Freedom hunters

Pictured are Lee and Bob with Butch’s first deer. Courtesy photo

OPINION — The three friends from Northern California had seen much of life’s give and take during their 75 years.

All three had served in the military; two in the Air Force, one the Army.

All three had lost wives; a tragic motorcycle accident, a lingering cancer, and pair of divorces.

They had grounds to be morose, yet laughter was a constant ointment.

Being together reminded them of their youth and their hunting trip with me was an attempt to capture for a moment a glimpse of that youthful energy.

They had all grown up hunting in the walnut orchards that had been planted by their fathers and grandfathers near Meridian.

But mismanagement and over development had driven much of that wildlife away.

In the first two days of hunting, they had seen more deer here than in the past 10 years of searching in California.

Bob had called during the initial COVID scare when much of ranch country had yet to see its first case.

I was then under the illusion that such viruses couldn’t be bothered with spending time in flyover country.

His booming voice over the phone was deep and resonant, the kind that broadcasters wish they could duplicate.

He and friends were looking to escape to a place that held the freedoms California was limiting.

I was surprised and grateful when I discovered that they had drawn.

Many of my regular clients had chosen to stay home this year and my season had looked to be a bust.

Bob said that they all had physical limitations that would make the hunt a challenge, mobility issues and diminished senses.

Lee had joints replaced in four places with titanium that set airport security buzzers to ringing like casino chimes.

Butch walked two to three miles per day so he could keep up with the 11-year-old grandson who lived with him, but his sight was failing, and mornings were mostly a blur of moving shadows.

Bob was recovering from cancer treatments that had sapped his energy but not his ambition.

We were after venison, not trophies, and holding on to a sliver of hope that weather and health would come together one more time.

Of late, I had been feeling the year’s myself. I’m nearing retirement and wondering what’s instore.

The muscles had begun to diminish in my neck, shoulders, and legs.

My near vision is blurred, and I normally have a dozen pairs of glasses lying about and misplaces just to help me read my phone.

But these three men lifted me up with their spirits and laughter.

Two of my sons made it home to help and opening morning dawned with high winds and scattered snow squalls.

I sat with Butch, Lane with Lee, and Nate took Bob.

As the chief director of hunting operations, Bob had told me his priorities.

“First get Butch a buck. He has never shot a deer. Then Lee. I’ve hunted a great deal in my life and will be happy if they can make it happen.”

Butch was using an amazing rifle he’d borrowed from a nephew.

It had every advantage from barrel to trigger and had top of the line optics.

Altogether, it was worth more than my truck.

As we shivered on a river hillside, dawns glow began to illuminate an army of deer.

To many deer.

Butch wrestled with an expensive tripod that let several mature deer pass through our shooting windows.

Each time I reassured him that there was another buck coming.

Finally, he tossed the tripod and made an excellent shot.

Although he had never taken a deer, he had spent years chasing the squirrels in his father’s orchards.

When the rifle came up, he returned to the woods of his youth.

Later that evening, Lee found a prairie buck that lay still long enough for us to get within range of his open-sight lever action and it too fell at his first shot.

Two bucks the first day. These guys were performing way above their perceived limitations.

Now that Bob had his goals met, a competitive gleam came to his eye.

A wager had been made, first buck and then largest.

Bob wanted the largest.

Between hunts, the men made their way into town for a late breakfast.

They were jubilant on their return as someone had overheard their laughter and talk of days in the service and payed for their breakfast.

“What’s up with these South Dakota people, everyone is so friendly and proud of their work.”

I was feeling refreshed.

While my near vision is dimming, I was still able to spot animals at a distance.

While my muscles are thinning, they still held enough power to lift and drag the deer into the truck. Later the next evening, Bob was put on stand.

I pushed a mile of cottonwood creek bottom his way and only jumped one deer.

What are the odds that it would be a buck and actually find its way to Bob instead of dashing off across the prairie…?

And it was the biggest one too.

They are talking about coming back.

May my next 20 years be as joyful, and aventure filled.   

The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.

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