13 Jun Andy Pettit “The “S” Word”
The “S” Word
I have an Irish temper that sometimes leads me to cuss like a drunken sailor. I have three beautiful and very impressionable children. We are trying our best to raise these kids to be saints (albeit saints that love to hunt and fish). That combination, on the surface, doesn’t exactly add up. Let’s just say that there have been times when my language is “a good example of a bad example”, and my kids love to call me out when I use foul language.
Since the beginning of time, there have been parents who have had the very limits of their patience tested when trying to introduce their babies to outdoor activities. Personally, I’ve been stabbed by fish hooks multiple times, had to fish little ones out of ponds after they fell in head-over-heel, had wild game spooked countless times and have laughed so hard with them that it felt like our ribs were going to split!
My nine-year-old daughter’s favorite stories to tell (and mine) is about one of the first times I took her along on a bow hunt when she about 5. We were sitting in a ground blind and I coached her to remain absolutely quiet and to remain still if a deer walked out. It was early in the hunt and I was looking down at my phone when I heard that all too familiar noise. I looked up to see a doe literally sticking her head in the blind, about 24” from my face. The doe obviously bounded away when she figured out what was going on, and unfortunately, other deer fled the field (including a shooter buck) when she flagged her tail in flight. I said (under my breath and temporarily forgetting I had a baby girl with me) ”aww S-Word”, but unfortunately said the real thing. I then asked her if she saw the deer, and she looked me right in the eyes and said “Duh, Dad! You told me not to move or say anything if I saw a deer. They were walking to us, you moved and they ran away. And I’m telling Mom you said the “S-Word”. Our hunt was all but over that day, but we still had a tremendous night watching turkeys, bats and other small mammals, giggling and making plans to get ice cream on the way home. I knew I was going to have a hunting buddy for life!
In the fall of 2016, after a full summer of practicing, it was her turn to carry a weapon. She was too small to effectively use a compound bow, so a single-shot .243 rifle was the plan. In Missouri, we have a youth-only season that precedes the general firearms season and the orange army slaughter. We were once again set up in a ground blind, sitting on a lush food plot chatting about the plans for the hunt. About an hour before dark, a little buck walked out perfectly broadside about 90 yards. We had her gun on a tripod and her rest was perfectly steady, and I asked her to get him in the scope. She was calm and said, “she was ready to shoot”. I called her off the shot. I had one very confused little girl on my hands. I’m sure she was thinking, “Why did we practice and why are we out here if he won’t let me shoot?”. Our longest practice shots were at 75 yards, and I wasn’t comfortable with her wounding a deer and going through that process. There was a lot of season left and I was very confident we could get a deer within bow range for an easy chip shot with her gun. We ended up not seeing another deer that night, or for the next four sits. Our farm has a very high deer density and we were sitting in great spots, but the unseasonably warm and windy weather had them off pattern.
We took the lack of movement and worked on getting her comfortable taking longer shots. After a few sessions at the range, she was getting consistent 3” groups at 100 yards. I knew she was getting frustrated with the lack of activity over the past few hunts, but I used it as a great learning opportunity. Unfortunately, our society has evolved into one where people expect instant success. We try to teach our kids that rewards and success in life require hard work, and hunting is no different. Sure, I want my kids to have fun and succeed in their outdoor pursuits, and I do my best to put them in winning positions, but deep down I was enjoying every minute of her pursuit. With each empty hunt, I watched her determination grow. I knew that she was realizing the clear difference between “hunting” and “killing”. I knew if the occasion to get a shot at a deer were to arise, she would be ready.
The time and conditions were finally right and we headed back to the same blind where I made her pass the young buck a few weeks earlier. It was a crisp, late November day and the last weekend of Missouri’s gun season. In the blind, we once again did a dry-run rehearsal of what to do if a deer came out. About 25 minutes before dark, a young buck stepped out in the exact spot as before, at about 95 yards. I saw him walking out of the timber about 40 yards before she saw him, but I wanted her to spot him on her own. She saw him and whispered, “Daddy, there is a deer out there”. I let her instinct take over, she pulled up and got a steady rest. I told her to “take her time, exhale and squeeze the trigger when she was ready”. After what felt like 26 minutes, she shot. I immediately knew that she just harvested her first animal. I looked over and saw the brightest smile I’ve ever seen.
I saw the deer drop after 25-yards at an angle she couldn’t see from her seat in the blind. I wanted her to go through the experience of tracking an animal, so I told her that we had to wait a bit before we started looking for evidence of the hit. When we finally walked out of the blind, she saw her deer. I still made her go through the process of starting at the site of the shot and searching for sign, but she ended up jogging towards her first trophy! After a huge hug, a thankful prayer and trophy pictures, we smiled as we loaded up and headed home.
On the drive back, I had a wide range of emotions and an overwhelming sense of pride in her amazing accomplishment. I’m highly confident I had tears in my eyes and I am certain it was my best day ever afield. I also knew she was going to carry that day with her forever, even if she never hunted again. She knew the gravity of the situation of taking an animal’s life, and I know she fully understood the circle of life and felt a sense of pride that she would be providing nutritious meals for our family. About half-way home she made a comment that is very fitting of her humor – “Dad, I can’t wait to tell Mom about the day. I am also going to tell her about all the ‘S-Words’ from our trip”. I told her, “I don’t remember any of those”; which she promptly replied with those precious little girl giggles, “Dad, Smiles…we had a lot of Smiles. Smiles is the best S-word”. Yes indeed, honey…yes indeed!
Andy Pettit – St. Charles, MO
Andy lives and breathes hunting and habitat management 365 days a year. He spends his days working in the fast-paced high-tech industry and dreaming of being outside. He has relentless passion on working to ensure his hunting properties have the best habitat available in the neighborhood and helping others in their journey. He focuses primarily on deer & turkey, but will often be found with a fly rod in his hand as he is trying to achieve a lifelong goal of catching a fish in all 50 states on a fly rod. Andy lives the WKP mantra by introducing and mentoring his 3 children to God’s glorious outdoor creations (as he frequently chases them through the brush).