10 year-old Caleb Laxton and his Dad Mike arrived at Deer Tracks Ranch in Fife Lake, MI. with the hopes of Caleb getting a nice buck to mount on the wall next to his Dad's. Once settled into the lodge they headed out to the range to check Caleb's gun to make sure it was still zeroed in after their 750 mile trip from TN. Caleb fired 3 rounds from his 25.06 and there was no doubt in anyone's mind that if the buck of Caleb's dreams stepped out he was in serious trouble.
We took a quick tour around part of the ranch to kind of "check things out" and it didn't take long to realize that the folks at Deer Tracks really care about the type of hunt their folks have. I'll tell you right now this place has some really rugged terrain and I have no doubt there's bucks in here that have never been seen by a man. There's big ridges, numerous creeks and some God awful swamps for the deer to call home. There were several different types of blinds in strategic places for the hunters to use depending on the type of hunt they were looking for. If you ever get to Deer Tracks ask to see the "Eagle's Nest". What a beautiful place. Anyway, on with the hunt.
After the tour Caleb, his Dad and Caleb's guide Bill set off for a place where a lot of bucks had been hanging out recently. Phil (another guide) and I headed off in another direction to set up in a blind to try and film some deer and get some photos. Little did we know we should have switched spots with Caleb for the evening.
Once Phil and I got set up we sat anxiously waiting to hear the bark of Caleb's gun. It didn't take long before we had some does and a few small bucks out in front of us. We were set up on the edge of a large tag alder swamp overlooking a field and the deer seemed really nervous for some reason. Soon we had a great 10 point come out and run off several of the smaller bucks and he started grazing along with the does. We had several really awesome bucks go through on the edge of the swamp but none seemed interested in going near the 10 point for some reason. Maybe it was because every time one of them approached his "space" he would lay his ears back and start walking toward them with the stiff legged walk of a buck with a bad attitude. All of this was really great but our thoughts kept returning to Caleb and wondering why he hadn't shot yet. Surely with the deer moving the way they were they had to be seeing some nice bucks. Slowly darkness fell and it was time to leave yet still we hadn't heard a shot.
Once back at the lodge we found out that indeed Caleb had shot a nice buck but the news wasn't to good. Just as Caleb shot the buck took a step forward and Caleb's bullet struck a little further back than we would have liked. After Caleb's shot the buck moved down the hill a bit still in range but wouldn't offer Caleb a good second shot. The buck was going to lay down right there and Bill felt comfortable that once he did they would be able to sneak around him and put in a killing shot. Then as they watched in horror another buck sensing the bigger buck was injured went after him and ran him off. Now they were worried. Since Bill was video taping Caleb's hunt for him we were able to watch the shot in slow motion several times and decided it would be best to wait a few hours before going after him. We were worried about the coyotes in the area but knew it was best not to push the buck.
After eating a great dinner we discussed our options and where Bill felt the deer would go. We decided that after waiting a few hours it was time to see if we could find Caleb's buck. Caleb wasn't feeling to well so he and his Dad stayed at the lodge while Bill, Phil and I grabbed the lanterns and flashlights and headed back out. I know each of us was saying the same prayer as we headed down the trail.
Once we got to where the deer was standing we immediately found a fairly decent bloodtrail and our confidence started to grow. We slowly tracked Caleb's buck about 200 yards when suddenly the trail went cold. We marked last blood and slowly searched every runway and made slow small circles trying to pick the trail back up but lady luck just wasn't with us. Although all three of us felt the deer was laying dead close by we decided to wait till morning to continue looking just in case. We didn't want to jump him if he was still alive as he was heading for a really nasty swamp. Things did not look good for finding Caleb's deer and we reluctantly headed back to the lodge. Not one of the five us got a good nights sleep.
I didn't need an alarm clock to wake up at 5:30, for like my four friends I woke often through the night and prayed that we would find Caleb's buck and the coyotes wouldn't. Although it didn't get light enough to go looking again until almost 8:00 we were all ready to go by 6:30. With the help of a few pots of coffee and some friendly story telling we somehow made it to daylight without exploding from the anxiety of what was ahead.
There had been a light dusting of snow overnight and Bill, Phil, Mike and I all knew the odds were not in our favor. Caleb put on a really good front but it wasn't to hard to tell he was as nervous as the four veteran hunters with him. Once again we headed down the trail each repeating the prayers we had said the night before. Hopefully the results would be different today.
Once we reached the spot we had marked "last blood" it was obvious that looking for further blood was useless. Although there was just a dusting of snow it was enough to cover any blood that we may have missed the night before. There was only one thing to do and that was to spread out and search every nook and cranny in the hopes one of us would spot him laying there.
The area we were in was fairly thick with many blowdowns and patches of tall weeds. Bill took a bearing on the direction the buck had been traveling and we spread out to search in that direction. I don't mind telling you my hopes were not high as we started out. We had gone about 80 yards when I heard one of the sweetest sounds I've heard in a long time. Bill hollered out to Caleb "Hey Caleb, come on over here and look at your deer". I gotta tell you Caleb's reaction still brings tears to my eyes. He covered the distance between he and Bill in about 2 seconds flat hollering all the way. If I remember it right his exact words were "You found my deer??? You found my deer??? Oh Thank you God!!! Hey Dad, Bill found my deer!!! Dad, Dad he found it!!! Thank You Bill!!! Those last 3 words were said as he almost tackled Bill giving him a hug before he even looked at the deer.
After all the back slapping, high fiving, picture taking and four grown men quietly thanking God we headed back to the lodge with Caleb's buck in tow. Once back Caleb finally told us how worried he was that we wouldn't find his deer and how bad he felt that the shot wasn't a good one. Looks to me like his Dad has taught him well. We explained that it wasn't really his fault and if the deer hadn't moved at the last second his shot would have been perfect. He said he knew that but assured us anyway that "that will never happen again. Before I ever shoot again I'm making sure the deer isn't going to move".
This afternoon Caleb and his Dad headed back to TN. and Caleb is anxious to show his friends and family his deer. Mike will be giving me a call once they're home to give me the number to a really good taxidermist and Benefit4Kids will get Caleb's buck mounted for him. I hope one day when Caleb's Dad is old and gray he can sit in his chair looking up at Caleb's mount next to his and look over at Caleb and tell him "hey son, remember when you were so sick and we went on that hunt where you got your first buck". I hope those memories last them both a lifetime. I know they will for me.
My thanks to all of you for doing what you do to help support Benefit4Kids and our kids like Caleb. If you have a minute please drop a quick e-mail to the folks at Deer Tracks (email@example.com) and thank them for what they did for Caleb and all of the other kids they've helped over the years. Caleb's isn't the first "wish hunt" they've done and there's a bunch of kids that Bill and the folks at Deer Tracks have given memories to. Bill and I are working together on a special hunt for next year and it promises to bring special memories to a bunch of kids like Caleb at Deer Tracks.
B4K Notes: Caleb’s hunt was donated in part by Deer Tracks Ranch in Fife Lake, MI. Travel expenses for Caleb’s hunt were paid for by BADF East Tennessee Chapter All other expenses were covered by Benefit4Kids