The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 28, 2012

Gray: A memorable hunt for a 13-year-old

By Silas Gray
The Joplin Globe

— My nephew’s rifle lay securely over the middle cross bar of the pipe fence. Reddened by the cold and wind he held one cheek tightly against the gun’s stock while watching three deer through his scope. A patient 13-year-old!

My nephew Richard, his guide Travis Rapp and I spotted the deer an hour earlier and continued watching as they meandered slowly in our direction. We waited, effectively hidden amongst large bales of hay, our silhouettes broken by the heavy pipes.

This all started a few days earlier. My brother called to say that Richard had been selected by Ozark Wildlife Management and the H7 Group for a special hunting trip. My nephew is in a wheelchair due to a complication with his leukemia.

Since my brother couldn’t get off work and Richard’s grandpa was recovering from an operation, they asked if I would like to take him. Third choice was fine. I accepted.

I then called Travis Rapp, the organizer and hunting guide, for details. Richard would be the only participant — it was his hunt. We needed to bring only his rifle, orange vest, orange hat and youth deer tag. They would handle the rest.

It was late on the day before the hunt when I pulled up at my brother’s house. Richard’s gear was stacked on the porch. He was so eager that the loading went quickly, the goodbyes were brief and we were soon on the road.

After the 40-minute drive, we pulled up at our meeting place. A broadly smiling man waved from the truck parked next to mine. It was Mark Hudson, one of the partners in the H7 Group. Travis soon arrived and once everyone was introduced he and Mark led the way to our motel.

The 4 a.m. alarm turned out to be unnecessary.

We reached the property and had driven almost a mile on a private roads when a big-bodied, large-antlered buck jumped across in front of us, missing the truck by inches. Although startling, it had to be a good sign.

The moon was bright so we could see easily as we drove along. A large open field with a single tall and twisted oak at its center soon appeared. Near the tree was a small wagon with a game blind mounted on it. Travis parked close by and we off-loaded our equipment.

We settled in and began watching the woods. Richard and I may have dozed from time to time but Travis stayed alert and not a single deer passed.

He felt that the ultra-clear sky and bright moon from the night before had caused the animals to begin moving much sooner than normal. That’s why we’d startled that buck earlier. It was after 11 and he reasoned that we’d have better luck in the afternoon. We headed to the cabin where lunch was being prepared.

The rustic square-logged shake-shingled one-room cabin fit perfectly into its environment. Sitting nearby was a Missouri Department of Conservation chuck wagon. Its back doors were swung wide open. There was a single BBQ grill and a long row of deep fryers positioned behind it.

Everything smelled fantastic and the grill was smoking nicely. Barry County conservation agents Daniel Shores and Dan Vanderhoff were stirring and tasting and loading large foil pans with goodies — some fried and some roasted and all of it looking great.

Daniel’s wife Brandi was also there. Brandi, a teacher at Richard’s elementary school, was the one who originally suggested Richard as a candidate for the hunt. Thank you Mrs. Shores!

Richard was very cold so we made our way to the cabin where Mark had a big fire going. Travis and Richard pulled up chairs near the fireplace and talked while Richard warmed his frozen feet. Someone even started a pot of water to make Richard some hot chocolate.

We were in line and holding out our plates before the sound of the cook’s call died out. There was bacon-wrapped chunks of venison fresh from the spit, deep-fried sucker fish, potatoes sliced thin and fried crisp and wild turkey that had been marinated in ranch dressing, coated with Italian bread crumbs and then deep-fried.

Once Richard had eaten he joined freelance writer Matt Kramer for an interview. Matt was doing a story for the National Wild Turkey Federation. Richard popped his wheelchair back onto its wheelie bars and Matt started taking notes.

Once they’d finished Travis took Richard aside and presented him with custom game calls from Mike Fowler at Buffalo Creek Calls and Mike Plien at Toxic Calls. He then spent some time showing Richard how to use them.

Then we were off once again to the blind.

We’d been scanning the woods for about two hours when Travis declared that it was time to make something happen. With the wind blowing straight and hard directly into our faces, he set out for a walk. By sweeping wide out in front his scent should drift back toward us persuading any resting deer to try and slip away, right toward us.

He did roust one deer. Unfortunately, it was running way too fast and Richard had no chance to shoot.

With barely an hour of shooting light remaining, we returned the truck and headed for a  spot not far from the cabin. This new position provided an excellent field of view. There were large round hay bales covering our backs and sides and a broad pipe fence in front which made a great shooting rest.

The first doe appeared within a few minutes. She was high up on the hill, too far away to shoot. Soon she was followed by a second and a third. Richard kept watching them through his scope, stalwart even though the cold wind had reddened his cheeks and coated his arms with goose bumps.

We watched for an hour, and they were still 200 yards away. A long shot. Travis worked with Richard until he felt everything was ready.

The first shot went low. The deer jumped high, turned in midair and took off. Richard remained very still. Since we were so far away, the remaining two couldn’t tell where we were. Richard chambered another round, picked his  target and fired. This time the deer rolled.

We weren’t far from the cabin and Mark drove over the hill. Richard danced in his wheelchair as he jabbered excitedly. I called to register the kill and started taking pictures while Travis and Mark prepared the deer for transport.

Even though that was several days ago, Richard is still just as excited. I, however, have one remaining problem. What harmless mishaps could befall my brother and father if my nephew happens to be invited on another hunt next year?

Richard’s trip was sponsored by Ozark Wildlife Management (www.ozarkwlm.com), The H7 Group (www.TheH7group.com) Missouri Department of Conservation (www.mdc.mo.gov) and National Wild Turkey Federation’s Wheelin Sportsmen program (www.wheelinsportsmen.org/wheelin.)