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First deer not easy

11/7/2007

Getting your first deer can be tough, but I never thought it would be this tough. So it is for my now 15-year-old son, Bennett.

The odyssey to get his first deer began last fall, during Arkansas' early muzzleloader season.

And, yes, time does fly. Who would have thought that he is already 15 (16 next month)?

I've been taking him deer hunting since he was 7. And I've harvested plenty of deer with him sitting in a box stand next to me.

Then last fall rolled around, and a young man with a suddenly deep voice and patches of facial hair said, "Hey, Dad, I'd like to get a deer this year. Most of my friends have already killed two or three — can we concentrate on my getting one?"

"Yes," I stammered.

And then it hit me — had I been so selfish, and had time gone by so quickly that I hadn't ever made it a priority for him to get his deer?

No problem. We see plenty of deer when we go hunting. I'll concentrate on making sure he gets his deer before I kill my next one.

That was 13 months ago.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

The first day out last October during Arkansas' early muzzleloader season was perfect: We arrived at my brother-in-law's deer camp in the Saline River bottoms early enough in the afternoon to be in the stand for an afternoon hunt.

There was plenty of deer sign, but we saw nothing but some wild hogs.

As we left the stand to head back to the four-wheeler, I told Bennett to hunt his way back.

"I've killed many a deer on my way out of the woods," I said.

Sure enough, there were two does and a buck in a food plot some 60 yards away as he rounded a curve on the old dim road.

He held up his hand and motioned me to stay back.

Darkness was surrounding us quickly, so he knelt for a relatively easy open shot.

He squeezed the trigger.

Click.

The gun didn't fire, and the deer vanished into the gloomy woods.

It's been a series of problems and mishaps since.

A weeklong Thanksgiving hunt little more than a month later was cancelled the day before we were to leave. Heavy rains flooded the Saline River bottoms, making the deer camp inaccessible.

Then work got in the way of a late-season, can't-miss invite to a honey hole near Clarksville, Tenn.

And winter Boy Scout camp replaced plans for a post Christmas hunt.

Last month, it was the early muzzleloader season again in Arkansas. This time we were in the Ouachita Mountains in Pike County, and the weather was beautiful on opening weekend.

I decided not to bring a gun, so I could concentrate on Bennett's getting his first deer.

We didn't see a thing on the first day.

"Set the alarm for 5:30 a.m.," I told Bennett.

At 6:30 a.m., the alarm went off, the sky already light.

"What happened?" I asked.

"You told me 6:30," he said.

We rushed getting our gear together, hustled out to the truck and headed for the woods.

Fifteen minutes later, we were there. It was then I realized we had no firing caps. So it was back to the cabin to retrieve them: We missed the prime time of the morning hunt — and didn't see a deer the rest of the day.

Coming out that evening, we ran into another hunter and traded stories. He chuckled knowingly when he heard of our streak of bad luck.

"Hey," he whispered to me. "I saw a nice little 8-point with a 14-inch spread. Came right by my stand. That would be a nice first deer for your boy. Hunt off my stand tomorrow. I've got to work."

I thanked him and shook his hand. It was a generous offer.
We headed back to the cabin full of newfound excitement for tomorrow's last-day-in-camp hunt.

Next morning, the alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., just as planned. A torrential downpour serenaded us on the cabin's tin roof.
Bennett looked at me, shook his head and rolled over pulling his sleeping bag over his head.

It rained hard all day.