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Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Father and Son

Our lease is just north of Jasper, TX on the Old Zavalla Hunting Club bordering the Neches River. The lanes are narrow and the cover thick. You quickly learn that opportunities are few and far between and that each deer must be assessed sometimes with only seconds to make a decision or you may never see it again. The day started out as any other, with one exception the same young boy who had to be poked and prodded to get up for school practically jumped out of bed at the first subtle sound of the alarm clock. He was the first to the sink and actually brushed his teeth without being told. As the other men rubbed their eyes and sat on the edge of the bed adjusting to the light Brandon threw on his camouflage and boots and rushed downstairs to be the first to eat breakfast. You could see the excitement in his eyes and hear it in his voice; I on the other hand couldn't stop wondering who this boy was and what he had done with my son.

November 5th, 2004 the day before his 12th birthday; this was the weekend he had been waiting for. We didn't make it to the lease for youth weekend and he knew that after 3 years of multiple trips to the gun range learning the ins and outs of his 30/30, hours in the blind with me watching and learning, the decision would be all his he was finally going to hunt alone. We made our way to small blind apply named the Junction. The area was one of few that offered a clearing and the ability to see 50 yards around a 180 degree area. I figured this offered him the best opportunity to not become bored.

The morning came and went without so much as glimpse of a deer. We met as planned and headed for lunch, a quick trip to the Angelina Country Store a couple of Dr. Peppers, slim Jims and some trail mix and back to camp for a sandwich. After lunch Brandon was ready to get back to the stand. We picked a different location which we called The Dream stand. Again the hours came and went with little more than a few squirrels and an obnoxious crow.

November 6th, 2004 Brandon's 12th birthday and the first time he, his mother and his Sister hadn't celebrated it together. I was on a time line to Be home by 4:00 Sunday was the last thing I heard as I left the house on Friday afternoon. This time Brandon and I had agreed to hunt until the last possible minute. No quick trips to camp or the store, we packed all we needed and made the trip to a small rise on the lease named Stump. This stand offered a few advantages first of all it had two blinds; a well-placed ground blind that offered 4 separate shooting lanes and a 12 foot tower blind that offered a clear site across the young pine trees and small patches and rows between them. Because we planned to stay all day I decided to take the tower blind and had Brandon hunt from the lower box blind. The wind was moderate but the chilly damp air and light drizzle would have made it tough for him to stay comfortable and focused.

November 6th, 2004 2:00pm, the day had come and gone and now we had a decision to make. The drive home routinely took about 2 hours, I knew I had already pushed the limit a bit but with a little luck traffic would be kind and we'd make it home at a reasonable hour. I climbed down from the stand and walked over to the blind Brandon had occupied for the last 8 hours. Besides the occasional bump against its wooden frame or the minor scuffle of the chairs wheels as he adjusted he had done everything right. As I approached he smiled and said' Sometimes Dad they just don't cooperate, a rush of pride filled my soul. Here before me stood a young man, not the same boy that rushed through the morning but a young man who grew up before my very eyes that weekend. I had used that same phrase on our earlier unsuccessful hunts Sometimes son they just don't cooperate.

Through the years Brandon had only made one weekend a year. He is my stepson and between visitation and my schedule our chances were limited. I had had a chance each year on opening weekend to bring home a deer, however each time we were together it had been a different story. I had made special plans to bring him to the lease on the opening weekend of his 12th birthday it was years worth of planning and negotiating. Another more important event had just happened, for the first time Brandon had called me Dad. His mother and I had been married for just over 7 years and until that moment I had always been Tom. My heart sank at the idea of driving home knowing that our next opportunity would a year from then. I quickly ran my through our schedule of visitation and mine with work. Our next chance would be over the Christmas holidays of January youth weekend. Our county was a doe by permit only after thanksgiving so this would greatly limit his chances on lease that saw most of the bucks go nocturnal after the rut. My only other option was to stay.

November 6th 2:15pm, without a second thought I was back in my blind and Brandon in his. Before I could even adjust my position my phone vibrated in my pocket. I knew exactly who it was and the reason for the call. I hit the ignore button and sent a quick text haven't left yet, I'll call when we do. Every thirty minutes a similar text was sent and similar reply what happened to 4:00pm. Finally the phone was silent it was 4:30 and the sun was setting quickly. Brandon had been exceptionally quiet no more bumps or scuffles. Before I knew it was 5:00 and the darkness of the piney woods had started to take over. We had at most twenty more minutes before the long drive home.

November 6th 5:10pm, without a notice a quick flash caught my eye down below. It was the barrel of a 30/30 slowly being placed on the edge of the window pointing down a narrow lane to the east. From my position I couldn't see anything though the soft pine needles which partial obscured the full length of the lane. I watched carefully trying to gage were Brandon had placed his sights. As I looked up it had come into a view a deer slowing walking the lane straight towards the ground blind at 150 yards. Not a clean shot and I was confident that Brandon knew this as well. By now minutes seemed like hours. I was helpless as I sat there trying to focus on the deer and watch Brandon's movements out of the corner of my eye.

November 6th 5:13pm, as the deer walked the lane it came within 100 yards of the ground blind, stopping in a small winter pea feed plot we had planted earlier in the fall. As it browsed on the winter peas it maintained a head long stance to the blind. By now I could see the 30/30 barrel begin to shake. Three minutes is an eternity for a 12yr old to hold position. As the deer made a slight turn to work on another patch of peas I felt my heart race. There it stood at 100 yards broad side head down unaware of our presence. The anticipation was numbing. I could feel myself saying, take the shot, now's your chance take the shot. It was dark now and the flash form the 30/30 below was blinding, my eyes quickly adjusted and there on a barren sandy patch of the feed plot it laid Brandon's first deer. There are 14 rungs on the ladder stand to a 12 foot tower blind; my feet touched 4 of them. Before I knew it I was next to the ground blind and all I could see was the brightest smile I had ever seen on a young man's face. I was sure the deer was down but we waited 30 minutes until we approached. All the time high fiving and talking about what he had seen, what I had seen and how he had waited for just the right moment.

As we approached the deer with my arm on his shoulder I was sure it was a doe. When we got there it was not it was my son's first buck. The bullet had struck slightly high but otherwise perfectly placed and the buck had not even taken a step. We loaded up and made the trip to the camp where we celebrated Brandon's success amongst friends as we prepped the deer for the long ride home. We made it to the house in record time one hour and 45 minutes not stopping once. When we got there as you can imagine we were greeted at the door to a very unhappy wife and daughter. Brandon took the lead, a Sorry mom but Dad and I just had to stay. That was all it took, My wife immediately caught his new reference to me and all was good again. We quickly lit the cake and sang happy birthday before Brandon and I headed to the processer before taking him to his father's house. You may notice I never mentioned the rack or score of the first deer my son harvested. He scored twelve, yes 12 and that a stretch. It was the ugliest spike you can imagine, broken and misshaped. The right side only a 4-5 inches and the left broken to less than an inch a spread estimated at about 5 inches. Before his next visit I had purchased a small antler kit and mounted the horns, so small that I had to pack the areas around the base so the skull was not as visible. To this day these are the only antlers my wife will allow in the living room, out of place and humorous at times to look at, but they have meaning. Not just the first deer that my son ever took, but the first time that we truly became father and son.

Novemeber 7th, 2011, Brandon is 18 as of yesterday and has started to follow his own path in life. He stopped hunting a few years back to spend time with his friends. We no longer spend those long weekends together. The Old Zavalla hunting cub is still my opening weekend trip and as a walked up on the stump this Saturday 6 years to the day that we started that weekend, it rushed through me again that this is the place I witnessed my now grown son become a man.

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