Big buck, cinnamon bear, cancer strengthen family
For years now, the Fleck family has hunted together, and over that time they have made many memories. But the opening day of the muzzleloader season last October was the best one yet.
The family — father Jay Fleck, of Manheim, son Josh Fleck, of Lebanon, and daughter Katie Fleck, of Manheim — often hunt out of their cabin in Bradford County, and they were there the first day of the muzzleloader season last fall.
It rained all day, and they didn’t see anything in the morning. The rain was supposed to stop in the evening, so they set up before it did in preparation for an evening hunt.
Turns out, that was the perfect strategy.
“I was at another property we hunt and saw a nice buck but only had my muzzleloader,” Josh said. “At 5:30 p.m. my sister texted, saying she just hit a buck with her crossbow a few miles away at our cabin.”
Since it was her first buck and the ground was wet, Josh decided to go help her look for it before dark. Their father was already there but is fighting cancer and couldn’t help as much as he usually would.
Jay had seen this buck standing with another one in a food plot a few hundred yards away before it had stopped raining, standing under a rainbow in the sky overhead. He said a quick prayer that the deer would make their way toward Katie.
Every experience with their father is extra special these days, since he was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer in 2020, Josh noted.
“When I got there, we found some blood and were searching for more when my dad caught a glimpse of a deer moving ahead of us,” Josh recalls. “Afraid we might have bumped him before he died, we backed off a bit and began deciding what we should do next.”
They were looking for more clues near the last spot of blood when Josh caught movement over the knob in front of them. He thought at first a fox was coming over the hill toward them, but the animal kept getting bigger and bigger as it crested the hill.
“I realized it was a cinnamon bear,” he said. The bear paused and looked at them but was behind a tree, so Josh took a couple of very slow steps to the side to get a clear shot at him.
“When I shot, he disappeared back over the hill,” he said. “Not knowing exactly how he was hit and fearing we just bumped my sister’s buck, we decided to leave and come back in a few hours.”
“When they returned, with help from a neighbor and Emily Fleck — Jay’s wife and Josh and Katie’s mother — they found Josh’s bear but couldn’t find any more sign of the buck.
The next morning, they went back and expanded their search but still didn’t find anything. Finally, Katie saw part of a deer in the creek.
“Her buck had tried to cross the creek but didn’t make it, instead floating downstream where he got wedged under a log,” Josh said. ”Only his hind quarter was above the water.”
This was a truly special family experience, made more memorable as they faced a tough time with their father’s cancer diagnosis.
“It was amazing that we got to experience it together,” Josh said. “This is a hunting memory that my family will always be able to appreciate.”
A few weeks after this hunt, Jay and Josh Fleck made another memory, going on a public land mule deer hunt in Montana, where Jay got his first mule deer.
The Flecks have a woodworking and engraving business called Whitetail Woodcrafters, located in Manheim. They specialize in custom gunstock engravings, taxidermy plaques and engraved gifts for outdoorsmen and women.
Jay and Josh started the business together 10 years ago. “What we love most about our business is being able to play a part in highlighting special memories and events in our customers’ lives with our custom engravings,” Josh said.
Jay has been going through a variety of cancer treatments, some of which hit him harder than others, but he is generally feeling pretty well and working in the business as much as he can, Josh said.
“He is determined to do his best to beat this cancer, and we know it is ultimately in God’s hands,” Josh said.
“The special part of last fall’s hunting experience is that it reassured our family that just like we can’t anticipate what may happen when hunting, our lives are all ultimately in God’s control and he can do way more than we could ever expect.”