LEARNING TO HUNT
Gene Traylor with his trophy Buck from this unit
I hated it. As a young kid following my Dad around in the woods.
I was cold. I had to be quiet. We drove forever on old logging
roads at the wee hours of the morning. We never got anything.
I wasn’t even sure deer actually existed. The experience was almost
lost to me as a kid. Had there been Playstations and such back then,
life today would be much different. It wasn’t until I was age 11
that the value of this lifestyle became evident.
My Grandpa Gene showed me the way. I am 41 years old now, but
the memory of 1982 lives in my mind as vivid as the coffee I had this morning.
My Grandpa was an inspiration to many, but for me he was a turning
point in my life. I was failing my classes, getting in fights, and
generally heading in the wrong direction. Looking back, I can see
that it was another year before I sank deep into the wrong group of kids
and took up their endeavors.
At age 11 my Dad took me for a three week hunting trip. Not just
any hunting trip; but to the legendary hunting grounds of my family in
Eastern Oregon. A place called Whitehorse; actually a hunting unit
called Whitehorse. My Grandpa, Great Grandpa, and Great Great Grandpa
made many of the roads out there, if you can call them roads, long before
there was any such thing as hunting units. Enough of a jeep trail
to get to an aspen patch in the middle of no where. And when I say
no where, I mean don’t go there without a week’s worth of food and water
and really good tires, and even then you’re going to have to take a four
hour trip to McDermitt for supplies.
In all my time between 8 and 11 years old, I had never seen a buck.
Only a few straggling does. Following my Dad around all those years
was frustrating and self-defeating. I was on the verge of turning
away from this life that my family had always lived going back generations.
I was almost lost. Another year older, and girls would start to look
my way, so it became very important that I saw the value of it before it
was too late.
There were a few things that had to happen. First, camping had
to get more fun. Second, we had to see some wildlife that inspired
me. Third, someone had to actually succeed in bagging a deer.
So there I was, riding in the back of a fully packed car with my Dad,
aunt, and cousin bouncing over a jeep trail to what we affectionately called
“the aspen patch”. Basically, a 30 yard patch of aspens on the side
of a knoll in the middle of a vast sagebrush flat. Twentyfive years
later, my grandparents would be memorialized there with two inconspicuous
gravestones on the knoll overlooking this lonely little aspen patch.
It was a sixteen hour drive so I was cramped, tired, and barely coherent.
My cousin was asleep, but I was barely awake looking at the sagebrush pass.
Just then, the car jolted to a stop! My dad and aunt piled out fast!
I rubbed my eyes and saw blurry images of rock and sagebrush. It
seemed like I was still asleep and dreaming when I heard my aunt say, “Should
I shoot it?” My Dad said, “I don’t know, this is the first day and
we haven’t even gotten to camp yet. Shoot if you want.” The
gun went off and deafened me for a moment. My cousin woke up and
asked what was going on.
My aunt had propped her gun over the car for a rest, took aim and shot
a healthy 3 point buck. Well, scratch item number three off the list.
Someone actually got one! My eyes were wide as frying pans and a
grin as big as Oregon itself as we pulled into camp with the deer draped
over the vehicle.
I was about to experience something that I always knew was out there,
but never got to see until now. The aspen patch was interspersed
with five camp trailers in a semi-circular around two grand fire pits about
thirty yards apart. Off to the side of the aspen grove was a pile
of mule deer horns stretching nine feet tall and five feet wide.
Finally, I was about to see what this whole thing was all about.
The five camp trailers belonged to my Grandpa Gene, Aunt June, Aunt
Kay, Uncle Lester, and some other guy I’d never met. Eventually,
there would be a couple more arrivals. We had a tent… a two man job
that we pitched back in the aspens away from the trailers. My Dad
and I would call that home for three weeks.
There was much fanfare on our arrival. We backed the car in and
flopped the buck down. There was already one hanging on the buck
pole. Everyone was excited that we had two hanging on day one of
hunting season. Little did they know, it was about to be a season
that none had experienced in a life time. And lucky me, a confused
11 year old got to live it.
My next memory is of riding
in my Grandpa’s old International Scout across the sage flats. I
was in the back seat where all kids should be. My Dad was back there
with me and my aunt June was in the passenger seat. I was daydreaming
about spaceships and girls when the rig stopped and my Grandpa, who never
spoke unless needed, said, “Arn, get out and let’s take a walk.”
Arn was his way of saying “Aaron”. Almost like he was mad my parents
named me that, and wished my name was some one syllable name like Bob or
John. My aunt and Dad looked at me like, “uh oh, this is big”.
I grabbed my Browning .243
semi-auto from the rack and stepped out nervously. He walked out
toward a rim rock cliff face and looked back and waved for me to catch
up. I was nervous. I never had much interaction with him before
now. I caught up and walked by his side but slightly back to show
respect. Trying not to trip over the clumps of sage and bitter brush,
I got close to the top of the rim rock face and he waved me down with his
hand. “Stay quiet, boy.” We crept up and looked over the top.
Two monster bucks bedded
down were looking back up at us from the bottom of the rim rock cliff about
twentyfive yards down. Both were 3-points with shafts about 1 ½
inches thick at the base of the ear. I raised my rifle and took aim.
Grandpa gently pushed the barrel down, as if to say “now is not the time”.
We watched them for about five minutes until they finally got up and sauntered
off around a bend in the rimrock.
I took a risk and blurted
out, “Why couldn’t I shoot one?”. He simply pointed to the mile deep
canyon that rested against the base of the rim rock face. Had we
shot one, it would have rolled a mile down in that canyon and been lost.
My first buck sighting coupled with a valuable lesson in hunting.
To this day, I ask myself how he knew those two bucks were laying at that
precise spot on that rim rock that spanned many miles. We didn’t
even drive a road to it! Just traveled across sage brush. The
guy was legendary.
Scratch number two off the
list. This wildlife definitely inspired me.
I was ready to tell everyone
back at camp the exciting hunting day we had. But, when we got back
I did not get the chance. Aunt Kay had killed a big 3-point up in
what we called “The Fingers”, which were a series of five ridges that spanned
out in the shape of five fingers. They afforded much cover in the
valleys between and good habitat on either side depending on the weather.
Everyone at camp was busy field dressing it and talking about their day.
Seeing that third buck hanging
from the buck pole was very exciting for me. After years of no success,
would I actually have the chance of bagging one of my own? I was
satisfied with seeing just a few people succeed. But I began thinking,
what if I could get one? What if I could do something most people
never do? How would my Grandpa think of me then? Would he be
proud of me? Would my Dad be proud of me? I was the only kid
there. My uncles and aunts never let me forget it. They looked
at me with special discern, as if I was the heir apparent to a thrown that
has long been held and will soon be relinquished to the next generation.
This began to be a huge burden for me to bear and we were only a couple
days into this trip.
The next thing I remember
is being lost. Not good given my state of mind. I wandered
miles into the Oregon badlands not really knowing where I was or where
I was going. My Dad told me to meet him at a certain point a mile
away. I got there and he wasn’t there, so I thought I went to the
wrong point and made my way to another point. Several points later,
I was lost. Nearing dark I figured I would have to spend the night
out in the desert. That was fine, but to be sure I let off a few
rounds to let everyone know where I was.
I looked around for a place
to camp. At 11 years old, this was pretty traumatic. I let
the tears flow for a while. Then wiped my face and thought about
what I had to do. Looking for firewood I spooked a sage hen.
The sudden thundering sound of its wings a few feet from me almost made
me crap my pants. I remember falling to my knees, grasping my rifle,
trying to settle my thundering heart rate. Once I was calm enough
to walk again without my knees wobbling, I continued looking for fire wood.
Settling down for what I
thought was going to be a long night I saw a reflection of light off a
windshield about five miles in the distance. I picked up and started
hiking toward it. Several hours later I arrived at my Uncle Lester’s
green ’72 Chevy pickup. He told me he knew I was out there and was
waiting for me at the highest point he could find. I loved Uncle
Lester. For all his shortcomings, he knew what needed done.
Plus it was really cool that on the way back to camp his wife, Aunt LaVonne,
up and shot a sage hen. She was wheelchair bound so this was really
neat to me, having been lost and all. Back at camp they cooked it
up in a crockpot and we shared it for dinner.
The best memory of all was
when I got mine.
I remember going over and
over in my head what I would do if I saw a buck. I was a kid so I
was never allowed to go on point of the big drives or sit in the best spots
to have the best chance. I was kept in the back seat of the Scout
while the women sat in the front waiting for the men to finish and then
drive back to camp. So I day dreamed about seeing a big monster muley
from the back of the Scout. I went over in my mind what I would do.
I’d pull my rifle from the middle, slide quietly out the back door , drop
to a three-point stance, aim and kill a deer. I day dreamed this
for many days. Meanwhile, the ladies kept on chattering from the
The day was noticeably colder.
Hovering around 30 degrees, the snow and rain battled each other for dominance
in this high desert world. We were sitting on a high point above
the conjunction of two deep draws with the Oregon Canyon off to the far
right. The men were walking up these draws and anything that spooked
out would run toward this high point. It was an all day hunt.
The women chatted in the front, and I kept my eyes peeled on the area that
I thought the deer would come up over and across our view.
I thought I was still day
dreaming. It was huge. Its hair had turned gray from the colder
weather. I could see the towering antlers. It was at a full
run like a horse, not the gradual pounce for a deer. After days of
working it out in my mind it was like I was looking down at another person
performing the actions that I told myself I would do. It was fluid,
it was deliberate, it was poetry.
I was on the left side looking
out the back window. My left hand reached up and opened the door,
while at the same time my right had pulled my rifle back and up from between
the two front seats. I slid out, took two steps, dropped to a three-point
stance, took aim, and released the safety. The women in the front
fretted loudly, “What the hell? What do you see? Careful boy!
Oh my god! There it is! Take your time! Easy!!”
I ignored all of it. At that moment, I finally became the hunter.
The gleam was in my eye. The women waited to see if the boy was going
to succeed or would become a disappointment. The buck was at a full
run at about 300 yards and I had a .243 semi auto with open sights.
The same gun my Grandpa hunted with. There wasn’t a lot of confidence
that I would succeed. But at that moment, I knew I would. I
saw the buck fall before I pulled the trigger. I could hear my heart
beating at a normal pace blocking out the hurried chatter from the front
seat. I remember thinking, do these gals ever just be quiet?
The noise of the wind went silent. The snow flakes flying sideways
in the wind suddenly slowed. My senses were so acute at that moment
that I swear I could have counted the number of snowflakes landing on my
cold gun barrel. I could smell the strong scent of sage as it blew
up from the the majestic Oregon Canyon to my right. It was me and
the buck across 300 yards of open country. It was like that buck
was two feet from me. I mentally calculated the distance, the speed
it was running, and the elevation of our rig to the buck. I adjusted
my aim accordingly and put a significant lead on it with about a foot elevation
from the kill zone. One shot rang out across the sage brush and echoed
from the rim rocks. Three seconds later the buck tumbled out of a
dead run in a cloud of dust. I held my sight on it for another few
seconds to be sure. My aunt Kay said, “Wow... he got it. Good
job, boy!”. But I already knew.
Got it I did. A perfect
hit behind the right shoulder into one lung and the bottom of the heart.
A miracle shot at 300 yards at a dead run. A giant 4-point muley
with a 23 inch spread. I remember backing up to camp (you never back
up to camp unless you had a buck in the back of the rig). The question
was asked, “Who got it?”. My aunt Kay said it was me. Everyone
stood up and began clapping. The boy just got his first buck.
And it was the second biggest buck in the camp. The tradition was
that whoever kills a buck has to take a straight shot of whiskey from the
bottle. I grabbed the bottle from my Grandpa Gene and gulped down
two fiery mouthfuls. Thus, I entered the long history of our family
The only one bigger was Grandpa
Gene’s. He got it on the last day of the season. He had scouted it
out all year and knew it would be the crown of the year that was to be
the last. There were a total of 14 bucks hanging from that buck pole.
His buck was a trophy 5 by 6. It was so big its hind end touched
the ground when we hung it on the pole. It made the rest of ours
look like youngins.
That was the year I found
myself. That was when I figured out what was important… family.
It took the success of deer hunting to bring me around to the values that
were important in life. It snowed three feet that year and my Dad
and I still slept in that little tent while our relatives stayed in trailers.
We had to dig ourselves out of our tent each morning. But we were
fine. We proved that year that the family tradition would live on.
It’s now up to me to make
sure my kids learn the values I hold dear. It won’t be easy.
I have to compete with Playstation, Internet, Satellite TV, careers, and
the fact that all the old timers are gone now. It’s just me, my brother,
sister, some cousins and our kids now. Some of us don’t even live
in Oregon anymore. There are a few other hopeful relatives out there.
Will we all some day meet out there at the aspen patch? Or is it
too late, and those days are gone forever?
SUBMITTED BY CLINT TRAYLOR/WRITTEN
BY MY SON AARON TRAYLOR