The Thanksgiving Buck
By John Ward

Our breathing was labored and our breath hung in the air only briefly as the rain was relentless. There was no sign of it letting up that afternoon. Dad and I were in for a very wet hunt. Making matters worse, Dad really didn't want to be there. The morning hunt had soaked all our good hunting clothes and we were full of Thanksgiving turkey and all the fixings.

As I look back on this wet afternoon thirty five years ago, I smile as it was the love of a Mother for her son that allowed these events to unfold. Mom insisted that Dad take me out, even though Dad wanted to sit in his easy chair and get warm by the fireplace and have another piece of my Mother's apple pie. This day, Mom won out, much to my delight. Only now do I realize how relaxing Dad pictured his afternoon to be…

Our family had a rich tradition of hunting deer on Thanksgiving Day. Dad and my brother and I would get up early as Mom's breakfast was awesome and filling. We'd get dressed and stuff our pockets full of Halloween candy we saved for just this reason. After we went outside, Dad had us load up away from each other and he'd check our safeties and give us for the millionth time a mini-lecture on gun safety and target identification. He always ended by making sure we knew that we could only squeeze the trigger if we knew it was a clean, killing shot. With the impatience of youth, I was always anxious to go. Only now do I realize the importance of that insistence on safety and how it would mold my hunting character and my sons to follow.

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We were going to hunt out back in what I call rolling country, hummocks and ravines choked with overgrown raspberries and small evergreens. The wind was in our face, blowing at a steady clip. No wet fingers had to be held up this afternoon to check the wind direction! Dad walked very slowly, stopping every three or four steps. I was following right behind and froze when my Dad stopped, just knowing a deer was spotted and Dad was going to shoot. Several hundred yards later, as we topped a large hummock, Dad stopped again. I had been looking down at the ground to watch my footing and bumped right into the back of my Dad! I was afraid Dad would be mad and froze even more. Curiously Dad didn't say a word to me. I then saw him start to raise his gun ever so slowly and knew that he did see a deer! I got up on my tiptoes and peered over Dad's left shoulder. I was looking full into the face of a very large doe standing still only 10 yards in front of us! I can still smell the wet wool coat wore that day and even now when I sense this same smell, warm memories flood me with an assurance that all in the world will be all right. Dad's .30-30 Marlin barked in the rain and the doe took off a million miles an hour. I was crestfallen; never had my Dad missed a deer since I knew him. When Dad's gun went off, venison was simply a cleaning process and visions of great meals were guaranteed.

I will never forget my Dad turning around and saying, "I can't believe I missed him!" Him! All this time I thought Dad was aiming at the lead doe! I was so excited that Dad had to calm me down for 10 minutes. "John", he said. "I missed. What are you so excited for?" I said, "Dad, you never miss! If you shot at a buck, we'll find him! Was he really big?" Dad laughed and muttered something I couldn't hear. After jacking a new shot in and checking his safety, he turned to me and said, " OK son, you take the lead and find this buck I shot. I shot at him right by that small fir over there. Don't run, take your time." I must have walked as fast as a non-run could go! When I crested the knoll by the small fir, laying in the depression was the largest buck I had ever seen in my life. I whooped and hollered and Dad said that folks must have heard me two counties over! As the rain continued to pour buckets, Dad and I kneeled beside the fallen monarch and no words were spoken. Our eyes met and we both knew a Mother's love brought us this treasured hunt. We knew the insistence of a young hunter that cherished hunting with his father had touched a maternal chord much stronger then the husband/wife connection. And Dad knew, kneeling there in the cold, pouring rain with his 14 year old son that a tradition rich with stories and memories would continue for many more generations of our family. Everything at that moment in time was good, it was very good.

After a long, cold drag that didn't seem to bother us, we arrived at our back lawn. Mom was standing in the kitchen window, peering intently for any signs of success. As I bolted for the door shouting, Mom knew without looking that a deer had been taken and her wish had come true. Her smile lit up my world and I couldn't say three words in a row without stumbling all over my self. The large buck had 11 points and the tines were thick and dark. He weighed 205 lbs. dressed and had a gray muzzle. He was probably a 5 or 6 year old buck and Dad said he'd weigh more if it wasn't after the rut. We hung the buck up in a large maple on the back lawn and went inside to get warm, dry clothes on and have some hot coffee and cocoa. Mom listened intently, interjecting an ooh or ahh during a story she would hear a thousand more times before going to be with Lord at only 52 years of age. Reflecting on my youth, and the rich tradition my Dad gave to me and my Mother supported, I know how my young son feels. And when I look out the window this Thanksgiving Day, I will turn to him and say, "So are you ready to go out and give it another shot this afternoon?" He will scurry for the Jeep and his Mother will smile, and this story will go on.

Thank you Dad. I love you.


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