Life moves at a pretty fast pace. With family, work, church, and the myriad of other distractions that present themselves everyday, it’s hard to find time to squeeze in one more activity. But when my 13-year-old daughter asks me if we can go deer hunting together, my world comes to a screeching halt!
With her schoolwork, cheerleading, basketball practice and social life, “daddy time” is at an all-time low. So, my answer to her question was a resounding “absolutely.” A dear friend had asked me to hunt with him and his son on opening day of Oklahoma muzzleloader season. When I called him to ask if I could bring my daughter, he knew, being a dad himself, how important it was and he said “absolutely.”
Isabelle and I arrived in Waynoka, Okla., late Friday evening, having been lucky enough to get the last room at the only motel in town. The ride up had been filled with 2-1/2 hours of nonstop talking, more than would normally fill a week’s worth of dinners at home. We both were too excited to sleep much that night and when the alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., we both jumped out of bed, dressed in our camo and hunter orange and headed to the truck. A quick stop at the local gas station for a coffee and juice, then on to the ranch.
My friend and his son decided to go to the far end of the ranch, leaving Isabelle and me to hunt the “south stand,” which is actually not even a stand but simply a round cedar tree on a little sand hill overlooking a draw that runs from one area of timber to another with a feeder on the south end. We sat down behind the cedar tree at just after 7 a.m. It was cold that morning but neither of us felt the chill because we were so excited just to be out in God’s creation. Isabelle took the outside position, so she could have the clearest view of the feeder and the draw. I tucked in tight to the cedar tree.
After getting herself settled, she placed a set of shooting sticks in front of her and laid the barrel of the TC Encore in the “V” at the top of the sticks. She wanted to make sure everything was in place before shooting light arrived. As she was adjusting the height of the sticks and the magnification of the scope, she whispered, “I see a deer.” It was still too dark to shoot, but with the use of the scope, we could clearly make out the silhouette of a deer standing near the feeder. Isabelle remained incredibly calm as we waited for official shooting time and sufficient light to see what type of deer this was.
Several minutes passed and finally we could make out antlers. Excitement was building, Isabelle remained rock steady. I, on the other hand, was praying for the sun to come up so that she might get a chance at this buck. The deer remained at the feeder, oblivious to our presence and when we finally had shooting light, she made the decision to take the shot. It was 92 yards from Isabelle to the deer, just at the edge of her comfort zone, but she said she could make it and from the look in her eyes, I wasn’t going to second-guess her. She took a deep breath, squeezed the trigger and held steady on the front shoulder, just like we’ve practiced.
The Encore bellowed smoke and we both strained to see where the deer went. I got a glimpse of it disappearing behind a cedar tree and then heard a crash as the buck fell not 30 yards from where it had stood. Hugs and high fives followed and we both couldn’t believe we had been so blessed so quickly.
As we approached the deer we were even more surprised to see the extra points we hadn’t noticed while he was standing at the feeder. Isabelle dropped to her knees and counted, “1, 2 …12, 13!” A 13-point buck for a 13-year-old hunter!
Here’s where the real magic happened. Isabelle looked at me, with her big brown eyes and said, “Thanks, Dad.” My heart melted.
Then she looked at the deer and said, “Thanks, deer.” My heart melted again.
With those 4 words she said to me: “I love you and I enjoy spending time with you and thanks for taking the time to make me feel special.” She also showed a reverence for the animal that some hunters have forgotten. She knew she took its life but she also knew that our family would make good use of the meat and celebrate the harvest every time we sat at the dinner table to feast on hormone-free, grass-fed, free-range venison!
On the ride home the next morning, Isabelle asked me if we can go again next year.
I paused for a few seconds and answered, “Absolutely!”