It Only Takes One Hunt
How many times do you have to take to the field before someone becomes a hunting partner? Someone that you would go to bat for and share your secret spots with. For me and Daryle Dawson, it happened quickly.
We only hunted together once, huddled and whispering over a spotting scope while his son-in-law made a stalk on a beautiful white-tailed buck on the last days of the season. It was over a decade ago and I can hardly recall what happened last week, but I remember the smiles we shared on that hunt and the numerous times that we recalled that memory in the years that followed.
I have shared a decades-long friendship with Daryle’s children, dating back to college. His daughters and their husbands are among my closest friends. He raised kids with easy smiles and gentle natures who valued God and family and over the last 20 years we have helped raise each other’s children and shared hundreds of meals.
This hunt happened so long enough ago that I had yet to develop the restraint needed to pass on the first mature deer that came along. My own tag had been filled weeks before. I was left hunting vicariously through others and spent free evenings out with my spotting scope trying to find friends a deer they might admire.
The buck in question stood out. He was pursuing a hot doe. She had led him out into the open along a rocky horse pasture. The buck’s antlers held forked tines like those of a mule deer yet he was obviously a veteran whitetail. There was a bald patch on his flank that made no sense to the eye until we had him on the ground. We could see where a mountain lion had sunk its claws into his hind quarter. Yet the deer had managed to escape, leaving the predator in the dust holding only a toupee-sized patch of white-tail hide.
I knew Daryle’s son-in-law rarely filled his tag until the end of the season. When I drove into their rural farm yard, the deer was still in sight and it only took one look through my binoculars to peak Jeff’s interest. While he gathered his rifle and made ready for his stalk, Daryle and I set up the spotting scope.
Confined to a wheel chair the entire time I knew him, it never dimmed his interest in hunting adventures. Daryle was one of those people who always seemed to focused the conversation on others. He loved his grandkids and attended as many of their activities as he could. Summer and Fall we met at games or concerts, shared news and reminisced. Even when he had trouble expressing it, you could see pride in his eyes at their efforts.
Jeff left us behind and made the stalk, eventually creeping in and leaned his rifle over some round bales to make a solid rest. I followed along through binoculars while Daryle grew more excited watching each detail through the scope. We both held our breath in anticipation and watched the buck drop long before the sound of the shot could drift down to us. I felt so fortunate to have been there and shared that hunt.
I did a European mount on the skull and eventually got it back to Jeff. I hadn’t seen the antlers for years until I noticed them over Christmas. They had been framed and hung near the family dinner table. It had become harder for Mr. Dawson to get around of late and I hadn’t seen him for a while, but I saw those unique antlers and remembered.
This past weekend Daryle left his wheelchair behind for good and is stretching his legs in heaven for the first time in so long that there must be joy in every step. It will be so much easier now for him to keep up with his grandchildren and share his own hunting stories.
It only took one hunt to go from stranger to friend and I too will be at some of those games.
Good hunting Daryle.