Family Adventures: It's the Little Moments That Matter

By Brad Herndon

It was 3 p.m. as Steve Brewer and his son, Jessie, eased toward their food plot. After pushing a few stakes in the ground, Steve placed a mesh camo blind around them and he and Jessie settled in. An hour later a doe fawn ventured into the field about 50 yards away. Jessie had practiced with his 50-caliber muzzleloader often during the summer, so this doe was well within the nine-year-old boy’s shooting range.

 “You’ll need a rest,” Steve whispered to his son. “I’ll get down on my hands and knees and you can use my back to aim off of.” After Steve got in position, Jessie rested the gun on his dad’s back and placed the deer in his scope, just like he was practicing shooting. When everything looked right he eased the safety off and squeezed the trigger. The doe dropped in its tracks. Jessie never said a word, nor did he say anything when he got to the deer. Eventually, he just smiled. Sometimes words don’t have to be said when something happens. This was one of those moments; a dad standing with his son who had just killed his first deer. Priceless, as the commercial says.


After driving for two hours, Wayne Bowden and his two sons, Nevin, age 10, and Forrest, age seven, finally arrived at their hunting lease. Wayne and two buddies manage the land for whitetails and have taken several trophy bucks from it. But this hunt was to be different. This was Nevin’s first wild turkey hunt. After getting their equipment out of the vehicle, including their portable ground blind, Wayne and the boys made their way toward a secluded field. Once there, they set up the blind, put two hen decoys out in the field, and went over final instructions. “Nevin,” Wayne said, “be sure to hold the gun steady, right on the base of his neck. Squeeze the trigger, don’t jerk it, or you’ll miss. Make all of your movements slow.” These were instructions he had told him many times. Right after daylight a hen pitched into the field, then another hen, then two jakes. Disappointingly, they moved off out of range. Shortly a hen came out of the woods only 20 yards from them. “Dad, there’s one right there!” Nevin whispered. Sure enough, a huge gobbler Wayne hadn’t seen was tailing the hen only 25 yards away. “Nevin, get on his head and shoot!” Wayne said excitedly, but quietly. However, because Nevin was using a tripod to hold his gun up and help him aim, he couldn’t move fast enough to get on the tom. “Nevin, you’ve got to shoot!” Wayne repeated. “I can’t see his head,” Nevin shot back. “It’s the white thing on the front of him,” Wayne whispered desperately. It was then he noticed Nevin’s gun was tight against the side of the blind’s window. If he didn’t shoot soon the gobbler would be out of view. “Boom!” As the shot echoed in the woods the big tom collapsed in a heap. After making sure Nevin put the gun’s safety on and laid the firearm on the ground, Wayne raced to the tom, putting his best body press on him. Meanwhile, the boys were laughing hysterically. This was one of the funniest things they had ever seen their dad do. “You got him! You got him!” Wayne yelled. “Come out here!” Within seconds the boys were admiring the huge bird with their proud dad. The longbeard weighed 23 pounds and had a 10-1/2 inch beard. Stories of the hunt were told and retold and many pictures were taken. I love to hear stories such as this. And there is a reason this hunt occurred. “Even though I never pulled a trigger,” Wayne Bowden told me, “this was my best time afield ever because of the love I have for my sons and family. I will never forget that day with Nevin and Forrest. I once had the same experience they had because my dad took me hunting. I was once the boy.”


Thus far in this article I’ve talked about two successful hunts dads and their sons had – one for deer and one for wild turkey. Both hunts will always be remembered by the youngsters hunting, and by the dads who took them afield and who were so sharing and patient with the boys. Yes, hunting for big game like deer and wild turkey is special. Keep in mind, however, that the bond a father, or mother, form with their children while in the outdoors goes far beyond the realm of deer and turkey hunting. Love–and the friendship and bond-building that goes with it – has no limits as to what is meaningful. Sometimes the smallest, most seemingly insignificant activities are what leave the sweetest, longest-lasting memory. I was raised in Starve Hollow, a pleasant valley nestled in the rolling hills of southern Indiana. We lived on 40 acres that consisted of hardwood hills and several small fields that were scattered near two streams that meandered through our property. My dad worked in a large city, but when he was home he liked to play the part of a farmer. I remember one warm spring day in particular. Dad was on the old Ford tractor breaking up one of our larger fields, about four acres in size. He was pulling an ancient two-bottom plow behind the tractor and the clay ground rolled over grudgingly. I was walking in the furrow behind the plow watching for any big, juicy earthworms that might be turned over in the soil. Every so often a large old worm would wiggle out of a clod and I would pitch him in the tin can I had in my left hand. It took several rounds of walking, but the old tin can was eventually filled with earthworms, with a little dirt thrown in for good measure. Yes, my dad and I were going fishing. Oddly, I have no recollection of whether we caught any fish that day. Yet the memories of picking up the worms remain as clear as a crystal in my memory. In my mind, I can still see dad sitting on the tractor, the soil rolling over, the size of the worms, and I can even recall the special smell of the freshly broken ground. It seems as if it happened yesterday, not over 45 years ago. Today, modern farming has changed and most farmers use no-till farming methods. No, worms aren’t going to be turned over in the soil by most modern farmers. Fortunately, this isn’t true to any large degree with those of you managing for deer. Most food plot soil is still broken up using farming implements much like my dad was using: a small tractor and a single or double bottom plow. Yes, your sons and daughters still have the opportunity to have memorable experiences picking up fishing worms, just as I did years ago. Never underestimate how little things like this can influence them in a positive manner. Who knows, those worms--when used on a fishing trip-- may also turn into another memorable experience for your family.

My wife, Carol, was in one end of the boat, I was sitting in the other end, and our seven- year-old daughter was in the middle. The boat was anchored near shore where several swirling bluegill were nesting. We rigged live night crawlers on three hook harnesses and tossed our lines in the midst of the beds, letting the sinkerless night crawler float slowly toward the bottom. Almost every time the line tightened just after it hit the water and we would have on a giant snub-nosed bluegill. After catching several slabs, JoLinda was reeling in yet another one when, out of the blue, she exclaimed, “They don’t call me fisherman Jack for nothing!” Carol and I cracked up when we heard that one. We have no idea where JoLinda came up with the idea for her statement, or why she said it. Kids are kids. All we know is that it was extremely funny and Carol, JoLinda and I still talk about it 28 years later. It is one of many precious outdoor memories we share with our daughter.


Bryan Barnett and his son, Clayton, parked on their lease last Thanksgiving morning, grabbed their guns and headed down a logging road leading into a valley. Slipping along, they noticed two deer in front of them. The deer were aware of their presence, however, and Bryan’s stalk on them proved unsuccessful. Deciding to take a break, Bryan sat down on an old stump while young Clayton reclined against a tree. It should be noted at this point that Clayton was after the second squirrel of his life, not a deer. Within minutes, Clayton was surprised to see a large fox squirrel hop up on a log in front of him. It was so close he couldn’t move. Playing it smart, Clayton waited until the bushytail turned its back to him, then raised his 20-gauge shotgun and fired. The number 6 shot stopped the old fox squirrel in his tracks. “Dad, I got one!” Clayton yelled. “And a gray squirrel just came out of a dead tree and went up a tree in front of me.” Bryan, who was looking the other way, quickly joined his son and congratulated him. “Give me your gun, Clayton,” Bryan said. “Walk around to the other side of the tree the gray squirrel is on and maybe I can get him.” Sure enough, when Clayton eased around the tree, the gray squirrel slipped around the tree and exposed himself to Bryan. Quickly Bryan had the squirrel on the ground. He and his son had just pulled off their first double! I bet a lot of you reading this were thinking about deer when you read the words A Thanksgiving Trophy earlier. Well, let me tell you something; Clayton’s fox squirrel was a trophy. In fact, he and his dad split right down to Tolliver’s Hunting & Fishing Supplies where the owner photographed Clayton with his prize and even weighed it in, just like he did the whitetails that day. Clayton’s grizzly old fox squirrel weighed a whopping 1 pound and 14 ounces! I heard about this great hunt Thanksgiving afternoon when Mr. C, as I call him, phoned and related all of the details to me. He couldn’t have been more excited if he had killed a trophy whitetail. I can assure you if we could fast forward twenty years this hunt will still be lodged firmly in the memory banks of both Clayton and his dad. Yes, small game hunting on land you own or lease is one more way you can build wonderful relationships with your children. Don’t limit what you do with them because of the pursuit of a trophy whitetail.


Let’s assume you have a 150-inch buck on your property that you would dearly love to kill. Let’s further suppose you’ve taken your 5-year-old son or daughter hunting with you on a warm sunny day. You’re sitting in a large stand enjoying each other’s company when you glance over and see a 125-inch buck coming your way. Your youngster sees it too. With eyes as big as silver dollars, they look up at you and say, “Daddy, shoot it! It’s huge!” What do you do? Do you let it go and try to explain to them it wasn’t a big enough deer? Or do you shoot a lesser buck than you really wanted and share an experience with your child that neither of you will ever forget? I bet I know how most of you will answer these questions. Yes, taking a 125-inch deer with your child on property you both have been involved in managing is an experience that would be hard to beat. After that little guy or gal is grown and gone, you may have the money to go on one of those monster buck hunts to Canada. You may even kill a Boone & Crockett buck in the process. And yes, you’ll share stories about that hunt with your family and friends as they admire the mounted deer in your home. But when your hair is gray and thinning, and wrinkles crease your face, I can tell you what hunt will be most discussed when your child returns home to visit. It will be about that 125- inch buck harvested so many years before. Yes, quality time spent in nature with your children will make you friends forever.


Managing your land for deer is great fun, especially when your family is involved. Let them help you pick out the seeds you’re going to plant. You might even let your kids plant a little plot of their own so they can watch “their” seeds grow into a lush food plot. And of course they can watch deer feed in the plot all summer, which will help them learn a lot about deer behavior. However, don’t neglect to teach them about all aspects of nature. Hunting turkey and deer gets most of our attention today, but small game hunting is actually more important since it gives young hunters more action and allows them to learn about nature quicker. Let them experience squirrel, rabbit, quail, pheasant, grouse and other types of hunting that your property may have. I know the memories of my first rabbit and squirrel is just as vivid as my first deer kill. Also be sure to teach them about the goodies that can be gathered in nature as well. A friend of mine took his small daughter mushroom hunting on his land and I can still remember the smile on her face as she posed with a big bag of morels. And one lady I know remembers the times she and her daughter cut wild asparagus in the beauty of spring, then fried the delicious vegetable up for dad that night. We let our daughter experience the fun of picking wild blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, plums, dewberries, huckleberries, grapes, elderberries, and other fruits. We also picked up walnuts, hazelnuts and bushels of hickory nuts. All of this food, by the way, is delicious eating and can be used in a variety of recipes. We also accumulated a dandy Indian artifact collection by prowling the fields together and made several hundred dollars a year digging ginseng. Time was spent identifying flowers, trees, bugs, and various other intriguing items in nature. We played in the creeks too. As you can see, the activities you can pursue in nature with your family are almost unlimited. Get your wife, daughters and sons involved in everything that is happening on your land or lease. Don’t forget about those grandchildren either. Go beyond sharing with your immediate family and get nieces, nephews and friends in on the fun. And what about the little burr-headed kid next door who doesn’t have anyone to take him hunting? Take him. He can be a forever friend as well. As I come to the close of this article, so too will you come to the close of your hunting career someday. Seriously consider what I have said and take the words to heart. You can manage for trophy deer and still share with others. Don’t be a selfish deer manager. Instead, form hunting and other outdoor related relationships with a variety of people. Be friends forever with as many people as you can. The memories you share together will enable you to relive all of those special moments you enjoyed in nature throughout the years. Remember: your influences on other people and the memories they have of you are all you will ever leave behind. Make them count.