West Barre, N.Y. — It’s not uncommon for someone to pass along some sage advice or make a last request from their deathbed.
But when Grant Shoemaker heard his father’s dying wish, he couldn’t wait to make it come true.
Shoemaker, who lives in the Orleans County community of West Barre, lost his father Willis H. “Bill” Shoemaker Jr. on Sept. 10, 2014 at the age of 81.
Before he passed away, the elder Shoemaker whispered a special request to his son. He wanted Grant to take Bill’s gun and shoot the biggest buck he would ever get with it on their property.
It took three years for Shoemaker to accomplish the task, but he fulfilled the promise in spectacular fashion this past season.
Armed with his father’s gun – an Ithaca Featherlight 16-gauge shotgun – Shoemaker shot a 17-point monster Nov. 29.
As it turned out, the fateful day didn’t start out well, and it took an epic battle to put the brute on the ground, or in this case, in the water.
“The morning was a bust. In the afternoon it was a clear sky and cold. I was in a stand …really depressed, not seeing anything,” said Shoemaker, 33, an antique dealer by profession.
“I had been sick for two weeks also, and that wasn’t helping,” he said. “Eventually, around 4 p.m., something told me to get down and head back in case I see anything I can still shoot. Plus, my feet were frozen. I got to a field 100 yards to the west and jumped two button bucks. That’s when I heard a crash off to the right, hitting water. I knew whatever it was it was headed to my tower (stand) and that’s a long ways away.”
The little voice in Shoemaker’s head urged him to rush to his tower stand, but he spotted several deer, including the giant buck, before he even had a chance to climb all the way into it.
The buck was quite a distance away and Shoemaker knew he had a narrow window of opportunity. He hesitated about taking the shot, but thought of his father.
“It was so far out and all I could think of was my dad’s saying ‘God hates a coward.’ I raised the gun and found a slight hole. It was 175 yards-plus,” Shoemaker said. “Knowing it was my only chance, he stepped in (the opening) and I took it. Not knowing if I hit him, I flew down the ladder, ran out there through the knee-deep water, only to find nothing and finding myself really upset.”
Shoemaker looked frantically in every direction and then suddenly spotted the buck, standing in the middle of the swamp and swaying unsteadily.
The old man’s shotgun barked a few more times, and the massive beast finally went down.
“He hit the water and I hit my knees in tears,” Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker later discovered his first shot was true.
The buck weighed 195 pounds field-dressed and green scored 188 3/8 inches. It would have scored even higher, Shoemaker said, if he hadn’t accidentally shot off part of a double brow tine during the volley.
Not surprisingly, Shoemaker is getting a full body mount.
It’s also no surprise that Shoemaker will continue to use his father’s cherished 16-gauge for most of his future deer hunting trips.
It’s one more way to feel close to his dad, just as he did in the waning light of a late November afternoon, filled with warmth despite being knee-deep in frigid swamp water.
“I pulled (the buck) up out of water and just cried,” Shoemaker said. “I put my father’s picture on him and his gun, and we sat through the sunset into the dark – one hour and 45 minutes of peace and quiet, just me and my father, letting him know it was finished and that we did it together.”