Son and Mother Shoot First Bucks on Imperial Clover Food Plot

By Susie Marietta

I believe it was Forrest Gump’s mother who said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Isn’t it satisfying, though, when that one chocolate you pick out of the box just happens to be your favorite. Sometimes hunting is like that, too.
My love for hunting started early. I was raised in the country and hunted small game, upland birds and varmints with my Dad. The fact that the three oldest kids in our family were girls did not stop us from hunting, fishing, driving combines and tractors and various other activities often reserved for the male gender in other families. We now live on a small farm in the middle of Kansas with a large pond and a meandering river. Deer and wild turkeys are abundant. My hunting memories are a special part of me; so getting my kids started hunting means more than just taking time out to get it done. It’s somewhere between a “keen desire” and “instinctual behavior.” That objective has now been met for all of my kids now that Tom, my youngest, was old enough to deer hunt this year.

It’s almost a daily activity here; deer hunting, that is. Besides spotting and keeping track of deer activities on our 58 acres, I like to help insure that they stick around for the “fun stuff.” Planting trees and shrubs attractive to deer is an ongoing process, as well as maintaining a food plot planted with Imperial Whitetail Clover from the Whitetail Institute. As hunting season approaches we spend more and more time watching and patterning the deer. The first Imperial Clover patch was planted in 2002. It is somewhere between 2 and 3 acres. It has improved each year. We had planted a different kind of clover the year before, and it didn't do well at all.

This year we actually pastured a few horses on the food plot for a while this summer. They mowed it flat. We took them off around the first of September and within a couple weeks the Imperial Clover was a foot high again, and the deer moved right back in. We have taken a number of deer and turkeys in the food plot.

And now I’d like to tell you the story about my son’s first deer. Since this was the first year Tom was going to be old enough to hunt, I wanted to do everything I could to ensure that he had a successful hunt. We had often talked about other kids and their experiences. Tom didn’t think he wanted to shoot “the biggest buck” his first year.

He was afraid that if he didn’t get a big buck the next time that he might be disappointed in years to come. I reassured him that if he got a monster buck he would probably be hooked on hunting regardless of what happened in the future. He thought maybe he would like to start by just getting a doe for his first deer, as his brother and sister had done in the past, or maybe a small buck. I told him that would be fine with me, but if that monster did happen to step into his sights, don’t forget to pull the trigger.

In the days before his hunt I spent time watching our Imperial Clover patch from our platform tree stand where his hunt would take place. Since Tom was in school he wasn’t able to do a lot of the spotting with me. Mostly I saw does and their babies in the Imperial Clover on a daily basis. This was good, I thought. Where there are does, the bucks will follow. Finally I managed to see an odd young buck in the Imperial Clover. I knew I would recognize this buck if I ever saw him again.

He had a rather small but very upright, narrow rack with main beams that almost touched in the front. There was something else strange about this fellow, too. As I looked at him with my binoculars, or “Nocs” as Tom calls them, I could see a very prominent black circle on the left side of his face between his eye and ear. I looked at it for the longest time, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell what the heck it was; an injury, a growth of hair or perhaps only a stain or some mud. At any rate, he was a strange-looking deer that I hoped Tom would be able to remove from the gene pool.

I gave Tom a call and told him I had found his buck. He got more and more excited about the idea as I described the deer to him. I told my fiancé, Mike, that I had picked out a buck for Tom. He said he hoped I hadn’t gotten Tom too excited about that buck because you “never know what you’re gonna get.” He also reminded me how we have been hunting a certain large buck ever since we moved here, and no one has managed to get him.

Now, with hunter’s education behind him, shooting practice completed and his rifle sighted in, all Tom had to do was wait for the special youth weekend so he could hunt. When that morning arrived we were ready. Tom was curiously calm. He didn’t seem near as excited as my other kids had been on their first hunt. I didn’t think much about it.We gathered our gear; Tom with his gun and me with my camera and “Nocs.”

It was still dark, so we slowly worked our way to the clover with the help of a flashlight. As we reached the last gate before crossing into the Imperial Clover, I heard something. I pointed the flashlight toward the sound. Holy cow! Eyeballs everywhere! The Imperial Clover field that Tom and I needed to cross in order to reach our stand was filled with deer! With the sound of our approach they all ran to the hedgerow on the north edge of the field. The clover patch is about 100 yards wide and 175 yards long, so they didn’t run far. I didn’t want to spook them any more than I had to, but I did want Tom to have the advantage of hunting from the stand; so we continued toward the stand. I told Tom to stick close and I kept the flashlight pointed at the deer so they would see the light rather than our forms as we walked along. I was surprised they all stayed right there in the edge of the woods, within 50 yards of us.

As we made the last turn toward the stand, a young deer hopped out of the hedge right in front of us. We stopped. It was only about 30 yards away, between the stand and us. I kept the light on it. I was afraid to keep walking because I didn’t want to spook them all so much that they would take off up the river for the day. Instead, I made a clicking with my mouth, kind of like you would when you want your horse to speed up a tad. The fawn ignored me. I decided to wave the light of the flashlight just a little. That did it. He took off back into the hedgerow and stayed there with the other deer the whole time Tom and I climbed into the stand and waited for the morning light.

Ah, now I could relax. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be in the woods with the trees and stars overhead and deer all around. It gives me a feeling of peace and serenity I cherish. What a morning. As the sky slowly started to lighten, Tom and I could see deer playing in the Imperial Clover. One would cross one way, then another the other way. We watched a doe and her baby meander back and forth.

One particular fawn was so funny to watch it was hard to keep from laughing. He walked straight toward the pasture directly away from us. He was watching one of the horses grazing on the other side of the fence. The little fawn couldn’t have stretched his ears any farther listening to and watching the horse. He stomped his feet. What a little tough guy. As the fawn turned and headed back across the Imperial Clover; he offered us a perfect shot. I told Tom to take him if he wanted.

His reply was, “No, I think I’ll wait.”

Uh-oh, I thought. I hope Tom is not going to be the type who can’t pull the trigger when the time comes. We waited and took the liberty of talking in a whisper. Tom was concerned that he might not make a good shot, or that he might not hit it at all. Half jokingly I told him, “One sure way to always get a deer is to slow your projectile down to 55 mph and put headlights on it.” We worked so hard at stifling our laughter but I’m sure the stand was shaking.

Two large does appeared at the edge of the woods. Both offered a good shot. I told Tom he could take either one. Once again, no, he wanted to wait. Now I really was starting to wonder. This was the kid who was worried because he didn’t want to shoot too large of a buck for his first deer. Now he didn’t want to take a fawn or a doe. We waited.

As the clock ticked on, I was beginning to think I was going to have to take a break and perhaps continue our hunt later that evening. Oh, well, if he doesn’t get a deer, at least he had already had a great morning with lots of deer activity. I’d give it 30 more minutes. Another deer stepped out to the edge of the field, but it didn’t give us much of a shot. I wasn’t even sure Tom could see it, as I was watching it through a “window” in the trees. I raised my “Nocs” and realized this was the strange little buck I had spotted the week before.

Yes, it was unmistakable. Slowly and quietly I said, “Tom, there’s your buck.” Suddenly the kid who was so nonchalant earlier perked up. “Really! Where?” he said. “Move over here… I think you can see him from here,” I replied. “Oh, Mom! My heart’s going 90 miles an hour,” Tom said back.

“Just take your time and make sure you’ve got that crosshair right where you want it, then squeeze the trigger,” I said to calm his nerves. BANG! As I watched, the buck took off but I could see he was hit hard. The thing I couldn’t see was where the heck he went. Two jumps and he was out of sight due to all the trees. By then, Tom was a bundle of adrenaline, wondering about his shot and where the deer went.

On the other side of the hedgerow was a soybean field. I knew he had taken off into the beans. Tom and I walked to where the deer stood when he shot. Yes, there was a little blood, but not much. We could follow the tracks, but which ones? There were deer tracks going every which way. It was a whitetail dance hall. We were able to follow the blood trail about 50 yards, being careful to mark the trail as we went and trying not to obscure what little blood we could find.

Scanning the field, we could not spot the deer, and I had no intention of traipsing back and forth through the beans that were so near to harvest. He must have run back into the woods. We combed through the woods to the south of where we last saw him, but couldn’t find a trace. It was thick woods with briars, tangled vines and loaded with poison ivy. As much as I hated to, I told Tom let’s wait until Mike got home in an hour or so. We made our way back to the house to cool off and rest.

By the time Mike got there I had thought about where the buck must have gone. I was able to walk straight to the deer, which was in the woods to the north. We breathed a sigh of relief. Tom took hold of the deer’s antlers and looked them over. He was the same upright 8-point for sure, with a few small kickers and one side of his main beam somewhat palmated and nearly crossing in the front. The black spot on the side of the buck’s face turned out to be an extremely large black mole attached to the buck’s skin. Tom gave the buck a few good, confident pats. His smile told me he was a happy boy.

“I was really excited,” he told me. “I felt like I did something really good. I wanted to do this really bad for a long time, and I finally got to. It was really neat to get the exact deer I went after. The Imperial Clover patch helped make sure there were a lot of deer to choose from.”

What a feeling of satisfaction. Another deer hunter was born and Tom managed to pull exactly what he wanted out of that box of chocolates.

Editor’s Note: Susie Marietta, Tom’s mother, is a Certified Kansas Hunter Education instructor. She has taught bowhunting in the NRA program "Women on Target" and has been a guest instructor for Kansas Bowhunter Education, and hopes to be certified in that soon. Tom also shot his first turkey from a corner of the clover patch. That was an exciting hunt, too. He was out there for about 15 minutes when the turkeys appeared at the other side of the clover, then it took about 20 minutes to call them in close enough for a shot.