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"Stickers and More on this Buck!"
Photo provided by: Cody Watson

Forum member, Goatus (Cody Watson), shared an awesome story in our New Mexico forum. Here's what he shared....

"A Buck for Dad - Hereís a picture of my fathers buck I was able to harvest earlier this week. If the above sentence is confusing, Iíll explain. Like most father son duos we relish each fall, getting to spend time with one another; away from screaming children and the daily 9-5. As Iíve grown older and had kids of my own, Iíve noticed subtle shifts in the relationship my father and I have together. As the years pass heís becoming more of a friend and less of a father; my respect for him continues to grow as the hands on the clock chase one another

Shortly after COVID hit my father was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. The mast of the family began to sway too and fro, creaking in the breeze of question. Anyone who has ever seen their superhero taken to their knees at the alter of reality, will know how this feels and what it looks like; words canít properly paint this picture.

The summer was long and filled with more and more negative news. Together we looked at timelines, grasping for threads of hope as they swirled in a toilet bowl of reality, filled to the brim with unrealistic logistics. We came to the conclusion that chemotherapy coupled with radiation and surgery would probably keep his boots dry and his gun barrel cold this hunting season. We spoke to NMDGF to explore our options, the staff at the main office was very understanding of our situation and helped us navigate through all the paperwork. I was the somber owner of my fathers future legacy.

Over the next few months my father and I started our ballistic journey at the local gun range. We had built him a good muzzleloader setup in anticipation of the upcoming season. We worked up powder charges, charts and the like, we explored an array of bullets and sabot combinations; there were few variables left to wonder and whimsy by the time we left the range. I wrote my come-ups out on a piece of paper with my fathers former business letterhead at the top, taping it to the stock. He wanted to print out a fancy official looking chart, going into detail on all the variables he could include. I stopped him halfway through the ballistic bloviation and told him, ďI like this one dad, I get to take you with me.Ē

As treatments progressed, his health began to fail. Sunday dinners went by the wayside. Weekend trips to the mountains had dipped below the horizon of memories passed. After school trips to Nanas an Papas became a broken record of playful pleas and heartbreak from his grandchildren. He was fighting the fight of all fights. I knew my dad was tough physically, but nothing can prepare a person for the mental portion of the battle that was taking place. My father is a busy man, always moving, always doing something. To do nothing was toxic and he made sure to remind me of this daily in my teenage years.

I found myself struggling to get excited about the upcoming hunts. My father was scheduled for surgery the day after the opener for his muzzleloader deer hunt. I told him I would skip the hunt and go down to Albuquerque to keep mom company. He sternly countered my offer by telling me ďThatís my deer too son, you go get him.Ē

Opening day found me atop a ridge with familiar faces, the kind of people that reaffirm your faith in humanity. Friends that would drop everything and be present in your time of need. After the hunt, I made it a point to tell each one of them how much I sincerely appreciated their time behind the glass or hours pushing ridges in the braising heat. I will forever be indebted to these men, for the laughs and reminiscing times of old; for allowing me to severe the connection with reality if only for a couple days. Thank you Jason, thank you Tyler, thank you Kyle, thank you Jim, thank you Matt.

The hunt started off great, we were into animals consistently, passing bucks I would have regularly dropped the hammer on. Iím not a trophy hunter by nature, I typically take the opportunity that is presented to me when hunting big game. This hunt was different, I wanted to honor my father, chasing the indelible task every young man yearns for; to make their father proud.

The morning of day two I called my father before he went into surgery. The conversation was short and to the point, with my father at the helm. He went under the knife with his head high and his chest out; never listening to voice of midnight or peering into the abyss.

The next two days were filled with hard work. Hours behind glass, hiking to water catchments, tracking, pushing and praying. We were consistently into animals, but could not seem to locate a mature buck. Hot temps and a hateful moon, put the deer in the trees before legal shooting light. Spirits ticked closer and closer to the edge, never going over, we continued the journey and pressed on.

Day four was full of action, with glints of fur and bone bounding through the trees, we had finally found a rhythm and an area that had multiple mature bucks in it. In our minds we had found our new spot and would probably focus the remainder of the hunt in this area. Mid afternoon found us heading back to civilization, I was going to help Jason and his father Jim load their trailers and hunt the evening hunt solo. After thanking them profusely and seeing them off, I was off to the sage to creep amongst the crepuscular critters.

Before heading out I received a tip from a good friend, he had seen a good buck coming off a ridge complex. I weighed my options, head to the new spot we had just discovered or roll the dice and run with the timely tip. Seeing as how I would not be able to hunt the next day due to another family emergency, I chose to run with the tip; I would be 70 miles closer to home and get to tuck my kiddos in that night.

I set up 100 yards down ridge from area where the big buck was coming out. Sitting there, I began to play mental chess with an opponent I had never met but yearned so much to do so. Daylight was fading, as I sat there perched like a chipmunk on a rock; thoughts and emotions began to flood in. I said a prayer for my father and a flawless recovery; wishing he was sitting next to me in anticipation of what could be. I reflected on how good the people in my life are and how thankful I am to share experiences with them.

While staring into the looking glass, movement caught my eye, but not from the direction I had planned for; I was never really good at chess anyway. Luckily I had enough cover to conceal the ensuing circus that was fixing to unfurl in front of me. I would like to say everything went as planned, the kill was quick and concise but this was not my reality.

The buck stepped into view at 200 yards, pushing my muzzleloader to its ethical limitations. He was working at a quartering angle toward me, by the time I was set up for the shot he was at 180 yards. I was prone across a sandstone rock, I adjusted my scope for the range then verified range again 186 yards; go time. I settled the crosshairs on his shoulder and began to take up the slack in the trigger. They say let the gun surprise you, it did just that. The gun jumped off the rock showering my view with smoke and flame. The report of the muzzleloader was quickly followed by a dull thud as the bullet made contact with my quarry. I watched as he put his head down, waiting for him to expire and claim his spot in memory eternal. After 30 seconds of watching him, instinct kicked in and the reloading process started. The first half of the hunt was full of dust wind and heat, somewhere in these variables lies the equation for a stuck primer in the breech. For the next 7 minutes I scrambled hopelessly to remove the 209, an eighth of an inch circle is all that stood between me a freezer overfloweth and a dream realized. Finally I was able to remove the primer, the deer hadnít moved and I started the reloading again. With the circus music pounding in my head I remove the cap and go to dump the propellant down the barrel. The speed loaders were tucked in my pocket for safe keeping, an excellent spot to build static. When I went to dump the powder the static generated by the speed loader acted like glue for the powder. There I am shaking a measured powder charge like a jar of ketchup, trying to get it where it belongs. It did not, my second shot was nowhere near the deer. Last shot last speed loader, I refined my method s and was able to get most of the powder down the chute this go round. By this time the deer had walked 200 yards away and bedded under a tree. The stalk was on, since it was my last shot I had to make it count. I closed the distance to 100 yards I could see his neck and head. While lining up the shot the deer snapped to attention. I knew if he took off and started pumping adrenaline, I would run a high risk of losing him forever. I could hear my fathers voice, "Squeeze the trigger, squeeeeeze". With those words resonating in my heart mind and soul, I anchored my trophy and realized my dream.

By the time I had processed the buck and got back to the house, it was too late to share the experience with my father. I sent him a picture and hit the pillow at 12:30 am. The next morning 6:30 am, I was greeted with a call from my father. I dove right in, giving him every detail, even with two missing ribs 1-1/2 lung and two chest tubes, he was still able to be the dad I always remember. As I explained to him all the fallacies that took place that afternoon, he stopped me when I told him I only had 2 speed loaders on me. "You know better than that...dumbass". Which would probably be my birth name if you ask him. We spoke for 5 minutes that morning, I could sense relief on his part and could only hope a dash of pride would be thrown in when I told him, "I got him dad...I got your buck"."

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