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By John Clark

As hunters we all measure success in different ways. There is a fairly broad, almost universal “process” that hunters go through. In the beginning any deer will do. After that, we want more deer, any size big or small. We are not looking for quality trophy deer, quantity is what matters. We don’t let many young deer mature to become bigger ones, we want them now. Then we want them bigger and better, just any little buck won’t do. We want “a trophy for the wall”, and become slightly more selective, about the shots we take. We are much more likely, at this stage, to take a mature doe and let a small immature buck walk. Finally, we get to that place where the deer, any deer, is of minimal concern. It’s all about the hunt, the company, and the experience. We are much more focused on the relationships that we enjoy than the deer we hunt. Everyone, it seems, has an idea about the perfect hunt. For some, it seems, that hunt must include the “trophy of a lifetime” no matter the species or location. But the hunt I want to tell you about is the one that in my mind is the grandest trophy of all.

I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad and uncle. For various reasons those opportunities were hit or miss. But those activities took root with me so I raised my boys hunting and fishing. It took root with them as well. The years passed almost instantly and before I knew it my “boys” were men, moving out and starting families of their own. My oldest son, Ryan, joined the Army and became a soldier who had only to answer to Uncle Sam. As a result he lives where the “needs of the Army” dictate, currently Ft. Myer, Virginia. Consequently, our opportunities to hunt and fish together are rare; and infinitely more valuable.

After many weeks of waiting on the whims of the Army, Ryan’s leave was finally approved. He was able to come home for a muzzleloader hunt, in my current home state of North Carolina. I gained access to a few farms around the area and one was prime for an early season hunt. The morning hunt was un-eventful at best but a quick break for lunch and to rest and we were back in the woods around 3:00 PM. I had a spot picked out for a loc-on stand and Ryan helped me get it situated. It took much longer than he expected (I’m not as young as I once was), but he stayed to see it through and then hurried to his stand. We were hunting opposite sides of a creek bottom that divided two soy bean fields. As the crow flies we were about 300 yards apart.

The evening hunt passed slowly until about 6:15 PM when I heard Ryan shoot. It is an indescribable feeling, the sensation I get when Ryan shoots. I’m not sure if its pride, joy, happiness or a combination of these emotions. Whatever it is, it is sheer satisfaction and almost invariably ends with me helping drag a big, fat, heavy deer 3 miles through a swamp. Somehow, I managed to stay put until dark and sent him a text asking if all was well. He assured me it was and told me he shot a deer at about 15 yards. I made my way out of the woods to the truck to drop off my pack, etc. and then went back in to help him find his deer.

And the story goes that the buck came out of the bottom, walked a trail, heading straight toward Ryan. He watched, hoping the buck would turn, but it continued a path straight to him. At 15 yards it stopped behind some thick brush. After a while the buck turned broadside (slightly quartering to) and Ryan had the shot he wanted. He completely lost sight of the buck in the smoke but heard which direction it went and thought he may have heard it go down.

After gathering at the stand site and getting the low-down on the shot, escape path, etc. we started to trail the deer. Ryan had a fairly good idea which way the buck went so he headed that way to take a look. I started looking for signs at the point of impact. There wasn’t much to go on at first but eventually we found small number of signs; tracks, broken twigs, etc. It was pitch dark at this point and Ryan was getting concerned. He began a sweep of the area in which he thought he heard the deer go down, while I continued a methodical search with what signs we could find. As the signs came to an end, I began a “grid” search of the swamp. Ryan’s anxiety was growing. I tried to encourage him to continue to look for signs not just a deer, but secretly my own concern was growing. I was beginning to wonder if we were going home empty handed. On a sweep with my flashlight of the surrounding woods, I saw a reflection I thought was out of place. As I got closer to it, I realized it was his deer and the reflection was the deer’s eye.

Before I got too close, I told Ryan, “I found a sign over here”. With relief, he said “I’ll be right there,” and headed my way. What he found when he got there was a dandy six point buck, a mere 70 yards from where he shot him. It was fairly young and not nearly as big as he would ultimately have been, but, in my estimation, a trophy buck.

Figure 1 “Photo” John Clark with his son Ryan Clark and a whitetail deer that Ryan harvested while hunting with his father in North Carolina, USA.

That is really all there is to it. Nothing world class, nothing to alert the media about but a trophy hunt in every sense. My son is a grown man, with a wife, and baby on the way. He lives in Virginia and I know he passed a lot of good hunting on his way to North Carolina. But he came home to hunt with me and there is not a better hunt I could have. The buck was secondary, the hunt was immeasurable, that is the hunt I want.

Figure 2 “Photo” John Clark with his family. John enjoys the outdoors and uses nature to educate his children on the benefits of the “Outdoors Lifestyle” as a healthy way to raise a family.

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