A time to be thankful this deer season

The writer's daughter, Natalie, experienced her first-ever big game hunt recently.

It was the day before the opening day of the regular Southern Zone big game season. I knew there was going to be snow on the ground and the prospects were good on a number of fronts.

At the top of the list was the fact that my daughter, Natalie, was going to be experiencing her first-ever big game hunt and I was excited for her … and me. I would be able to share a new world with her.

As we arrived at our designated hunting spot in Steuben County, we were greeted with a foot-and-a-half of snow. The further we went on the two-mile trek in, the worse the conditions were on the road. We weren’t halfway and we could see the plow had stopped. At that point, I hadn’t realized that the rest of our hunting crew had actually pulled over to help the plow out due to the fact that it was stuck. Not a good sign. They were already gone.

Natalie and I made it all the way to the end of the road and turned around, but we hadn’t realized until then that the rest of our hunting crew had already abandoned setting up our headquarters area in Rock Creek State Forest. That was the exact moment I received a text from my brother Dave that the road was too bad for their vehicles. They were heading to the hotel.

As we regrouped, we needed to make a plan. Other areas that served as secondary options for the opener were also snowed in, making it difficult for my dad, Bill Sr., at nearly 87 years young; Ken Davignon, of North Tonawanda, at 79 years of age; a newbie to our group – brother Rick from North Tonawanda and his son, Christian, who was also enjoying his first regular-season hunt; brother Dave, from Burt; and nephew Kiel Davignon, of North Tonawanda, and his friend, Eric Domin. Our only option would be to park at the main road in the morning and I would have to shuttle everyone in.

The first group would have to set up the pop-up 12-foot-by-12-foot canopy, shovel out a parking spot and create an area to set up a table and camp stove while I went for the second shuttle. When I returned, there was a parking area all ready for me. The hunt was on in some of the most difficult opening-day conditions I can remember in some time.

Nothing seemed to be moving in our area, with limited hunting pressure offering any kind of a push. Natalie and I hunkered down as best we could as we set up in a most likely travel corridor for any deer that might be around. We never saw a tail that opening morning, but it was a joy sharing this experience, no matter how severe the conditions were. Natalie was a real trooper.

At lunchtime we were back at the shelter, cooking up some hot chowder and sandwiches as we recharged our batteries and compared notes. Brother Dave had a doe within 10 yards of his tree post but didn’t have a Deer Management Permit, so he hoped for a buck to be near. There wasn’t. Rick and Christian saw deer in the distance, but no shots.

We opted to continue where we were hunting. Kiel and Eric opted to head back to the hotel room and check on Bill Sr., who had lost his inhaler the day before in all of the turmoil of stranded vehicles. Of course, that meant I had to take them out to the main road to their vehicle. The afternoon hunt was shortened.

The next day it was a repeat performance and the weather didn’t offer any kind of a reprieve. There was quite a bit more deer sign around, which was encouraging for sure. Both driving in and driving out, deer were all over the place in open fields and crossing roads. We needed to be on alert. Natalie and I posted under a favorite hemlock that I’d posted at many times. Several members of the group saw deer close enough for a shot, but no DMPs were at their disposal.

I shared stories with Natalie about a tree we were sitting at, the “crooked pine” that was nearby and no longer standing (after a lightning hit), and my late friend Don Starkey’s favorite stand below us on the hill. I told her about the history of the gun she was holding, a Remington Model 18 20-gauge that my grandfather, Irvin Hilts, had passed along to me for my first hunt. My very first deer, a 6-point buck, was taken with that gun and it had a lot of history.

“That gun is now yours, Natalie,” I said. “I’m happy to be sharing this experience with you, sharing a proud tradition in our family and glad you could be a part of it.”

“Thanks, Dad. I’m glad I could be here, too.”

And so it goes, doing everything we can to pass on this hunting heritage to family and friends. Opening weekend is now history and I hope that I can make it out a few more times before the season closes. Already, though, this year’s hunt was successful, one I will remember for the rest of my life. And I hope that Natalie will remember it for the rest of hers. It is a time to be thankful for all that we have. Make the effort to share these special times and start your own traditions with family and friends.

That’s what it’s all about.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, New York – Bill Hilts Jr, Whitetail Deer

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