I have been fortunate enough to bowhunt and harvest some quality deer over the years with my business partner and long time friend Bill Lawson. Together we have harvested some great deer with our bows and in 2007 I thought I had topped my hunting career with 193-inch state record buck in Georgia (previous Woods n Water Magazine Cover). Well, all that changed when I took my 8-year-old son Tyler “T-Bone” Stephens, on his first hunting trip in South Carolina. It was finally his time to try to shoot his first deer. Prior to the trip his grandma “Jan” got him a new Remington Youth Model 243 with Nikon Scope.
I invited my brother Ronnie and his two sons, Griffin and Easton, to come for their first deer hunt as well. Along for the hunt that weekend were my lease partners Aaron and Rhett Walker. It was to be a family weekend to let the boys hunt. With cold weather and rain it had the potential to be a great weekend. The first day Tyler and I saw a few does but could not close the deal with none of them presenting an ethical shot. We also saw a few spikes but I asked Tyler to wait and see if we see a nice 4-point for 6-point for him. My nephew Easton was the first one on the board with an awesome doe he harvested on Saturday Night with a 270. Just a great hunt for him. The next morning his brother, Griffin, steps up and shots a great first buck at 175 yards. We were all excited for these boys to get deer on their first hunt. Both of them did a great job as if they had been hunting for years. Tyler and I did not see anything that Sunday morning. Additionally, my brother and everyone had to leave camp and head home with exception of Aaron.
So it is Aaron, Tyler and I have one more hunt on Sunday Night. It is cold and very windy. Almost to the point I am concerned the deer may not move. Tyler has seen deer over the weekend but has not been able to pull the trigger. We got in the stand about 3:45pm and did not see anything until 5pm when Tyler said, “Dad I see some does”. He looked through the binoculars and said there are more coming out.” They piled out and were feeding about 150 yards from blind. I told Tyler lets take our time and make this happen. After a few minutes of the does moving back and forth, one finally stepped out of the bunch broadside. I told him to take the shot when he was ready. He took a breath and fired but he missed. Without getting upset we saw three of the does were still there. The wind was helpful in not allowing the deer to know just where shot come from. I said, “No problem buddy lets chamber another one and take another shot.” One of the does turned broadside and Tyler took his time and let it roll. That deer dropped in her tracks. Needless to say we were over the top happy and high fiving. Tyler does not get excited about a lot of things but I saw a new level of excitement that made me beyond happy. He was smiling from ear to ear.
Well in most cases that would be a great end to a first hunt but it did not stop there. I told “T-Bone” to wait for a few minutes and see what happens. Well, as luck would have it he said Dad I see another deer. It was a huge doe in the tree line that eventually stepped out at 130 yards. I told him to get ready and take her. He took his time and waited for her to turn. Once she did he put it on her shoulder, took a breathe and fired. It was a perfect shot. She “jumped up” and ran off. I knew he had hit her good. At this point it was getting close to dark with only about 30 -40 minutes left of light. Knowing I may not have a lot of blood with the 243, I decided to get down and find that second deer. Tyler and I got down and when we got to his first doe and I hugged him with so much pride. As I walked into the woods to find his second doe she was laying dead only 10 yards from where he shot her. I drug her out and pulled both of them to the road. At this point he is beyond excited. At the same time Aaron is in a near by stand wondering what the heck is going on with some many shots.
I explained to Tyler we need to go back to the stand and wait until dark to go get Mr. Aaron. As we are walking back to the blind I see a mature buck right in front of the stand feeding at 125 yards. I froze and told “T-Bone” not to move. We slowly squatted down on the ground right beside the blind. I asked Tyler if he could make this shot and he said, “Dad I can do it”. I said okay buddy because this is a good buck. The deer was looking dead at us but was not overly spooked based on his body language. We did not move and waited to see what he did. He put his head down and I told Tyler to get ready. I was squatted behind him acting as a brace as he positioned the rifle for a steady shot. I told him to wait and see if he will turn broadside and once he does you have to make the shot. As luck would have it the deer turned and I told him to put it on his shoulder and shoot. He took a breath and shot. The deer jumped up and ran off. At this point I am a wreck as my son has just shot two does and now a big South Carolina buck. I thought he was an eight point based on how quick it happened but at this time would have been happy for him to shoot a nice 4 or 6 point let alone a big 8. Needless to say Tyler was coming out of his skin as well with excitement and joy. I asked Tyler to explain to me what he did and where he shot the deer. He said Dad I put it on his shoulder but I may have shot high. I again explained to him we need to get in the stand and wait. We cannot push the deer and we will give it a few more minutes and go get Mr. Aaron. As we are waiting I see a coyote down by the does Tyler had just shot and I told him to get his gun ready and shoot him. He told me he could not see him well, so I took the gun and shot the coyote. At this point Aaron is just not sure what to think since we have now shot 5 times.
We go get Aaron and tell him the story as he thinks we are pulling his chain. We get to the does and take pictures and then go track this buck. Remember the wind is very strong still and getting worse. I track this buck and walk up within 12 yards of him bedded down. He is not dead. He turns his head and looks at me as I am holding the light. My heart sank a bit but I knew he was hit hard b/c he did not move. I quickly turned the light off and eased out. I went back to the truck and we decided to give this deer all night and not push him. That is hard news for an 8 year old who just shot a big buck that we have to wait to find him. Tyler’s words to me were “Dad that deer will die, I know I hit him good.” I said okay buddy Mr. Aaron and I will find this deer but we have to give him some time. It was a long night but we got back to the woods early the next morning and found where he was laying down. Although, he was not there and there was not a lot of blood. My heart sank a little again but knew he was hit hard. As any parent would do in this situation is you stay positive and prepare for a long day of tracking to find him. At this point I am looking for any other sign and Aaron hears something and steps up on a fallen tree. He had heard a coyote on Tyler’s deer. He saw a big coyote run off and then yelled to Tyler “T-Bone I found your Buck”. Anyone that has to gone through this knows the feeling of over joy when you hear those words and when it is your child’s deer you feel even better. While the coyotes had found the buck and did some damage to his body we found the deer. The eight point that I thought Tyler had shot turned out to be a perfect 10-point with a kicker. We were in shock of how good this deer was and Tyler was over whelmed with joy as he was holding his horns and I was squeezing him about to death with hugs. I think Aaron and I were even more excited with how this turned out and how good this buck was for him. While I do hate loosing any of the meat to a coyote it was the right thing to do to ensure we got this deer. As I examined the deer to find where the bullet went in, I smiled as I saw a bullet whole that was a bit high in the shoulder. He hit dead center in the shoulder but a little high just like he told me he did.
We explained to him that it does not always work out like this to shoot 3 deer in one night. While this was Tyler’s Day I am more proud of how he handled himself and just how cool and collected he was at 8 years old during the entire hunt. To miss his first deer that night and come back and ultimately shoot three deer is a great accomplishment. I truly love the outdoors and bowhunting is my passion. I have harvested some great deer but my hunting has now gone to the next level with my son now being part of a special group of sportsmen. While this was a unique sequence of events it was one that I will always remember and remind Tyler of as he grows up. This weekend reminds me of the being blessed with my children, great friends, family and the love of the outdoors. For those who do not do this or look down on hunters they are truly misguided! Thanks for reading my son’s story, as this was the best hunt of my life!