Learner’s Permit

It was fall of 1980-something, and deer season was heating up in South Dakota. I was geared for it--the first invitation to join my father and his friends in the field.

I was too young to pack iron, so I outfitted myself with my trusty Browning two-blade Fish and Bird Knife. I packed that blade proudly on my favorite Country-Western brown-and-green leather belt that had a flashy PRCA buckle that I had won at a local rodeo. Combined with my buffalo-plaid flannel shirt, I looked like a cross between Babe Winkelman and rodeo legend Quail Dobbs.

My assignment was to walk a tree line and gently push deer to the opposite end, where my dad and his pals were waiting.

I was reminded--repeatedly--to go slow and quiet so the deer wouldn't blow out the sides and escape. I was dropped off on one end and instructed to wait 10 minutes, then start the walk. I waited forever--later it was determined to be 4 minutes--and then eagerly began my mission. Things unfolded perfectly. The deer started trotting away from me, filing down the center of the tree line.

Then, the buck of the century stepped into view. He just appeared. His rack was tall and wide, and there must have been 30 points sticking high in the air. I froze. Then I remembered my job. This was my moment, my chance to help Dad put a memorable buck on the wall.

I shouted. "Dad, huge buck coming right at ya! Big buck! Huge buck!" I didn't scream just once--it was more like 25 times.

You guessed it. That record-book whitetail broke out the side and ran out of our lives forever. To this day, my old man and his pals remind me of my "help" on that day. But that's how we learn. I might have outgrown that Western belt and my Winkelman flannel, but I haven't outgrown my passion for deer hunting.