Football Season’s Biggest Game
By Gary Lewis
Every year, thousands of parents and their offspring are forced to make a decision between two great passions of autumn: football and hunting. This year, 12 year-old Jacob Lum, a wide receiver on his middle school football team, had to decide what was most important to him. Fortunately, his football coaches understood.
"Lum," his coach said, "it better be a big one."
The buck he was after was certainly a big one. While scouting for deer, Jacob and his father Tod had hunted bear and grouse in the Snake and Imnaha units the previous month. The pair spotted a big whitetail they thought they might be able to find again.
From where the Lums live in Roseburg, their destination in northeast Oregon was 500 miles away. With gas prices averaging $3.95 a gallon, it was not an easy decision to load up the truck and head east for a two-day hunt.
On Thursday night at 9pm, the hunters started on the 12-hour drive and stopped to sleep in the Cascades. Friday morning, after breakfast, they started east again, watching antelope, geese, ducks, quail and herds of deer. Jacob worked on homework most of the way. As light was fading from the evening sky, the hunters arrived at camp. There were deer on the hills and dark clouds in the sky. The weather forecast called for a 60 percent chance of showers.
With the morning came the rain. The alarm rang at 4:30am. By 5:30, with the hint of sunlight on the eastern horizon, the hunters started up the hill. It was too early to start. A doe let them know about it as they spooked her. She bolted uphill, spooking the rest of the herd. The Lums waited and watched as the sun pushed back the night.
Now the deer were wary. Stiff-legged, the animals walked out of the grassy bottoms and bedded high on the hill up against the hawthorne berries. From their perch, they watched the fields and valley below.
Tod began to strategize. "Our plan was to circle around and sneak up on them, hoping to get a chance at the big buck in the group." The only problem was that there was no cover. Tod, who grew up bowhunting the spooky axis deer and Spanish goats in Hawaii, knew they'd have to improvise.
"Grab my belt," he told Jacob, "and bend your head down. We'll pretend we're a four-legged animal." It worked. The deer watched, curious, but did not spook. Finally, the Lums reached a bench that gave them the cover to move out of sight, into a stand of trees along a fence line. A small forked horn buck with only one antler stood watching. A legal buck, only 60 yards away. Tod waited to see what his boy would do.
Jacob remembered the words of his coach. "It better be a big one." A one-antlered forked horn wasn't the buck he was looking for. Somewhere on the other side of the hill, there was a big buck.
Now in the thicker cover of the hawthorne bushes, Tod and Jacob closed in on the last known position of the buck and does they had spooked earlier in the morning. But the deer had moved. Now they fed out in the open. The nearest animals were 150 yards away.
Jacob gulped the clean mountain air in large gasps. "I'm not tired," he told his dad, "just too excited." The hawthorne bushes allowed them to get a little closer and they crawled on hands and knees through the tall, wet grass.
Finally, Tod whispered to Jacob, "This is it, you can make this shot. Just relax, rest your rifle on my backpack and remember what we practiced...breathing, squeezing. You can do this."
There was water on the scope and Tod wiped the lenses. Jacob said he could see. There were five deer. Now they had resumed feeding and looked around from time to time, probably hoping for a second look at the goofy four-legger they'd seen down the slope earlier in the morning.
Jacob lay down prone in the grass and squared up with the buck. To Tod, it seemed like forever as he watched the buck in his fogged binoculars.
This was the moment of truth. Jacob had passed up an easy shot at a forked horn for a chance to take this buck. Would the work and the scouting and the hours spent in practice pay off?
Jacob's 260 Ruger M77 rifle was fed with a handloaded 140-grain Nosler Partition on 38 grains of IMR 4350. The 12 year-old had practiced throughout the spring and summer in anticipation of this moment.
Jacob eased the rifle's safety off, snugged the butt into his shoulder, welded his cheek to the stock, steadied the crosshair and took the slack out of the trigger.
The rifle cracked and the buck reared up on his hind legs, lurched forward and ran 50 yards over the crest of the hill and out of sight.Jacob bolted another round into the chamber and the hunters followed. They found the buck on the other side of hill.
The 140-grain Nosler Partition bullet had completely passed through both lungs and did its job. The preparation, the 12-hour drive and Jacob's focus had paid off with an extraordinary whitetail buck.
To get to the point where Jacob could wrap his hands around the antlers and count the points, the young man learned that preparation and anticipation are as important as the hunt. Passion pushed him when it was easier to stay home, go to football practice and do homework. And the skills he learned in a summer of training paid off in the thrill of his first deer hunt. Like his football coaches knew, the focus and the work that the 12 year-old put into his first big game season will serve him well wherever his future takes him.