A lot of things have me sentimental on deer hunting lately.
Every year I point my GMC northwest and head from the mountains of Boone, NC back to my home state of Illinois to bow hunt the rut. It's a purely magical time to a deer hunter. And for me, it's also time to see my family and friends. These days with life getting busier and work more demanding, it's often the only time I see them all year.
This year's trip coincided with two special events. First, Outdoor Life recently ran a story on my grandpa's old hunting group, which you can read in the November issue, on newsstands now. It's a story about the good 'ole days of deer hunting in the Heartland, where hard-working, salt-of-the-earth farmers toted smoothbore shotguns on man drives with their buddies. They hunted the same way midwesterners do everything - the way that made sense to them. Listening to "Papa" retell the story and writing it was a trip back to my childhood and a tribute to those staunch, Carhartt clad men, some of whom have passed on. Lots of folks from my hometown bought the issue just for that story, thrilled to see their grandpa or dad mentioned in print with a photo. The response was moving in a way I didn't expect.
Second, my brother, Tyler, and sister-in-law, Ashley, from Kansas City just had their first baby. Colin Lucas Kirby is 4.5 months old and he's the man. He wants to stand up and see the world, never stops moving, and is trying really hard to tell us what he thinks. My mom is the ultimate first-time uber-grandma, and my dad has dropped his guard, losing the rough, gravely tone in his voice for baby talk (What the ??). We were all at the house together for a couple days, and it was awesome. We would hunt mornings and evenings, then spend the rest of the time eating, talking, and doting on the little dude together. Soon enough, Kim and I will add to the mix with our own little ones, Tyler and Ashley will have more, and the next generation of Kirbys will grow up.
In light of all this, here I sat in a tree on the first afternoon on my parent's farm. Fairly warm at 50 degrees and a stiff NW wind in my face, I had packed in a super lightweight Muddy Outfitter Lite hang-on stand and sticks. I picked a tree in the best corner of the field, shimmied up with the climbing sticks, hung my stand, and in less than 15 minutes I was ready with an arrow nocked. To my right was a cut corn field, and to my left was the main body of brush-choked timber. Below me and to my left was a weathered old permanent stand built 10 feet off the ground in a gnarly hedge tree.
As I sat waiting for the action to start, I couldn't help but think of all the hunting stories this old wooden stand could tell. I remember the time my uncle Scott shot a buck there that was crawling through multi-flora rose on his knees, trying to keep his rack low to the ground and slip back through a man drive. Or the time my dad shot a beautiful 8 point with great brow tines that was bedded underneath that stand with 7 does late in the year. I remember hearing my first fly-down cackle from a boss hen one spring as she pitched from her roost in an oak tree above that hedge. And as I reminisced, I thought:
"The more things change, the more they stay the same"
Here I am with all my fancy gear, packing in a stand that weighs less than my nephew, shooting a slick new compound and using a rangefinder to find that one perfect corn stalk that I know is at 40 yards. Yet when it comes time to choose a location, I pick the same spot that's delivered for decades. That same inside corner on the same brushy flat with the same trails that have always been there. My grandpa's generation didn't read this tactic in a magazine or learn stand placement from Bill Winke. They just put a stand there because, well, it made sense to them.
I even posted about it on Instagram.
Forty-five minutes later I look up to see a mature buck enter the corn field, cruising downwind of a brushy draw, scent checking it for does. I grunt. He can't hear me in the wind. I reach for my rattling antlers and crack them together just enough to get his attention. He snaps his head my direction and freezes. I freeze too, and for 30 seconds he burns a hole in my location with his eyes. He loses interest and starts walking again. I crack the horns together once more. This time he turns on a dime, walking, then running, straight at me, quickly covering the 150 yards between us while I reach for my bow. At 50 yards though, he turns and heads into the timber, looping downwind of my tree, sticking tight to the brush and offering no shot. A couple grunts and a snort wheeze brings him closer, and at 43 yards he steps out of the thick stuff and into a 2 foot window between the limbs of the hedge tree. I bleat with my voice to get him to stop, settle the pin and send an arrow his way, and it's over. One more story for that old hedge tree to tell.
My brother was in a stand not 200 yards away and heard the commotion. We exchanged texts, he goes and pulls the truck around, and together we drag him out, the way we've always done. We celebrated, took a few pics, texted buddies and retold the story to dad when he got home from work. We even got Colin out the next morning for the classic redneck deer photo, the one on a bloody tailgate, the way we used to do it before "hero" shots became the cool thing to do. (Of course, we also took the hero shots...)
Three generations of Kirby men have learned to hunt on this farm. Soon it will be four. And one day Colin will kill a buck in this same corner of the field, and I'll tell him a long, exaggerated story about the heavy 9-point that I rattled in to that very tree. He'll probably laugh at the "old" stand I used and my "ancient" compound bow, but his dad and I will know the underlying meaning of the story: