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Title: Chapter One - Learning to Hunt
Tags: Whitehorse hunting muledeer
Blog Entry: I hated it.   As a young kid following my Dad around in the woods.   I was cold.   I had to be quiet.   We drove forever on old logging roads at the wee hours of the morning.   We never got anything.   I wasn’t even sure deer actually existed.   The experience was almost lost to me as a kid.   Had there been Playstations and such back then, life today would be much different.   It wasn’t until I was age 11 that the value of this lifestyle became evident.   My Grandpa Gene showed me the way.   I am 41 years old now, but the memory of 1982 lives in my mind as vivid as the coffee I had this morning.   My Grandpa was an inspiration to many, but for me he was a turning point in my life.   I was failing my classes, getting in fights, and generally heading in the wrong direction.   Looking back, I can see that it was another year before I sank deep into the wrong group of kids and took up their endeavors.     At age 11 my Dad took me for a three week hunting trip.   Not just any hunting trip; but to the legendary hunting grounds of my family in Eastern Oregon .   A place called Whitehorse; actually a hunting unit called Whitehorse .   My Grandpa, Great Grandpa, and Great Great Grandpa made many of the roads out there, if you can call them roads, long before there was any such thing as hunting units.   Enough of a jeep trail to get to an aspen patch in the middle of no where.   And when I say no where, I mean don’t go there without a week’s worth of food and water and really good tires, and even then you’re going to have to take a four hour trip to McDermitt for supplies.   In all my time between 8 and 11 years old, I had never seen a buck.   Only a few straggling does.   Following my Dad around all those years was frustrating and self-defeating.   I was on the verge of turning away from this life that my family had always lived going back generations.   I was almost lost.   Another year older, and girls would start to look my way, so it became very important that I saw the value of it before it was too late.   There were a few things that had to happen.   First, camping had to get more fun.   Second, we had to see some wildlife that inspired me.   Third, someone had to actually succeed in bagging a deer.     So there I was, riding in the back of a fully packed car with my Dad, aunt, and cousin bouncing over a jeep trail to what we affectionately called “the aspen patch”.   Basically, a 30 yard patch of aspens on the side of a knoll in the middle of a vast sagebrush flat.   Twentyfive years later, my grandparents would be memorialized there with two inconspicuous gravestones on the knoll overlooking this lonely little aspen patch.     It was a sixteen hour drive so I was cramped, tired, and barely coherent.   My cousin was asleep, but I was barely awake looking at the sagebrush pass.   Just then, the car jolted to a stop!   My dad and aunt piled out fast!   I rubbed my eyes and saw blurry images of rock and sagebrush.   It seemed like I was still asleep and dreaming when I heard my aunt say, “Should I shoot it?”   My Dad said, “I don’t know, this is the first day and we haven’t even gotten to camp yet.   Shoot if you want.”   The gun went off and deafened me for a moment.   My cousin woke up and asked what was going on.   My aunt had propped her gun over the car for a rest, took aim and shot a healthy 3 point buck.   Well, scratch item number three off the list.   Someone actually got one!   My eyes were wide as frying pans and a grin as big as Oregon itself as we pulled into camp with the deer draped over the vehicle.   I was about to experience something that I always knew was out there, but never got to see until now.   The aspen patch was interspersed with five camp trailers in a semi-circular around two grand fire pits about thirty yards apart.   Off to the side of the aspen grove was a pile of mule deer horns stretching nine feet tall and five feet wide.   Finally, I was about to see what this whole thing was all about.   The five camp trailers belonged to my Grandpa Gene, Aunt June, Aunt Kay, Uncle Lester, and some other guy I’d never met.   Eventually, there would be a couple more arrivals.   We had a tent… a two man job that we pitched back in the aspens away from the trailers.   My Dad and I would call that home for three weeks.     There was much fanfare on our arrival.   We backed the car in and flopped the buck down.   There was already one hanging on the buck pole.   E veryone was excited that we had two hanging on day one of hunting season.   Little did they know, it was about to be a season that none had experienced in a life time.   And lucky me, a confused 11 year old got to live it.   My next memory is of riding in my Grandpa’s old International Scout across the sage flats.   I was in the back seat where all kids should be.   My Dad was back there with me and my aunt June was in the passenger seat.   I was daydreaming about spaceships and girls when the rig stopped and my Grandpa, who never spoke unless needed, said, “Arn, get out and let’s take a walk.”   Arn was his way of saying “Aaron”.   Almost like he was mad my parents named me that, and wished my name was some one syllable name like Bob or John.   My aunt and Dad looked at me like, “uh oh, this is big”.     I grabbed my Browning .243 semi-auto from the rack and stepped out nervously.   He walked out toward a rim rock cliff face and looked back and waved for me to catch up.   I was nervous.   I never had much interaction with him before now.   I caught up and walked by his side but slightly back to show respect.   Trying not to trip over the clumps of sage and bitter brush, I got close to the top of the rim rock face and he waved me down with his hand.   “Stay quiet, boy.”   We crept up and looked over the top.     Two monster bucks bedded down were looking back up at us from the bottom of the rim rock cliff about twentyfive yards down.   Both were 3-points with shafts about 1 ½ inches thick at the base of the ear.   I raised my rifle and took aim.   Grandpa gently pushed the barrel down, as if to say “now is not the time”.   We watched them for about five minutes until they finally got up and sauntered off around a bend in the rimrock.   I took a risk and blurted out, “Why couldn’t I shoot one?”.   He simply pointed to the mile deep canyon that rested against the base of the rim rock face.   H ad we shot one, it would have rolled a mile down in that canyon and been lost.   My first buck sighting coupled with a valuable lesson in hunting.   To this day, I ask myself how he knew those two bucks were laying at that precise spot on that rim rock that spanned many miles.   We didn’t even drive a road to it!   Just traveled across sage brush.   The guy was legendary.   Scratch number two off the list.   This wildlife definitely inspired me.   I was ready to tell everyone back at camp the exciting hunting day we had.   But, when we got back I did not get the chance.   Aunt Kay had killed a big 3-point up in what we called “The Fingers”, which were a series of five ridges that spanned out in the shape of five fingers.   They afforded much cover in the valleys between and good habitat on either side depending on the weather.   Everyone at camp was busy field dressing it and talking about their day.   Seeing that third buck hanging from the buck pole was very exciting for me.   After years of no success, would I actually have the chance of bagging one of my own?   I was satisfied with seeing just a few people succeed.   But I began thinking, what if I could get one?   What if I could do something most people never do?   How would my Grandpa think of me then?   Would he be proud of me?   Would my Dad be proud of me?   I was the only kid there.   My uncles and aunts never let me forget it.   They looked at me with special discern, as if I was the heir apparent to a thrown that has long been held and will soon be relinquished to the next generation.   This began to be a huge burden for me to bear and we were only a couple days into this trip.   The next thing I remember is being lost.   Not good given my state of mind.   I wandered miles into the Oregon badlands not really knowing where I was or where I was going.   My Dad told me to meet him at a certain point a mile away.   I got there and he wasn’t there, so I thought I went to the wrong point and made my way to another point.   Several points later, I was lost.   Nearing dark I figured I would have to spend the night out in the desert.   That was fine, but to be sure I let off a few rounds to let everyone know where I was.   I looked around for a place to camp.   At 11 years old, this was pretty traumatic.   I let the tears flow for a while.   Then wiped my face and thought about what I had to do.   Looking for firewood I spooked a sage hen.   The sudden thundering sound of its wings a few feet from me almost made me crap my pants.   I remember falling to my knees, grasping my rifle, trying to settle my thundering heart rate.   Once I was calm enough to walk again without my knees wobbling, I continued looking for fire wood.     Settling down for what I thought was going to be a long night I saw a reflection of light off a windshield about five miles in the distance.   I picked up and started hiking toward it.   Several hours later I arrived at my Uncle Lester’s green ’72 Chevy pickup.   He told me he knew I was out there and was waiting for me at the highest point he could find.   I loved Uncle Lester.   For all his shortcomings, he knew what needed done.   Plus it was really cool that on the way back to camp his wife, Aunt LaVonne, up and shot a sage hen.   She was wheelchair bound so this was really neat to me, having been lost and all.   Back at camp they cooked it up in a crockpot and we shared it for dinner.   The best memory of all was when I got mine.   I remember going over and over in my head what I would do if I saw a buck.   I was a kid so I was never allowed to go on point of the big drives or sit in the best spots to have the best chance.   I was kept in the back seat of the Scout while the women sat in the front waiting for the men to finish and then drive back to camp.   So I day dreamed about seeing a big monster muley from the back of the Scout.   I went over in my mind what I would do.   I’d pull my rifle from the middle, slide quietly out the back door , drop to a three-point stance, aim and kill a deer.   I day dreamed this for many days.   Meanwhile, the ladies kept on chattering from the front.   The day was noticeably colder.   Hovering around 30 degrees, the snow and rain battled each other for dominance in this high desert world.   We were sitting on a high point above the conjunction of two deep draws with the Oregon Canyon off to the far right.   The men were walking up these draws and anything that spooked out would run toward this high point .   It was an all day hunt.   The women chatted in the front, and I kept my eyes peeled on the area that I thought the deer would come up over and across our view.     I thought I was still day dreaming.   It was huge.   Its hair had turned gray from the colder weather.   I could see the towering antlers.   It was at a full run like a horse, not the gradual pounce for a deer.   After days of working it out in my mind it was like I was looking down at another person performing the actions that I told myself I would do.   It was fluid, it was deliberate, it was poetry.     I was on the left side looking out the back window.   My left hand reached up and opened the door, while at the same time my right had pulled my rifle back and up from between the two front seats.   I slid out, took two steps, dropped to a three-point stance, took aim, and released the safety.   The women in the front fretted loudly, “What the hell? What do you see?   Careful boy!   Oh my god!   There it is!   Take your time!   Easy!!”   I ignored all of it.   At that moment, I finally became the hunter.   The gleam was in my eye.   The women waited to see if the boy was going to succeed or would become a disappointment.   The buck was at a full run at about 300 yards and I had a .243 semi auto with open sights.   The same gun my Grandpa hunted with.   There wasn’t a lot of confidence that I would succeed.   But at that moment, I knew I would.   I saw the buck fall before I pulled the trigger.   I could hear my heart beating at a normal pace blocking out the hurried chatter from the front seat.   I remember thinking, do these gals ever just be quiet?   The noise of the wind went silent.   The snow flakes flying sideways in the wind suddenly slowed.  My senses were so acute at that moment that I swear I could have counted the number of snowflakes landing on my cold gun barrel.  I could smell the strong scent of sage as it blew up from the the majestic Oregon Canyon to my right.  It was me and the buck across 300 yards of open country.   It was like that buck was two feet from me.   I mentally calculated the distance, the speed it was running, and the elevation of our rig to the buck.   I adjusted my aim accordingly and put a significant lead on it with about a foot elevation from the kill zone.   One shot rang out across the sage brush and echoed from the rim rocks.   Three seconds later the buck tumbled out of a dead run in a cloud of dust.   I held my sight on it for another few seconds to be sure.   My aunt Kay said, “Wow... he got it.  Good job, boy!”.   But I already knew.   Got it I did.   A perfect hit behind the right shoulder into one lung and the bottom of the heart.   A miracle shot at 300 yards at a dead run.   A giant 4-point muley with a 23 inch spread.   I remember backing up to camp (you never back up to camp unless you had a buck in the back of the rig).   The question was asked, “Who got it?”.   My aunt Kay said it was me.   Everyone stood up and began clapping.    The boy just got his first buck.   And it was the second biggest buck in the camp.   The tradition was that whoever kills a buck has to take a straight shot of whiskey from the bottle.   I grabbed the bottle from my Grandpa Gene and gulped down two fiery mouthfuls.   Thus, I entered the long history of our family name.         The only one bigger was Grandpa Gene’s. He got it on the last day of the season.   He had scouted it out all year and knew it would be the crown of the year that was to be the last.   There were a total of 14 bucks hanging from that buck pole.   His buck was a trophy 5 by 6.   It was so big its hind end touched the ground when we hung it on the pole.   It made the rest of ours look like youngins.     That was the year I found myself.   That was when I figured out what was important… family.   It took the success of deer hunting to bring me around to the values that were important in life.   It snowed three feet that year   and my Dad and I still slept in that little tent while our relatives stayed in trailers.   We had to dig ourselves out of our tent each morning.   But we were fine.   We proved that year that the family tradition would live on.     It’s now up to me to make sure my kids learn the values I hold dear - except maybe the whiskey drinking at age 11.   It won’t be easy.   I have to compete with Playstation, Internet, Satellite TV, careers, and the fact that all the old timers are gone now.   It’s just me, my brother, sister, some cousins and our kids now.   Some of us don’t even live in Oregon anymore.   There are a few other hopeful relatives out there.   Will we all some day meet out there at the aspen patch?   Or is it too late, and those days are gone forever?