Written by Kurt Anstaett
Jackson, who loves kindergarten in Plano, Texas where we live, was probably more thrilled about the hunting trip than I, if that's possible. He was missing two days of school, would see his grandparents, and get to be in on the hunt, and he dearly loves hunting!
As we approached Garden City, my hometown in southwest Kansas, my headlights picked up light snow flurries and the wind was out of the north. Not the best weather for hunting mule deer for a grown man, let alone a thin built five-year-old! I would have to do some fast thinking and even faster talking the next morning to ensure that he stayed in the warmth of his Grandma Nini's house while his granddad and I tried to bag a muley.
Early the next morning, as my parents and I sat around the breakfast table drinking hot black coffee and enjoying homemade biscuits, ham and eggs, my dad, Jack, for whom Jackson was named, asked "Are you going to wake up Jackson?" "No way Dad" I said, "its 17 degrees outside and snow flurries. Too cold for him." I had hardly gotten the words out of my mouth when I looked up and saw Jackson entering the kitchen. Full "camo" insulated coveralls. Insulated boots and his insulated cap pulled down over his ears. "I'm ready" he said.
The fast thinking and talking had to start now. "Good morning little buddy" I said, "It's a little too cold out for you this morning. Papa Jack and I will make the morning hunt, and then we'll come back in for you for this afternoons hunt."
I could see that wasn't going to work when he didn't answer, pulled up a chair to the table and said "Grandma Nini, I'll have a cup of coffee and a biscuit before we go."
"Jackson, I'm serious, it's too cold for you this morning. You can stay here and help Nini this morning and hunt this afternoon. The sun will probably come out and it'll be warmer." Jackson took a bite of his biscuit and sip of his coffee-milk before he responded, "You won't kill him if I don't go." "Why? " I asked. "You won't see him without me. Remember I had to show you that Tom turkey in the woods before you shot him. Remember I have to tell you when the doves are coming, and then when we're picking them up, I have to show you where they fell. No sir, if I don't go you won't see him - and if you don't see him you won't kill him."
That logic was good enough for Papa Jack. He left the table with a big grin and was back in minutes with a large piece of canvas and two padded packing blankets. "Let's try it Jackson. If it gets too cold, you and I will sit in the pickup and run the heater." Jackson took one more bite of biscuit and said, "I'm ready."
Fifteen miles from town we own a 640 acre tract of land that's currently in the Crop Rotation Program (CRP) and surrounded on four sides by sections of land used to grow wheat and milo. The CRP land is a natural habitat for pheasants with grass from thigh high to over your head. Each winter high winds and snow lay the grass flat. Each spring new grass comes up and is laid over once again the following winter. The laid over grass creates a crosshatch effect that has voids underneath all throughout. Tough walking, but an ideal environment for pheasant to hatch their young, and to protect them from high winds and heavy snow.
CRP land is also perfect for the big mulies. They lay up there during the day and feed in the grain fields at night. Unless you have an elevated stand, it is virtually impossible to see a mule deer in that tall grass.
Papa Jack dropped Jackson and me off at the southwest corner of the property, at a 15 foot open tripod stand he had thoughtfully placed there at the beginning of the hunting season. Before he left us he kicked back some of the snow and made Jackson a "nest" of canvas and packing blankets at the base of the tripod. Although the tall stand could have accommodated both Jackson and me, barely, in good weather conditions, climbing the metal cleats covered with ice was just too dangerous for the little hunter.
I hadn't been in the stand five minutes with the cold wind penetrating every bone in my body, when I heard this little voice, "Do you see him"? "No Jackson, ssshhhh, be quiet" I said. I saw the top of his head sink back into his nest.
Five more minutes passed, "Do you see him yet"?
"Jackson be quiet!"
"Well are you looking"?
"Yes, I'm looking."
Ten minutes passes. "You want me to come up there and help you look?"
"No, Jackson, be quiet. I'll tell you if I see one."
By now the wind and snow made me wish I were in Jackson's nest, or better yet in the pickup with the heater running full blast.
Then I saw movement near the northwest corner of the property. I dusted the snow from my binoculars and zeroed in on the movement. Three hunters were about 150 yards on to our property, spread out and going slow hoping to jump some deer. I watched them for a few minutes and then saw more movement out in front of them. Four deer, three does and a large buck, were slipping through the tall grass several hundred yards in front of the hunters. The hunters, at ground level, couldn't see them through the tall grass, but I had the advantage in the elevated stand.
I trained my riflescope to the area where I had seen the deer with my binoculars. Even with the light snow blowing I picked them up fairly quickly. My rangefinder indicated two hundred and eighty yards to the target and the deer were walking slowly parallel to me. I watched them for several minutes. Just my luck, they weren't going to come my way. I would have to take a long shot in a pretty good wind and blowing snow. I wrapped the rifle strap around my arm like they taught us in the Marine Corps. I was ready to click off the safety when I heard, "See him yet?"
"Yeah Jackson be quiet, I'm going to take a shot. Shhh."
"Pull the trigger Dad, pull the trigger."
I flipped the safety off and found the left front shoulder of the big buck. The concussion from the 300-win mag nearly took me off the tripod. I hurriedly looked back with my scope. Nothing, just tall grass blowing in the wind. "Did you get him Dad? Hey Dad, did you get him?"
I kept the scope moving in the direction the big buck was traveling. I saw him. He was hit but not down. I jacked in another shell and fired just as he stopped to look back. The second shot laid him down.
Once I knew I had the kill, I swung my scope back to the spot where I had last seen the three hunters. I spotted them. They were running through the tall grass toward the gravel side road. They probably thought I was shooting at them.
I was about to let my breath out and try to breath normal when I felt a little hand on my back, "You want me to help you see him Dad?" Jackson had climbed all the way up on ice coated metal cleats to help me see. What a little hunter - my son.
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