First Deer: Grandfather Plans Memorable Hunt

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“Eric, there’s a deer, and it’s a nice buck,” I said . “See if you can get on it with your scope.”

Our Mississippi deer hunt changed drastically in a second as deer hunts often do!

Eric Holmes is my 14 year-old grandson, and he lives in Clinton, Mississippi. Eric is a typical young boy who loves basketball, baseball and his iPhone, and he does very well in school (eighth grade) receiving honor recognition.

I grew up on a farm in rural West Virginia and cultivated a love for the outdoors, including trapping and hunting. I have been an avid deer hunter for over 50 years. It was only natural for me to try to instill this same love of the outdoors in my two daughters and now in my grandchildren including Eric.

After my retirement, my wife and I moved to a beautiful outdoor area in western Maryland near Deep Creek Lake. Very soon afterward, Eric and the rest of his family would come to visit for long periods during the summer. Eric was only four years old initially but showed a significant interest in the outdoors and wildlife. His outdoor education began with insect, toad, squirrel, deer and bear sightings along with stories of my hunts and mounts. Later, he progressed to regular sessions with the bow, the .22 Hornet and the fishing rod. In fishing terms, Eric was “hooked” on the outdoors.

With Eric living far from my home in Maryland and only being able to visit during the summer, I was never able to enjoy taking him big game hunting. However, this year during an annual trip to Florida for several of the winter months, we decided to route our travel through Mississippi for a long visit with Eric’s family. I came up with a plan to extend the hunting season for me and to let Eric experience his first deer hunt. He had become proficient with the .223 Remington his great uncle had given him. Although it is a rather small caliber for deer hunting, I was comfortable given his accuracy.

I searched the Internet for an outfitter in Mississippi and came across Black Creek Outfitters (BCO) about an hour north of Clinton and reserved a day and a half hunt shortly after the New Year. I would not be hunting but would be accompanying Eric.

We arrived at BCO shortly before noon, met the owners, unloaded our gear and had a great lunch of hot chili and corn bread. After viewing aerial photographs of the hunting property and discussing hunting regulations and ethics, Eric and I were transported to a beautiful elevated stand between two food plots. We later learned this shooting house/stand had been dubbed “paradise” by another group of hunters that have hunted with BCO for years.

The evening hunt in “paradise” was very eventful. After coaching Eric on positioning in the blind, gun handling and the importance of continual scanning and patience, we passed up a shot on a small, 1.5-year-old buck. We also missed a shot opportunity at an older buck moving too rapidly on a doe trail, and Eric missed an actual shot at an adult doe due to something called “doe fever” by a young hunter.

The evening included a wonderful steak dinner and many stories of deer and deer hunts. What a great first day of deer hunting for a young boy – his first nervous shot at a deer and great food, which is pretty important to a young growing boy.

The next morning was a cold 24 degrees and found us in another nice elevated shooting house on a hardwood ridge overlooking a smaller food plot. Eric and I settled in before daylight and discussed lessons learned from the previous day’s hunt. We also again discussed shot placement in detail considering different deer positions and its greater importance with Eric’s smaller caliber rifle.

Early morning sightings included an adult doe that did not offer an ethical shot and a young doe and fawn that were passed in favor of an adult deer. For several hours after the more active early morning period, we did not see any deer. This time offered more opportunity for a grandfather and grandson to discuss the rut, hunting strategy and the potential rewards of patience! I was proud of Eric’s attention and constant scanning on a very cold morning.

We discussed remaining in the stand until 10:45 a.m. before returning to the lodge for a hearty breakfast. Then “it” happened – the buck appeared. Eric and I went from relaxed whispering and scanning in the stand to exciting preparation for a potential shot. As often occurs during the rut, the buck was apparently on a “hot” doe trail made during the night.

I instructed Eric to keep on the continually moving deer if possible and that I would attempt to stop the deer once I thought it was in good position for the shot. The deer closed to about 60 yards and turned broadside. I let out a bleat, and the buck stopped immediately. Within seconds the .223 roared and with a back-leg kick the buck was running back in the direction from which he came. We watched him closely for location, and I thought I saw it go down.

Eric and I looked at each other, smiled and both began to experience the post-shot, deer fever shakes. Eric’s lasted a little longer than mine, which was very natural. Eric thought his shot was good regarding placement, and I liked the post-shot reaction of the deer. I called the outfitter, and he asked us to stay put until our guide arrived to help us with retrieval. I looked at the time, and it was 10:45 a.m. exactly. The shot opportunity occurred about two minutes before we were planning to leave the stand!

I coached Eric on the importance of noting the last location we observed the deer and also reinforced the virtue of patience in remaining on stand, especially during the rut.

The guide arrived, Eric’s shaking gradually subsided and the nice 2.5-year-old, 8-point buck was quickly recovered. After photographs at the site and back at the lodge, we enjoyed the hearty, late breakfast and cleaned and processed the deer. Eric’s face exhibited the evidence of his first deer kill in accordance with custom – a little deer blood smeared on the cheeks and chin!

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What a wonderful hunting experience for a young hunter and his first deer: the importance of a good outfitter, the importance of sharing a hunt with family or a good friend, the importance of quality deer management, learning more of the habits of whitetail deer and ethical hunting strategies (including patience), and enjoying the outdoors. By the way, this hunt happens to also rank right up near the top of a grandpa’s most memorable hunts!