By Steven Donovan
We sat in a tree stand on a cold Tennessee morning. A young man on one of his first deer hunts, trying to get his first buck. I did my best to make this moment a good one for him as his older hunting partner and guide.
A mature buck strutted out into the open. Not old, but not young. A solid 8-pointer, with some of those points damaged in what was clearly some classic male on male whitetail thrashing.
“You have all the time you need, all the time in the world,” I said.
The 8-pointer presented a near perfect broadside. He was calm, no adrenaline rushing.
The young man pulled the trigger. Click. No fire. No bullet. Silence. Misfire.
Out of instinct, I told my young hunting partner to remain still. The buck stopped eating and it was clear he was listening and watching for any more movement or sound. After a few seconds, he relaxed again and resumed his morning graze.
I wanted to see this young man succeed. In some way, I felt responsible for his success. Were we hunting rare or dangerous animals in far flung places around the globe? No. But for him, right now, that buck was his buffalo or ram. He was about to kill his first whitetail deer, and that is a big moment in any young man’s life.
Luckily, and of course, I had my own rifle. There was no way we were letting this opportunity go. There was no time for excuses.
“Ok. Here’s what we’re going to do. Ease your gun down next to you. You’re going to use mine,” I said. His eyes went wide.
I very slowly handed my rifle over to him. He settled into a good position. I used my hands as an impromptu rest on the stock so he could focus on his end of the rifle—especially since the gun may have been a bit too big for him.
Impact. The buck spasmed, stepped a foot forward and rolled over flailing up then dropped. The young hunter had hit him exactly where he needed to.
I looked over and saw my little partner with his face in his hands, bent forward and moaning.
To my shock, he took his hands from his face and blood dripped everywhere. The rifle recoil had driven the scope right into his nose. The Model 70 took blood from both prey and hunter alike, at the same time.
Instead of what I thought would be tears, the young man started laughing and had a massive grin on his face. It was one of those situations where pain exists but is completely overridden with joy and adrenaline. His excitement was through the roof.
Then he asked me, “Is it right that I don’t feel bad about killing the deer? Should I feel bad?”
I thought about it for a couple seconds but chose not to overcomplicate it.
“No, you’re fine. You don’t need to feel bad. You did great.” He smiled even more, proud of how he shot.
I left it at that. Too often people think grand explanations are needed for significant moments. I think it’s important to let these moments speak for themselves. No need to spoil a situation with too many words for the sake of emotional vanity.
He did a good job.
He is a hunter.