To harvest his first buck was Jarod's dream for as long as he could remember. The 16 year old followed behind his father as they made their way up the old over-grown logging road back into the rugged terrain of Ripton, Vermont. Jarod matched his father's foot steps and when the elder of the two stopped, so too did the younger. His father had been teaching him to hunt since he was old enough to walk, but as fate would have it, he was never in the right place at the right time.
Jarod's father, Luke, had gotten a deer almost every year yet this year his intent was to put extra effort into helping his son get his first.
Having grown up on venison, and being taught that it is far healthier to eat than beef or many of the different meats purchased in the local supermarket, Jarod's hope was simply to get a deer and this wasn't about a trophy. He wished to make his father proud, even though he knew he already was, but this was important.
The chilly November wind was cutting through both of them as they made there way slowly and methodically through the small saplings that would eventually lead them to a hemlock forest where they would hunt from a ledge, sneaking along and peaking over very carefully. At the bottom edge of the hill was a fast flowing brook that could be heard, but was muffled from the evergreen bows that surrounded the pair.
Their expectation was a day of hunting and hoping to at least find evidence of some active bucks in the area. There wish was granted but not in the way they thought it would be. The rack was the first thing they saw as the White-tailed stag stood about forty yards away, still not sensing their presence yet. The nine-point rack seemed small on the huge animal and Jarod's rifle was to his shoulder. What happened next took them both by surprise.
As the deer filled the scope and the cross-hairs intersected just behind the shoulder, the deer's ears flickered. He turned his head and it appeared he was looking right back through the scope and into the heart of the young hunter. Jarod hesitated. His heart was pounding. He could see the nostrils flaring as the animal tried desperately to get a scent but the wind was blowing from the animal to the hunters. Luke sensed something was wrong, and through pursed lips he muttered, "Son, squeeze the trigger!" Immediately, Luke knew what was wrong. He saw the tear trickle down the young man's cheek. His deep breathing told Jarod's father that his son could not squeeze the trigger and he softly whispered, "It's okay Jarod. He's beautiful isn't he?" As the young man began to lower the rifle, the deer saw the movement and heard their voices. The two senses being triggered caused the trophy to vanish in an instant.
"Dad, I'm so sorry. I've waited for this minute all my life. You've taught me so much and I just......" the boy's words were choked off by his own fear that he had disappointed the man he had so much respect for.
"My boy," said his father, "You just made me the most proud father on God's planet. That you understood the beauty in that deer, and that you had a heart so big that you couldn't take his life says to me that I have raised a son any father should be proud of. I've raised a man!"
"But dad, you do it every year. It never seems to bother you. But I just couldn't."
"That just means that you and I are different. I could have shot him myself, but decided to let this be your day. The outcome is differenet than each of us expected, but that doesn't mean I love you any less. It means you made your decision."
"It's so strange though dad. I love the hunt itself."
"Okay, so be a photographer and hunt with a camera." He smile and winked at his son, and Jarod's smile concluded their day.
Our children do not always do what we expect they will, but we need to encourage them in the things they are good at and be proud of their accomplishments.