My 12-year-old son Noah and I were settling into a tower blind on our back acreage. It was opening day of 2022’s youth deer season, and the sun was still high at two o’clock in the afternoon. It felt great just being out there. A new season brings optimism and possibility, especially when a father and son are in that adventure together.
As he adjusted his seat, Noah looked at me with a half-smile and said, “Dad, I feel really good about today.” I smiled back and felt the same way.
For the most part, it’s difficult to get kids outdoors today. Every family is busy; sports, school and work take a toll on our available time. Couple that with the instant gratification that video games and electronics bring, and it’s a tough sell to motivate a young person to sit quietly in a cold deer stand for hours in the Maine woods. I was happy my son was there with me. Even after a missed shot last year and only a few deer spotted in the last several seasons, he was persevering. Still, a discouraging Maine deer hunt can quickly lead to a loss of interest, and this weighed heavily on my mind.
The stand was situated in a cutting on a slight rise. It provided great visibility in all directions thanks to a local logger who cut trees selectively for us about eight years ago.
At 5:18 p.m., the glare from the sun off the front window became so intense that I could no longer see out of it. Noah had a better position and a clear view. We spent the time quietly immersed in good conversation that hunts always bring.
At 5:23 p.m., Noah’s voice trailed off from conversation and his eyes grew big. The window glare kept me from seeing what he was seeing, but it was obvious that a deer was there. We had doe tags, but Noah quickly ruled out that possibility.
“Dad…it’s a buck! A big buck!”
All my children are well versed in gun safety. As a current guide and former police officer, gun safety is something drilled into me, and I in turn drill it into them. Always assume guns are loaded. Never take a shot you’re not sure of. Watch your background. There’s no room for error in these situations, and we all strive to remain vigilant while hunting. I knew that Noah was good to go. Even without seeing the deer, I told him to take the shot when he had a good one.
I wish I could have seen that buck walk into the scene. They are so regal and beautiful. I can only imagine what Noah saw. It’s a special memory that he alone owns, and I’m sure that when he’s 80 years old, he will replay it in his mind like it was yesterday.
I watched him lift his gun and press his cheek against the stock as he sighted down the scope. I heard the safety click off and saw his finger drop to the trigger. I remembered our lessons and my advice I’d given him: “Squeeze so gently that the shot surprises you.”
Bang! The report is barely heard in these situations. Your sense of hearing seems to fade as other senses heighten. While Noah racked another round, I finally saw the buck as it ran into my sight picture. The tail was up, which usually denotes a startled but uninjured deer. He ran into the thick woods. There was silence. I didn’t see the shot’s impact, but it seemed like a miss to me.
My son unloaded his gun; we fought that discouraging feeling that he might have missed. We left the stand and walked 80 yards over to where the deer had been, which seemed to take an eternity. Noah leaned over and found a bright yellow leaf with a single drop of blood on it. Moments later, I spotted the deer lying on the forest floor, barely 20 yards from where we had last seen him in a thick stand of jack pine.
Noah’s first deer was an eight-point, 190-pound monarch. We dropped to our knees beside the beautiful creature and admired his antlers and size. Noah’s voice quivered with emotion and excitement as he counted the points, and we made the call home to tell mom and siblings of his success. They were heading our way now. What a gift…not only the nutrient-rich, organic meat that would soon feed our family, but the time together as father and son.
With my hand on his shoulder, I watched Noah take in the richness of this experience, the meaning of a hard hunt—perseverance over struggle—and finally success. If he wasn’t a hunter before, he certainly was now.
These times will live forever in my heart and mind, and I am truly grateful for the hunt and all that we learn from hunting. I wish you the best of luck in the woods and waters this season.
Michael Tuminaro is a Registered Maine Guide who has been hunting and fishing in the United States and Canada for more than 30 years and training bird dogs for more than 10 years. He is the deputy executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association and has served as VP of the Sebasticook NAVHDA (North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association), taking part in prize-winning dog work. Tuminaro has written for NAVHDA’s Versatile Hunting Dog and The Maine Sportsman. He continues to author articles about gunning, bird dogs and the uplands.