At 7:26 on Tuesday morning, I became a member of a club I've imagined joining since I was 14 — The Buck Down Club.
Well, 7:26 a.m. is the time that it became official, when I knew for sure that I had knocked down my first buck as a hunter — at age 31 — and managed to stop shaking long enough to text my dad: "Buck down!"
When I walked up to my prize, he wasn't the monstrous 8-point or the wide 10-point that we'd been seeing signs of and hearing stories of around the farm, but he was the perfect buck for me — for a lot of reasons.
First of all, most folks would say I'm a little bit off, a little bit outside the box. They may even say I'm not all with it upstairs sometimes. In that area, this buck was my companion.
Most 31-year-old hunters would be in trouble if they told you they shot a 4-point as their first kill this year. But the fact that all four of my buck's points were on the same antler — meaning he was a half-rack — left me in the right as far as downing a buck goes.
In fact, I suppose that adds a bit of elusiveness to the deer I brought down. Or perhaps exquisiteness is the word? Regardless of the word you'd use to explain it, he had me beaming from ear to ear when I poked him to make sure he'd been finished off — it was a good shot, which surprised me — and I grabbed the antler to hold his head up and check him out.
He had a narrower rack than I thought, but still, he'd have been a nice little 8-point (if he had a mirrored rack) and a big deer to boot, which is important because a large part of the driving force behind my desire to hunt came from a want/need to fill the freezer.
I could tell you the whole story of how I bagged the buck, but to be honest with you, it's not all that exciting — though it gets my heart pumping as I write this — and there's a better story to tell when it comes to bagging my buck.
The best part of the story is, in fact, another reason that this buck is the perfect one for me:
Bagging this guy was a team effort. In fact, without the influence
of quite a few different people, this accomplishment truly wouldn't have been possible at all.
First and foremost among those is my dad. For the first few years that I lived back in the area, I wasn't sure that hunting was for me.
After I'd shot my first doe when I was 16 years old, I didn't like the thought of having to field dress a deer, so I hung up my hunting gear. While away at college and living in Pittsburgh, I missed it a bit, but I'd forgotten the thrill and peace that come with the hunt.
My dad revived that spirit in me as I listened to his tales and "day's work" stories from his hunts. The thrill of the hunt isn't just in bagging the buck.
It starts with preparation, and the best part of preparing for the past two hunting seasons was getting to spend some time with Dad doing what Dad loves to do — get ready to hunt.
He's literally taught me everything I know about hunting — or re-taught me, as the group of men who taught me before did a great job, but my memory failed me. He's answered so many stupid questions I had about hunting and strategy that it truly, literally wouldn't have been possible without him.
Besides that, he helped me out in a big way when he came over and showed me how to field dress the deer — turns out I still haven't gutted one on my own.
Another pair that helped re-spark that interest came in my grandparents — my dad's father and mother. My memories tied to hunting included tales of their own hunting expeditions, and their excitement when talking about it — though they don't hunt anymore — re-ignited some of the passion that I had for the good parts of the hunt.
Nobody likes sitting out in the freezing cold weather, so there has to be something more to the hunt, and talking about it with them helped remind me of how thrilling it can be to be alone and quiet in the woods.
And besides that, I've spent the past two years hunting a spot that I've always considered Pap Lantz's spot on the family farm. So a piece of them was there with me — even though they were enjoying warmer southern weather — when I shouted, "Buck down!"
Another person who helped in a tangible way this year was my dad's neighbor, Chuck. Helping me by lending me a leaning tree stand, offering assistance in setting it up and telling me tales of the bucks he and his wife, Anne, had seen in the area really put a jump-start in my thrill for hunting this season.
As I looked through the scope at my first trophy, a part of me thought maybe it was the monster 8-point Chuck had described. It wasn't, but I still wasn't disappointed! And Chuck's reminder that there were deer around my stand kept my hopes high — hunting season's more thrilling when you know there are bucks circling your general location.
And last, but certainly not least, my grandfather who has passed on from this life — Pap Getch — played a bigger role in this buck than most would think possible.
Sitting in the woods this year took me back to hunts with Pappy — as he was known by so many of us. He and I would take our buckets and just sit out in the field after I got home from school hoping someone would kick one our way, and he's the one who was probably most bummed when I quit hunting after he dressed that first deer for me.
But he always went with me the past few years — as I always wore a sweatshirt that came from his closet after he passed on my hunting trips — and I felt him there quite strongly as I stood beside my deer waiting for Dad to come help me out.
And after Dad returned to his tree stand, he sent me one more congratulatory text: "Pappy's smiling down today. His grandson has a buck down."
It brought a tear to my eye and reminded me what a team effort this buck was.
Tuesday, I was scheduled to help Grandma put her Christmas decorations up outside the house — a tradition Pappy had always carried on. So, as we worked on getting them set up without him, I knew in a very real way that he was there with us all along.
Without the help of these folks and so many more, I might have never tried this hunting thing again. I'd have missed the magic and missed the connection with others it can lead to.
I was far from alone in that one-man leaning tree stand, and that's my favorite part of being a part of the ever-growing Buck Down Club.
Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit and a new member of The Buck Down Club.