I love hunting with my dad, probably because I followed him around the woods before I was old enough to hunt myself. When I turned 12, Dad was the one who took me out on the morning I got my first deer. I spent lots of mornings nearly freezing to death while we glassed for elk in the shadows of Trask Mountain. Once I was old enough to head out on my own, I started exploring the far corners of the state, but in the last few years I’ve been back in the woods with Dad several times. I find that I hunt with my eyes on the hillside in front of me and my ears tuned in his direction for the sound of his rifle. More than once I’ve realized while hunting that I’m hoping for Dad to get a deer just as much as I’m hoping to get one myself.
Hunting with Dad is also special because about 9 years ago he was diagnosed with lymphoma. It took surgery, chemo, and radiation, along with the prayers of lots of friends and family, and he made it through. Without a doubt, it made us appreciate our opportunities a lot more.
This story happened on one of the last days of the general rifle season about 5 years ago. I stopped in at Dad’s office in the afternoon and talked him into heading out for an evening hunt. Our main problem was that I had a rifle with me and Dad didn’t. When we reached our parking spot, we decided to do the logical thing and have Dad carry the rifle since he had a buck tag and a doe tag, while I had only a buck tag. We had barely left the truck when we caught a brief glimpse of a deer running up the logging road ahead of us. Neither of us saw it well, but both of us sensed that it was a buck. In our whispered conversation, Dad offered to give me the rifle so I could shoot it, but I told him to go ahead. So we slipped ahead with Dad in the lead. We saw the deer a couple more times moving in the Scotch broom, but it never stopped, and we still weren’t sure it was a buck.
Finally it figured out that we were there and headed for the edge of the clearing at a trot. Once in the open, we could see it was a buck, and Dad got one shot and missed before it accelerated into the brush. We hurried after it because it was headed toward the bottom of the clearcut we were planning to hunt that evening. When we got to the clearcut, there was no deer to be seen, so we concluded that it had gone on around the hill. Just as we turned to hurry ahead in that direction, I caught a movement on the hillside and realized that the buck was still in the clearcut after all. Dad stepped behind me and rested the rifle over my left shoulder while I stood as still as possible. The buck stopped squarely behind a tree and stood there for several agonizing seconds. Then it took two steps, and Dad pulled the trigger. This time he connected, and the deer rolled down the hill and expired. With the dead deer in sight, we waited an hour or so to see if anything else would show itself, but the buck had apparently been alone.
He turned out to be a 3x2. Not as big as he had grown in our imaginations over that last hour, but still a fine buck. We shared a feeling of satisfaction as we dragged him back to the pickup.
This story was a great memory in itself, but the true significance came about later. The next April Dad’s cancer returned. The doctor had told him that if it ever back, chemo would not work a second time. The only thing left was a stem cell transplant. Dad spent about a month in the hospital in Portland while we waited and prayed. There were scary moments at the point where he had essentially no immune system and he was delirious with a fever of 106 degrees, but we thank God for bringing him through. Doctors tend to avoid the word “cured” after you have cancer, but Dad is pretty much as busy today as he ever was.
I was slow to recognize it, but now I realize that through this story God gave me a special gift. If Dad had not survived the cancer treatment, I could look back on a successful hunt as the last time I had been in the field with Dad. I would remember that when Dad offered me the rifle, I told him to keep it, and he shot his last buck. And while Dad did survive the treatment, I suspect that when that inevitable time comes, whether from cancer or something else, this story will mean even more to me than it does now. We often talk in a vague sort of way about finding God in our times in the outdoors, but I have no doubt that God’s hand was deliberately on this hunting trip to give me the gift of this memory of hunting with my dad.
Last fall, when my wife and I went deer hunting in northeast Oregon, my parents came along for the first few days. We took one day off from hunting to drive over to Imnaha and up to Hat Point to see Hell’s Canyon. We stopped off at the point looking down over Freezeout Saddle to get a snack and look around. In between sandwiches and candy bars and Capri-Suns, Dad was more interested in glassing the canyons, and before long he spotted a herd of elk. We got to do the age-old ritual of, “See where the timber ends on the ridge…down below there’s a log lying at an angle on the hillside…to the left there’s a yellow bush…the elk are in the draw about 50 yards below the bush.” It was fun to take my parents to see one of my favorite places, but I got a special feeling of joy and contentment to be able once again to watch my dad glass the hillsides and canyons until he found a herd of elk. I hope it happens again soon.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you!