by Kelly james
I remember everyday I’ve spent in the woods as though it were yesterday. The memories are some of the best in my life, most likely because it was time dad and I got to be father and son. He was in the Navy. His duties sometimes kept him away as I was growing up so I didn’t always get to spend as much time with him as I wanted to but that was okay. I understood he had responsibilities and I respected what he was doing for his family.
When I turned 16, I immediately enrolled in the deer hunter safety program. For years I had waited until I could join my dad in the woods so I could experience another part of who he was and see what he loved doing every fall. When I told him I wanted to go hunting with him, we was very happy. He went to his gun cabinet and pull out a Model 99 .300 Savage and handed it to me. He said it had been his fathers and it was now mine. I was ready!
My first year of hunting was memorable in many ways. Opening weekend hit right in the middle of High School football so I was torn between that and going hunting. Since I had waited for years, the decision to go hunting was easy to make. During that October weekend, I saw several does but nothing I could shoot at but that didn’t matter. Being in camp, it was the stories that were told of the days events which led to stories of past hunts. I watched and listened intently to my dad and his buddies relive the past as though it happened only yesterday. When I got back to school that following Monday, my coaches made sure I knew how they thought of my decision. I didn’t start varsity as a sophomore but that didn’t matter. Monday’s where JV games and I didn’t play – at all and for the rest of the week, I ran – alot! Everyday that week, I ran around the outside of the football field on average of 50 times – in pads. As I did – I was smiling.
After high school and two years of college, I decided to follow in dad’s footsteps and join the Navy. Four years had passed since I started hunting without any luck and at the age of 20, I headed off to boot camp. Over the course of the next four years, I was overseas in Italy and then on deployment onboard the USS Saratoga during a nine month stint in the Med and Indian Ocean.
Upon our return to Mayport, dad and I made plans for the upcoming fall. That October, I drove 19 hours from Florida to NY so dad and I could pickup where we left off in our hunting adventures.
On opening weekend I was on what we called the pinnacle, a flat wooded plateau elevated 100 feet above the lower woods behind me and from where I stood, on the outside of a swampy area the deer traveled into and of all the time. I found the tree I had sat behind years ago and took up my vigilant scanning for movement in every direction. It wasn’t long before a group of does began feeding on acorns that had fallen from the trees. Since I was downwind, they never knew I was there. After some time, they moved off and the adrenaline ran its course and I settled down.
A short time later, I heard movement coming from the swamp at my 2 o’clock. Two deer came trotting out of the woods, both were bucks! In the previous years and up until now, these were the first bucks I had seen while hunting. My heart immediately went into overdrive. As they ran further out of the swamp into the area where I stood, they slowed down and stopped. As luck would have it, the larger buck stopped directly behind a tree out of view looking in my direction. Since he couldn’t see me from where he stood, I brought my gun up and took aim where I thought he might step out and I waited. For what seemed an eternity, he finally took a few steps out from the tree giving me a full frontal view. I could tell from his mannerism that he was ready to bolt so I slid the safety back, put the cross hairs on his chest and squeezed.
The first shot of my hunting life was made and all I could see was smoke. Not really knowing what to expect, the spot where the deer were was empty. A few moments later, a small buck game screaming out of the swamp at my 10 o’clock in full stride and was gone in a flash. I jacked another shell into my lever action .300 Savage and slid the safety back. Then I heard a crackle over my radio – we were high tech. It was dad asking if it was me that shot. I told him it was and he asked if I had gotten it … I honestly didn’t know. With him on the radio I walked over to where the buck had stood and I found a good tuft of hair and a good blood trail. Since he was under the hill from me, it took dad only a few minutes to get where I stood. Together we began to follow the trail. It wasn’t long before he pointed at the buck as it layed near an old tree stump.
We walked up cautiously and I poked it with the barrel of my gun. It was official – my first deer, an eight point buck was taken. My dad was grinning from ear to ear as he shook my hand and congratulated me. Then he asked me to get my knife out so the hard part could begin.
There are other memories yet to come. I hope you all enjoy my story.