My Deer Boy

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The picture above is of my 16-year-old son, Robert, at the kitchen table cleaning fat and tendon off a piece of venison prior to packaging it for the freezer. Robert shot the animal just a couple days after Thanksgiving. It is his first year of hunting and his first deer.

Robert went out hunting many times during shotgun season. He went out alone in a tree stand of his own making and he went out with a couple of young men from our church. This first deer (a doe) was shot while hunting with the other men. Robert dropped it with a well-placed shot in the “kill zone” (right behind the front shoulder). He also, with the helpful instruction of one of his hunting buddies, gutted the deer before bringing it home.

It takes dedication, and determination, and persistence, and patience, and some know-how to successfully hunt deer. It takes some intestinal fortitude to cut the warm animal open and remove its insides. These are good qualities for a 16-year-old boy to develop and exhibit. I am a pleased and thankful father.

Deer for Dinner
Marlene’s brother and sister-in-law were up from Florida for Thanksgiving and several days afterwards. Before they went home, we had them over for supper and enjoyed some of Robert’s deer. Marlene does a fine job of stir-frying marinated slices of the venison, and we put them on brown rice with stir-fried vegetables and pineapple chunks. It is simple, good food. There were no leftovers that night.

Workin’ at the Rat Farm
Robert now works four hours a day, four days a week, at the local rat farm. I drop him off on my way to work in the morning and Marlene picks him up before noon. Raising rats and mice for zoos and laboratories can be a big business. The job is well suited to a 16-year-old boy with a lot of energy. It fits in with his homeschooling just fine.

My oldest son, Chaz, worked at the same rat farm for a couple of years before leaving for another job. The owner hired Robert, without hesitation because Chaz had been such a good employee. That’s what the guy said. Things like that please a father too.

Buying a Shotgun
Robert wanted to buy his own 12-gauge shotgun for hunting season. It’s a big expense for a boy and especially this boy, who is, by nature, careful about spending his hard-earned money. After much research and deliberation, he decided on a Remington 870 Express Combo. It is a reputable and dependable gun for the common man. It should serve faithfully for a lifetime.

So, Robert and his younger brother, James, and I went to a BassPro store not far from our home to buy the gun. So close to the start of deer season, they were sold out. But that didn’t stop the man behind the gun counter from talking to us for a long time about shotguns in general and the Remington 870 in particular. He told us almost ten million 870s have been made. He told us how many he owned (five). He told us about going to buy his first shotgun with his dad a long time ago. The fellow apologized repeatedly for not having an 870 to sell. He told us that he loves to sell a first shotgun to a boy with his father, and added: “It makes me feel like part of the family.” He sounded so sentimental when he said that, I thought he might start crying. The kids noticed it too. We didn’t bother to tell him it wasn’t Robert’s first shotgun. His first was a 20-gauge break action single shot that I bought him for Christmas a couple years back.

We left the BassPro store and went across the street to another gun store. The 870 was in stock at the same price. Once again, we got a salesman who took a special interest in a father and his teenage son buying a first shotgun. Once again, the salesman was a big Remington enthusiast. He was a wealth of information. We had a memorable buying experience, and each of us shook the salesman’s hand heartily on the way out of the store.

Second Deer
Last Friday, when I came home from work, darkness was settling and a storm was blowing in. Robert was out behind the house, across the gully, across the field, past the neighbor’s pond, across another field, and in a tree stand by the edge of some woods. Marlene and I were talking in the house and heard two shots in the distance.

Several minutes later, Robert was in the house. He had shot another deer. But he did not shoot well. He did not kill it. He had gone hunting with only two slugs for his gun (the last two he had). So he came back to the house for my 870, 20-gauge, and ammo for that gun.

The three of us headed out in the dark, over the gully, across the field, past the pond, across the other field, and into a swampy area around where Robert had been when he shot the deer. Using flashlights, we found the big doe still alive but immobile in the swamp. Robert finished the poor animal off with a shot and we commenced to pull it out of the dense underbrush.

I had a hold of one rear leg. He had the other. The beast was heavy. Robert sliced into the hocks and we slipped our hands into the openings to get a better grip. Together, we dragged while Marlene carried the gun and a flashlight. The low-cropped, frost-hard hay field was easier terrain to drag over than the brushy swamp. But we had a lot of ground to cover. Icy-hard snow crystals were in the strong wind. The road was a long way away. I was running out of steam. If I were 16 again, we would have kept dragging, but I’m not. I started thinking heart attack. Getting older is hard to accept.

I suggested we leave the deer in the field, walk to the road, walk the road home (1/2mile), get my Nissan Sentra, then drive back to the field, and load the deer on. As we were walking the road home, our neighbor (the one who owns the land where Robert was hunting) drove by with his backhoe. We flagged him down. He offered to get the deer up to the road in the bucket of the backhoe. Robert went with him while Marlene and I continued home for the car. By the time we drove back, Robert and his doe were waiting in the dark by the side of the road.

With him holding the front legs and me holding the back we swung the doe back and forth and heaved it up onto the trunk. It took a couple of tries to get it there. That’s one of the nice things about a beat-up, $600 used car (affectionately known as “Little Red”)—you can toss a deer on the back and not worry about scratches or dents.

All in all, it was quite an adventure. But there was one more thing that needed doing. When we got home, we turned on the outside floodlights and dragged the deer into position on a plastic tarp. Robert took his coat off, pulled up his sleeves, and proceeded to gut the animal. He wasn’t hesitant or squeamish about the job. He knew what he needed to do and I was, frankly, amazed to see my son do this nasty job without any instruction or encouragement from me. I pretty much just watched. And my heart swelled with admiration. Oh, and I took a couple pictures too (see below).

Butchering the Deer
We have gotten deer from friends and family for several years and have butchered them ourselves. We hang the deer from a ceiling hook in my workshop and slice the meat off. We aren’t butchering pros but we manage. And butchering is something I get involved in. It’s the least I can do. :-)

Robert: On Hunting
My son told me that when he is sitting in the woods, waiting for a deer to show, it gets boring and he gets cold. When that happens, he says he thinks he would rather be inside where it’s warm. But when he’s inside where it’s warm, he thinks about how he would rather be outside hunting. ”Deer hunting is addictive,” he tells me.

Reconnecting With Tradition
I have never seriously hunted a deer. I have certainly never shot a deer. And I have never gutted a deer. My grandfathers, and their fathers, and their fathers before them were all, I’m quite certain, hunting men. But my step-father was not, and I spent my formative years doing pointless modern-boy things in a suburban housing project. So the multi-generational hunting tradition in my family line was broken with me. That’s a sad story.

But it’s not the end of the story. My sons (two of them) are interested in hunting and I have encouraged their interest. While some boys their age are riveted to video games (something I do not allow in my home), my sons are learning practical, character-building, manly skills. They will, I believe, reestablish the tradition of hunting in our family line. They will, I'm sure, teach their sons to hunt. In this generation we are reconnecting to a very important rural rite. And that is the best part of this story.

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More Deer Stories
My congratulations to fellow agrarian bloggers, and successful hunters...

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Scott Terry in Upstate New York
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Pastor Thomas McConnell in Missouri
The Lord Answers My Call For Help

4 comments:

crystal said...

Wow, what an excellent & encouraging story. When I married my husband I got my first real exposure to hunting & guns in general. I have been surprised by how much I have come to appreciate the tradition and bounty of hunting.

My husband's first deer was a similar story to your son's. It was not a kill shot. He ran down the hill to try and deliver a speedy & merciful kill shot. When he got there the rifle jammed & he had to run back to the stand for another gun. Ever since then he has carried a handgun to be as quick as possible... in addition to providing better protection from cougar.

BTW I really enjoyed your book!

Mary Lou said...

Wonderful blog entry! I realized as I was reading that I kept nodding my head in agreement. Usually a lurker, I just had to let you know.

My husband started taking our 6 year-old son "hunting"- out into the woods in the afternoon, teaching him to move slowly and smoothly, be as quiet as possible, etc. He loves to help daddy and "poppy" gut and skin a deer, and knows the names of all the organs. It's his job to write on the freezer bags the cut of meat and date. He understands the reality of where this food comes from and is absorbing, I hope, the sense of respect and thanks that we all feel.

Thank you for writing about your family.

Mary Lou
Sherburne, NY

Anonymous said...

Great job Robert! 2 deer in one year? That is quite a feat!!!!

Herrick, I can tell you were beaming, even as you wrote about it....

Brings back memories of how proud my dad was when I shot my first deer. Many moons ago...

I got shut out again this year.....


Best regards,

JBMaine

Herrick Kimball said...

Hello Crystal--
Thank you. It's good to hear from you. And I'm glad to know you enjoyed the book.

Hi Mary Lou--
Thanks for posting. Your son is getting quite an education, from an early age. It is encouraging to hear!

Hey JB--
Yes, I was beaming. Reading your response made me think that hunting season is a lot like gardening seasons in that they don't always turn out the way we would like. But the good news is that there is next year to go at it again, with renewed enthusiasm.