did with my daughter the previous year, I watched the conditions until a free night occurred that I thought would be were perfect to get him back out in the woods.

Too many parents make kids hunt in conditions that leave a bad impression of hunting. The last thing I wanted to happen during his first year hunting was to have him hunting without seeing any deer.

The next time Mother Nature and his schedule allowed for a quality hunt was a Friday afternoon in mid-October. My dad picked River up at school and met me at our cabin.

That weekend was the youth rifle season, so I had his crossbow and a youth model .243 along. As someone who shot his first deer with a compound bow during his first year of hunting as a 12-year-old, I definitely hoped his first deer would come in archery season. However, I knew his best chance was with a rifle.

The other thing I had to consider when selecting his weapon was the probability of seeing a buck. If a doe walked within range, he could obviously use either. But a buck could only be taken using archery equipment.

I knew what general area I wanted to hunt, but had not made a final decision on which stand. We came to a stop at the spot on the road where I had to go left or right. When I asked the rookie hunter which one he wanted to try, he shrugged his shoulders and looked for me to make the best decision.

On the way up the mountain I was fairly sure we would be hunting the location to the west. There were some better shooting lanes and we could see the deer coming easier. But at the last minute, I talked myself into the other spot because of a gut feeling.

It did not take long to see that decision was a good one. After settling in and going over how we could get the rifle up and ready to shoot, I heard something walking behind us.

I quickly gave him a little nudge with my elbow and whispered to him a deer was heading in our direction. After I caught a glimpse of a single doe feeding along the top of the bench, I got his rifle angled where I thought she could walk through and got him into position.

The doe walked through the perfect location as he was quickly able to find her in the scope. A few second later we were celebrating as the new hunter harvested his first whitetail. At that moment my deer season was a success. Even if my buck tag would not get filled, the 2018 season would be a triumph.

Last year, I finished that dream season with a big eight-point before the rut occurred.

If I was going to replicate the previous year’s hunt, it was going to be during the last week of the season. Our three club soccer teams wrapped up their seasons, fall baseball season had ended and River’s ice hockey practice schedule allowed for hard hunting the final days of bow season.

After seeing some smaller bucks, I finally had the shot I was waiting for. A mature buck appeared out from behind a hemlock and started to walk the path in front of my ladder. But like many bucks when does are in the area that time of year, he changed his plans and took another route.

I had to make a decision to either pick an opening and attempt a shot or see if he would come back through at a later time. Last year I had the similar scenario which resulted in the buck currently mounted on the cabin wall.

When the buck stopped, I found a hole and let my arrow fly. A few seconds later I was lecturing myself as the deer safely walked out of sight. It is not a good feeling to hunt hard for a good buck and blow the opportunity when it finally arises.

I have missed before and it will happen again. That is part of the game. But it doesn’t make it any easier. Needless to say, I was a little grouchy that morning. I was happy I finally had my chance, but the result did not go as planned.

That night I showed River a photo of the buck I missed from a trail camera. After telling him the story of the morning’s hunt, I informed the youngest Knepp I was glad at least one of us was a good shot. That smile on his face is the reason even if I do not get a buck in rifle season this year was another major success.


Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.