I was lounging on the couch in my home watching TV. My wife and daughter were out enjoying some girl time. I heard my cell phone ring. It was Dan, a buddy and also my taxidermist. Dan calling me was not uncommon, but calling me at 10:30 p.m. seemed odd. I answered and could hear the urgency in his voice. “I heard over the radio at work that your brother was in an accident. They’re taking him to the hospital. You better get there quick.”
Trying to keep my cool and hoping for the best, I walked up to the ER desk and told the young lady what I’d been told. The receptionist at the counter wasn’t quite sure how to respond and got the charge nurse. A few minutes later the charge nurse came and asked me what my relationship was to the accident victim. “He’s my brother,” I told her, to which she asked me to follow her.
Some may argue that I’m not the sharpest marble in the bag, but I can draw a straight line from dot to dot. I knew what had happened. She said my little brother and only sibling, John, was deceased.
During the next couple of weeks I dealt with the common aspects and flood of emotions that follows losing a loved one: hurt, confusion, anger and handling everything I could for the family.
My brother had a son, Reese. Reese was 12 years old and they were everything to each other—I’d never seen a father and son who were closer. Their relationship was more that of best friends than of parent and child.
I knew John’s passing would devastate Reese. Telling that boy the news was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I decided right then that I was going to spend the rest of my life trying to continue what my brother had started. My wife and I were only able to have one child. My daughter, Olivia, and Reese were more like brother and sister than cousins anyway, so bringing Reese into our family was an easy choice.
A TRADITION CONTINUED
As time passed and fall got closer, I realized Reese had never attended a hunter safety course. John had grand dreams of hunting with Reese and experiencing all that comes with mentoring a young hunter. I knew he wanted Reese to have the same experiences we did, so it was only natural that I follow up on that.
I enrolled Reese and Olivia in the next class at our regional Fish and Game office. Both kids passed without a problem and, after receiving their hunter safety cards, we drove directly to the nearest sport shop and bought Reese his first hunting license. Olivia was only 9 years old, and in Idaho, she has to wait until the age of 10 to get her youth license. The pride I had for them both swelled me up like a tick. I knew John would have been proud, too. Reese was a somewhat small kid for his age, and he didn’t have a rifle of his own. It was more important than ever, for me at least, that he hunt that first season with his dad’s gun. John, being a goofy southpaw, had a Remington Model 700 LH chambered in .270 Win.
Reese is right-handed, but because he’d never shot a rifle much I knew we could work through that little issue.
Finding a youth stock, let alone a left-handed youth stock, became a major ordeal. So, after searching far and wide I decided to buy a Blackhawk Axiom stock and modify it. We made plans to go to our local outdoor range the following Saturday, the day before our general opener.
Saturday came and Reese was excited. I was, too. Once I had the scope dialed-in at 100 yards, I had Reese shoot. He shot four rounds, drilling the last three into a 50-cent-piece-sized group at 100 yards. My pride continued to grow!
We woke up to the alarm at 4 a.m. the next morning, grabbed the gear and jumped in the truck. Stopping at a gas station on the way, we said “hello” to a young couple dressed in camo. I told them “good luck” and went inside. As we came back out, the young man asked if he could give Reese something. He worked at a local ammunition factory and had been machining .223 Rem. brass into predator calls. He handed one to Reese and gave him a few lessons. The spirit of true sportsmen never ceases to inspire me.
We met my two uncles and another young man, Aaron, at my grandmother’s home. My uncle, Mike, and I keep an eye on 853 acres of canyon land for the owner. Mike had been watching a small herd of elk with five bulls. He’d put them to bed the evening before and we all split up to take positions before daylight.
Reese and I took the high point on a ridge overlooking a brushed bench. My other uncle, Ernie, and Aaron sat below us on the same ridge to block any escape route and Mike walked around under the bench to push the elk out.
We waited without seeing any movement, so I walked up the hill behind Reese and saw a bull and a cow trotting down a trail about 500 yards away, coming straight at us. I ran down the hill and told Reese to lie across my pack on the boulder we were sitting by. Both of our hearts were about to explode with excitement. Reese kept saying, “I’m so excited! I can’t catch my breath!”
We watched as the two elk—and several other cows and calves—filtered through the brush. I realized they’d taken another trail and were going to skirt below us. We quickly gathered up the gear and scurried down the muddy trail toward Ernie and Aaron. If we could make it fast enough we could get over the ridge and still have a shot as the elk worked through the brushy draw and came out on the open hillside 200 yards away.
As we got within view of Ernie, I saw a spike facing us in an opening. He didn’t see us, but it didn’t offer a shot. I put my shooting sticks down in front of Reese and helped him get into position. He was so excited he couldn’t find the bull in the scope.
After a few minutes, the spike turned and walked into the trees, yards lowed by the bigger bull. We repositioned farther down the ridge and waited, focused on the last opening before the elk would round our ridge into the next draw. The spike again stepped out, and again was facing straight at us, but only for a few seconds. Next a cow darted through the opening. I could see an elk coming quickly toward our only shooting lane and told Reese to get ready. He was already on the sticks, safety off and down on the rifle.
As the bull stepped into the opening 150 yards steeply below us, I told Reese to hold the cross-hairs in the middle of its shoulder. I whistled loudly and the bull stopped like a statue in the middle of the clearing. “Can I shoot it?” I said, “If you’re steady enough, squeeze the trigger like we practi … boom!”
The bull turned and walked into the trees where he’d come out of. I said, “I think you hit him, but let’s wait to make sure.” The southpaw bolt apparently wasn’t much of an issue because Reese had another round loaded and ready to go before I could finish my sentence.
We went to where the bull had been standing and started to look for blood. We hadn’t been looking more than 10 seconds when I heard an odd squeak coming from his direction. I turned to see Reese, mouth open, eyes the size of apples, pointing. There was his bull, dead. Reese cleared the rifle and set it down. We double high-fived and I nearly knocked the poor kid off the hill. Reese was shaking so bad I had to carry the rifle down the hill for him.
We spent the next hour admiring and taking pictures of his animal, talking about life and death, answering questions he had about the elk, and about how proud I was of him.
I’m not a religious person and don’t know if I believe in an afterlife, but in some weird way, I felt my brother’s presence that day, even if only just the memory of he and I hunting together. I see so much of him in Reese and know that the two of us, and soon adding my daughter, will have years of memories to create together, carrying on what John started.