Caleb Laxton's Outdoor Wish Hunt
Well folks we now have our
first successful Outdoor Wish kid for 2003. I'll tell you though it
wasn't without some excitement and anxiety for all of us there.
Caleb's Hunt Day One
10 year-old Caleb Laxton
and his Dad Mike arrived at Deer Tracks Ranch in Fife Lake, MI. with
the hopes of Caleb getting a nice buck to mount on the wall next to
his Dad's. Once settled into the lodge they headed out to the range
to check Caleb's gun to make sure it was still zeroed in after their
750 mile trip from TN. Caleb fired 3 rounds from his 25.06 and there
was no doubt in anyone's mind that if the buck of Caleb's dreams stepped
out he was in serious trouble.
We took a quick tour around
part of the ranch to kind of "check things out" and it didn't
take long to realize that the folks at Deer Tracks really care about
the type of hunt their folks have. I'll tell you right now this place
has some really rugged terrain and I have no doubt there's bucks in
here that have never been seen by a man. There's big ridges, numerous
creeks and some God awful swamps for the deer to call home. There
were several different types of blinds in strategic places for the
hunters to use depending on the type of hunt they were looking for.
If you ever get to Deer Tracks ask to see the "Eagle's Nest".
What a beautiful place. Anyway, on with the hunt.
After the tour Caleb, his
Dad and Caleb's guide Bill set off for a place where a lot of bucks
had been hanging out recently. Phil (another guide) and I headed off
in another direction to set up in a blind to try and film some deer
and get some photos. Little did we know we should have switched spots
with Caleb for the evening.
Once Phil and I got set
up we sat anxiously waiting to hear the bark of Caleb's gun. It didn't
take long before we had some does and a few small bucks out in front
of us. We were set up on the edge of a large tag alder swamp overlooking
a field and the deer seemed really nervous for some reason. Soon we
had a great 10 point come out and run off several of the smaller bucks
and he started grazing along with the does. We had several really
awesome bucks go through on the edge of the swamp but none seemed
interested in going near the 10 point for some reason. Maybe it was
because every time one of them approached his "space" he
would lay his ears back and start walking toward them with the stiff
legged walk of a buck with a bad attitude. All of this was really
great but our thoughts kept returning to Caleb and wondering why he
hadn't shot yet. Surely with the deer moving the way they were they
had to be seeing some nice bucks. Slowly darkness fell and it was
time to leave yet still we hadn't heard a shot.
Once back at the lodge we
found out that indeed Caleb had shot a nice buck but the news wasn't
to good. Just as Caleb shot the buck took a step forward and Caleb's
bullet struck a little further back than we would have liked. After
Caleb's shot the buck moved down the hill a bit still in range but
wouldn't offer Caleb a good second shot. The buck was going to lay
down right there and Bill felt comfortable that once he did they would
be able to sneak around him and put in a killing shot. Then as they
watched in horror another buck sensing the bigger buck was injured
went after him and ran him off. Now they were worried. Since Bill
was video taping Caleb's hunt for him we were able to watch the shot
in slow motion several times and decided it would be best to wait
a few hours before going after him. We were worried about the coyotes
in the area but knew it was best not to push the buck.
After eating a great dinner
we discussed our options and where Bill felt the deer would go. We
decided that after waiting a few hours it was time to see if we could
find Caleb's buck. Caleb wasn't feeling to well so he and his Dad
stayed at the lodge while Bill, Phil and I grabbed the lanterns and
flashlights and headed back out. I know each of us was saying the
same prayer as we headed down the trail.
Once we got to where the
deer was standing we immediately found a fairly decent bloodtrail
and our confidence started to grow. We slowly tracked Caleb's buck
about 200 yards when suddenly the trail went cold. We marked last
blood and slowly searched every runway and made slow small circles
trying to pick the trail back up but lady luck just wasn't with us.
Although all three of us felt the deer was laying dead close by we
decided to wait till morning to continue looking just in case. We
didn't want to jump him if he was still alive as he was heading for
a really nasty swamp. Things did not look good for finding Caleb's
deer and we reluctantly headed back to the lodge. Not one of the five
us got a good nights sleep.
Caleb's Hunt Day Two
I didn't need an alarm clock
to wake up at 5:30, for like my four friends I woke often through
the night and prayed that we would find Caleb's buck and the coyotes
wouldn't. Although it didn't get light enough to go looking again
until almost 8:00 we were all ready to go by 6:30. With the help of
a few pots of coffee and some friendly story telling we somehow made
it to daylight without exploding from the anxiety of what was ahead.
There had been a light dusting
of snow overnight and Bill, Phil, Mike and I all knew the odds were
not in our favor. Caleb put on a really good front but it wasn't to
hard to tell he was as nervous as the four veteran hunters with him.
Once again we headed down the trail each repeating the prayers we
had said the night before. Hopefully the results would be different
Once we reached the spot
we had marked "last blood" it was obvious that looking for
further blood was useless. Although there was just a dusting of snow
it was enough to cover any blood that we may have missed the night
before. There was only one thing to do and that was to spread out
and search every nook and cranny in the hopes one of us would spot
him laying there.
The area we were in was
fairly thick with many blowdowns and patches of tall weeds. Bill took
a bearing on the direction the buck had been traveling and we spread
out to search in that direction. I don't mind telling you my hopes
were not high as we started out. We had gone about 80 yards when I
heard one of the sweetest sounds I've heard in a long time. Bill hollered
out to Caleb "Hey Caleb, come on over here and look at your deer".
I gotta tell you Caleb's reaction still brings tears to my eyes. He
covered the distance between he and Bill in about 2 seconds flat hollering
all the way. If I remember it right his exact words were "You
found my deer??? You found my deer??? Oh Thank you God!!! Hey Dad,
Bill found my deer!!! Dad, Dad he found it!!! Thank You Bill!!! Those
last 3 words were said as he almost tackled Bill giving him a hug
before he even looked at the deer.
After all the back slapping,
high fiving, picture taking and four grown men quietly thanking God
we headed back to the lodge with Caleb's buck in tow. Once back Caleb
finally told us how worried he was that we wouldn't find his deer
and how bad he felt that the shot wasn't a good one. Looks to me like
his Dad has taught him well. We explained that it wasn't really his
fault and if the deer hadn't moved at the last second his shot would
have been perfect. He said he knew that but assured us anyway that
"that will never happen again. Before I ever shoot again I'm
making sure the deer isn't going to move".
This afternoon Caleb and
his Dad headed back to TN. and Caleb is anxious to show his friends
and family his deer. Mike will be giving me a call once they're home
to give me the number to a really good taxidermist and Benefit4Kids
will get Caleb's buck mounted for him. I hope one day when Caleb's
Dad is old and gray he can sit in his chair looking up at Caleb's
mount next to his and look over at Caleb and tell him "hey son,
remember when you were so sick and we went on that hunt where you
got your first buck". I hope those memories last them both a
lifetime. I know they will for me.
My thanks to all of you
for doing what you do to help support Benefit4Kids and our kids like
Caleb. If you have a minute please drop a quick e-mail to the folks
at Deer Tracks (email@example.com) and thank them for what they
did for Caleb and all of the other kids they've helped over the years.
Caleb's isn't the first "wish hunt" they've done and there's
a bunch of kids that Bill and the folks at Deer Tracks have given
memories to. Bill and I are working together on a special hunt for
next year and it promises to bring special memories to a bunch of
kids like Caleb at Deer Tracks.