Nov. 26, 2005. On that day, a little more than eight years ago, my 14-year-old son, Zach, killed his first deer. I was with him in the stand when he did. For that, I am thankful.
The stand sits beside a logging road in Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains. It’s a comfortable box stand on a tall metal frame. Narrow side windows open outward for shooting. Sitting inside, warm and dry, the hunter has an excellent view of the surrounding woodlands.
The stand belongs to my friend Lin Hinson, who lives near Paron. When Lin heard Zach’s first deer hunt was unsuccessful, he invited us to use his stand. Lin had killed a buck there earlier and returned daily to watch whitetails.
“I see deer almost every day,” he said. “Chances are good Zach will get a shot at one.”
I woke Zach at 3:30 a.m. on hunt day. An hour later, we met Lin and his son Alex at Alex’s home. Before dawn, Alex was showing us the way to Lin’s stand.
“Dad and I will hunt nearby,” Alex said. “If we hear Zach shoot, I’ll come check on you.”
Zach and I climbed into Lin’s stand. In my flashlight beam, I could see words painted on the outside: “The Youngins House.” Lin obviously intended the stand to be a special place for young hunters.
Zach has far more patience than I do. As we sat, he watched intently for deer. I fidgeted.
Two hours passed. No deer. Then someone rapped on the stand. It was Alex.
“Dad says to shut the side windows,” he said quietly. “The breeze might be carrying your scent to the deer.”
Lin’s suggestion worked. Soon after I lowered the windows, two whitetails appeared beside us. I nudged Zach and pointed.
Zach’s rifle was pointing out the open front window. The deer were to our right, where the window was down. I had to push the side window outward and hold it while Zach repositioned the .30-06. Minutes passed as we reorganized, trying not to spook the deer.
“The one on the left is a four-point buck,” I whispered. “The right one looks like a doe. It’s your choice.”
“The right one is bigger,” Zach answered. “I’m going to shoot it.”
Zach took careful aim. A shot rang out. The deer bolted. The bigger one obviously was hit.
Zach smiled. He seemed relieved.
“Good shot, son,” I said, patting him on the back. “Let’s wait a few minutes, and we’ll go look for it.”
Alex arrived as we were exiting the stand. “Did he get one?” he asked anxiously.
“He sure did,” I said.
The deer had fallen just yards away. It wasn’t a doe. It was a spike buck. One antler was broken off.
“It’s a unicorn, Zach!” Alex said. “It’s not every day you kill one of those.”
I don’t know who was happiest — Zach, Alex, Lin or me. When we met up with Lin, though, it was obvious he was elated at Zach’s success. He gave Zach a hearty handshake and congratulated the young hunter.
“It makes me feel good he killed his first deer on that stand,” he told me. “He’ll never forget that.”
I tell you this story because I want you to know about Lin and Alex’s generosity and what it has meant to my sons and me. Zach is 22 years old now, about to graduate from college. Every year since he killed The Youngins House Unicorn, Alex and Lin have shared one of their deer stands so he would have a place to hunt, and they’ve always invited me as well. My older son, Matt, now living in Chicago, has also been the beneficiary of the Hinsons’ kindness. He hunted from their stands many times, too, and killed several deer while doing so. One afternoon, he and Zach both killed deer while hunting from the Hinsons’ stands.
This year, Zach hunted again from The Youngins House, but he hunted alone as he has for several years now. He’s become quite a marksman and hunter and has no need for his father to sit beside him for guidance.
Around midmorning that day, Zach killed the seventh deer he’s taken from one of the Hinsons’ stands. The fat doe has been butchered and now resides in our freezer. We’ll enjoy many delicious meals of venison steaks, sausage, stew and fried backstrap as a result, and for that bounty we are grateful.
Most of all, we are grateful for the deep friendship shown by Alex and his father. These men are true hunters and sportsmen to the core, and more than any two men I’ve ever known, they enjoy sharing their love of hunting with others. Had it not been for them, my sons and I would not have been able to enjoy many days together in the field. Memories we treasure would not have been made. Venison we savored on our table would not have been eaten.
Although we try to express to the Hinsons our heartfelt appreciation, words are not adequate. They probably will never really know how much their generosity has meant to us. So I say it here again, hoping others will hear it. The Hinsons’ friendship has given my sons and me joyous times together none of us will ever forget. For that, we can never thank our friends enough.
If you are a hunter with a place of your own, I encourage you to reach out to others in the manner Alex and Lin reached out to us. You will change lives in a positive manner that exemplifies the true meaning of being a hunter, and those you changed will never forget that kindness.