Some of my fondest memories have been camping and hunting with my father, mother and brother. The many summer horseback fishing trips and fall elk hunting trips into the wilderness added much to the education that my brother and I received as youngsters. Skills that no classroom could teach came naturally to my parents and were imprinted into my mind in a fun and exciting way. Since I was a C+ student at best scholastically, I guess it is only natural that I chose an occupation in the outdoors. Now that I am a dad, my wife and I are teaching the same lessons to our kids.
Because the legislature changed the laws in Idaho this past year, my 12-year-old son, Charlie, and my 10-year-old son, Clay, were both able to hunt big game this past fall. Much to the consternation of my oldest son, his little brother was able to start hunting at the same time. Charlie thought it unfair that he had to wait until he was 12 while his little brother could start hunting at 10. Such is the age-old story of sibling rivalry.
My wife and I own Mile High Outfitters in Challis, Idaho. One of our clients, Jim Deblasio, brought his 13-year-old daughter, Catherine “Cat”, on the opening week of mule deer season and I could not get away to hunt with the boys until Catherine had tagged out on her hunt. Although the boys were excited to hunt for themselves, they wanted to be with Catherine when she shot her deer. They had been with Catherine when she shot her mountain lion the year before, but because of school, the boys could not get to camp until the second day of her hunt.
On the first day of Catherine’s hunt, we woke up early. The other guides and I saddled the stock by the light of our headlamps and the old standby Coleman lantern. We ate breakfast in the cook tent, mounted up and rode out in the dark. After two hours of riding, we stopped on the top of God’s country and started glassing. Jim, my dad and I spotted a group of bucks down the ridge in the burnt timber. Two of them were very mature typical four-points.
As we put the spotting scopes away, we decided to have Dad stay with the horses and mules. Jim, Catherine and I would make the stalk on foot. As we crept down the ridge that the bucks were laying on, we continually jumped other groups of deer. Fortunately, they bounded down the opposite side of the ridge from where our bucks were laying.
We stayed single file and crept within 80 yards of the bedded bucks. Jim helped Catherine set up her shooting sticks and Catherine made a great shot. The buck rolled down the hill about a hundred yards and came to a stop against a burnt log. When dad heard the shooting, he brought the horses and mules. We took pictures of Catherine and her buck. It scored in the mid 170s. Even after caping and hanging the meat in a tree, all four of us were back to camp and had the stock put away before dark.
Charlie and Clay were in camp when we rode in and both boys were excited until they heard that Cat’s hunt was already over and they did not get to be a part of it. They were torn between missing Catherine’s hunt and getting to hunt for themselves. Since I had to pack in Catherine’s deer on the mules the next day, I took Charlie hunting with me. Clay and my dad went in a different direction.
The next morning was another early one. We were on the trail about two hours before light. While riding the horses and mules up the steep, timbered ridge, we spotted a small forked horn buck. Charlie had never shot a deer and he was tempted. Being the good father that I am, I told him he needed to shoot it; that way I could take his little brother out the next day and get a large buck. Between knowing that Catherine had already shot a large buck and knowing that his little brother would probably get a nice buck, Charlie decided to hold out for a big one.
We rode to the top of the mountain and started glassing. Several mature bucks came out below us but did not present a shot. As we rode a little farther, I spotted a group of five bucks about 400 yards from where Cat’s buck was hanging in a tree. It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day and the temperature was starting to warm up. The bucks were feeding in a leisurely manner and did not seem in a hurry to get anywhere. Charlie and I tied up the horses and mules and made the stalk across the canyon. We were able to sneak within 80 yards of the group of bucks and Charlie shot the largest in the bunch. We field dressed and loaded Charlie’s buck on one of the mules then rode the 400 yards to Catherine’s buck. After both bucks were loaded on the mules, we rode back to camp.
When Charlie and I got back to camp, the first thing Clay said was, “I’m jealous. I want one too.” Dad had to leave the next day, so both boys and I went up a different ridge to find a buck for Clay. We rode the horses and mules for a couple of hours and jumped a nice four-point but Clay could not get a shot. The buck ran down and across a canyon. We watched the buck for about a half hour as he grazed, but he was not in a position to make a stalk so we mounted up and headed up the trail.
As we rode along, we were getting close to the top of the mountain and bulls were bugling ahead of us. I had five elk hunting clients whose hunt started two days later and wanted to see how big the bulls were. As we neared the top of the mountain, I spotted what I thought was one of the bulls standing close to the horizon 200 yards above us. On closer examination, it was a mule deer buck with a large body. He was feeding and facing uphill and by some miracle, did not turn around and look downhill at us or our horses. Clay jumped/fell off his mule and Charlie pulled the rifle out of the scabbard for him. Clay lay down prone over a rock and dropped the buck in one shot. I was there helping him hold the rifle which was a good thing because as soon as the buck dropped, he threw both hands in the air as if he had just thrown the winning Super Bowl touchdown pass. Clay’s buck wound up being 29 inches wide. Not bad for a 10-year-old kid.
My dad is now in his early 70s so having him in camp and taking him riding meant a lot to me. Both boys told and retold their hunting stories over and over. Now I know how my parents felt after listening to my brother and me tell our hunting stories for the one thousandth time.
Shortly after the deer hunt, Clay, who had also drawn a pronghorn tag, was able to take a buck behind our house. My dad was able to be with us on that hunt, also. On yet a different hunt, Charlie was able to harvest his first elk in the wilderness within a few miles of where my dad helped me get my first elk when I was a teenager. I guess you just can’t have too many hunts with your dad and your kids.
I really appreciate everything dad and mom did to teach my brother and me how to hunt and fish and to be good woodsmen and horsemen. I guess you never know how your kids will turn out. You can love them and teach them, but the choice on how to live will ultimately be theirs to make. But I do know this–giving kids a background in hunting and fishing teaches a lot about life. You learn that death is a part of life and that taking a life has both rewards and regrets. You learn that you do not need a referee to play a sport by the rules. Sometimes you have to be your own referee. I guess the thing that I remember most about the hunts with my father during my teenage years was that even when we did not see eye to eye on other subjects, Dad and I always had our hunts together and nothing got between us and the opening day of elk season. God willing, when my boys reach those tough teenage years, we will have the same deep bond of hunting to keep us together.–Travis Bullock