Going into my senior year of college, I had met who is now one of my best friends. He decided to walk onto the baseball team, and our friendship and bond flourished from there. We lift together, play ball together, and live together, and I thought it would basically end at that. Eventually, Conner asked me if would let him tag along as I was going to hunt one of the farms not far from school. He’d never been around hunting of any kind, so I was a hesitant, but eventually said yes. It was a hot day that was relentless with rain, and the do’s and don'ts of whitetail hunting. We got back to the house that night, and I figured that would be the end of his hunting interest.
Much to my surprise, almost every afternoon I got a text from Conner asking if I was going hunting, and if he could come. I didn’t have many double sets up, so I reluctantly made him a deal. I told him that if he purchased his out-of-state license and took the time to shoot with me, I would take him out for the first day of rifle season. That night, he ran into our house yelling about how he’d gotten his license. For the next 4 weeks, it sat untouched on our kitchen table.
The week before opening day of Pennsylvania rifle rolled around, and I had kind of forgotten about our deal, but Conner sure hadn’t. In fact, I’m pretty sure he was counting down the days on a calendar. He asked if I was still taking him out, and again, I said I would. I decided that this hunt would be the foundation for how he’d view hunting for the rest of his life, so I was determined to make it a good one.
With hard rain in the forecast, I figured a blind would be the most enjoyable. I drove up to the farm and mapped out a game plan for Monday. I brushed in a new blind on a field edge in the pouring rain for about an hour and a half, and tried to get everything perfect for opening morning. From living on the farm for 21 years, I knew that these deer would try to cut across a too-thick hill on the north side of the field to get to their bedding area, and that would be our best shot at killing one.
My alarm went off at 5:15 a.m. on Monday, and I reluctantly dismissed it. I groggily checked my phone and I already had a text from Conner, who was just one room away, from 4:45 a.m. that simply said, “It’s time.” I remembered that this was his first ever hunt, and after reading that message, I was just as excited as he was. We were in the blind, sipping our coffee by 5:45, and I was not even close to being prepared for what would happen next.
First light rolled around, and the rain was supposed to start in the next 20 minutes. Next thing I know, Conner hits my arm and says, “A deer!”. Slightly stunned, I looked up, and on the side hill was a big bodied deer, but working away from us. I grunted a few times, and next thing we knew, he stepped out into the field about 100 yards to our left, but obviously didn’t plan on sticking around. I immediately saw it was a legal buck, and tried to get Conner in position to make a shot. After fumbling around for a minute, I stopped him, and waited for what seemed like an hour for that .308 to echo out in that valley and do it’s thing. Conner shot, the buck kicked, and took off into the woods. Me, being around hunting for so long, knew exactly what had happened. He center-punched his first buck, and I couldn’t contain my excitement. I looked at Conner who was weirdly calm, and said, “Nice shot”, to which he said, “But I missed.” I quickly realized that he thought that the deer would just go down if he hit it, because the only rifle hunt he’d ever watched was Tyler’s buck from the prior year, when the buck goes straight down. After some persuasion about the shot being good, two 6’2”, 200 pound college baseball players hugged and jumped up and down in that too small blind that I had just set up a few days prior.
As we made our way across the field, we told the story back and forth, like the other person wasn’t right beside us just five minutes prior. Conner proceeded to find first blood, and about fifty yards further into the woods, there he was. Conner’s first buck. A big-bodied five-point, and the look of a little kid on Christmas on a 21 year old’s face. I stood back and just watched it unfold. The awe, the wonder, and the respect. It was clear at that moment that he finally got it. He understood why I put so much time and effort into something that, to some, makes no sense. There were no questions about, “Would you have shot him?” or, “Is he big enough?” Instead, it was pure joy. Joy that we sometimes lose after hunting for a while because our culture says it’s all about shooting the biggest buck. This hunt took me back to my roots, to the first buck I killed with my dad on that same farm with that .308. That little kid feeling that we should feel every single time, came back to me once again. This was what hunting is about. This indescribable feeling that can’t be put into words, so you just jump around and high-five a little bit too hard. This was it, and I just got to share it with one of my best friends for his first time. Even though this one wasn’t my buck, I promise that it’ll be one that I’ll never forget. What started as just two ball players, transformed into a lifetime brotherhood from one pull of the trigger on that .308.
The excitement continued on as we got back to the house, took too many pictures and I was able to show him how to field dress his buck. Certainly something I promise he’ll never forget. To make it even more special, I decided to have his first buck mounted for him, just as my dad had done for me. I told him that we could take it over to my friend at Ocker’s Taxidermy would be glad to do it, and would certainly give this mount what it takes to hold our memories for a lifetime. He’s a great taxidermist, and an even better guy. That day, Conner picked the pose he wanted, and before we left to go to our classes and I thought it was over, he said to me, “Can I go out with you again next weekend?”