A heartbreaking event leads to a heartwarming season of deer hunting.
Ed Baustian carried on the legacy of his father, with Bob's 45-pound Damon Howatt Hunter recurve.
I FIRST MET BOB Baustian in 1985 upon receiving permission to bow-hunt a nice stretch of Platte riverbottom in eastern Nebraska where Bob had hunted for a few years. Such a turn of events can often ruffle feathers, upset a delicate balance of power, or begin a competition. Bob never conveyed any of that, and before long I looked forward to the good-natured ribbing that always seemed a part of our visits.
At the time, I was still a fairly serious distance runner and weighed considerably less than now; Bob probably had me doubled in weight. Thus, I'd give him static about sweating in September. In December, he'd return the volley when I'd wear five or more layers and still be shivering.
"Who's more comfortable now?" he'd grin as the mercury plummeted.
Many times I'd kill a deer early, sometimes before Bob had even started hunting. Meanwhile, he often waited until the last minute -- December 31 on at least one occasion -- to add venison to his freezer.
He often chastised me for climbing too high into the trees, and I badgered him about his low-flying, homemade ladder stands. Funny how things come full circle as I now hunt close to the ground, even employing some ladder stands.
I also find myself often shunning modern camouflage in favor of the old patterns or even flannel shirts with outdoor colors -- the same stuff Bob would wear. And I'm less affected by the cold 20 years later for the same reason Bob could handle the cold.
We both switched over to traditional bows in the late '80s and shared a love for simple things that included far more than archery tackle. I never sensed that Bob was out to impress anyone, a rare gift these days. With the exception of his family, he never bragged about anything.
Eventually we lost permission to hunt that property, but Bob and I stayed in touch, and in April 2006, I was shocked to hear that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had little time to live. In the past several decades of hunting and fishing, I've been fortunate to know some stand-up guys and gals, and Bob was one of them. My friend didn't deserve this fate, and I was suddenly nostalgic for the days we'd shared in the '80s.
As Bob's health deteriorated, his son Ed visited me several times. Ed was struggling. When his father and I first met, Ed, as a kid, was a frequent fixture in the indoor shooting lanes of the local archery club. Even at a young age, the son tagged along with his father, and it was obvious Dad would have it no other way.
That led to 3-D shoots and then bow-hunts together. Before long, Ed had completed one of my Bowhunter Education courses and was climbing into stands of his own, often with his dad just down the fenceline. When Ed arrowed his first deer, Bob penned "A Father's Pride" for the Nebraska Bowhunters Association news-letter. His feelings were clear.
As Bob's health deteriorated, he talked in earnest to his now 29-year-old son about something he'd kidded him about for some while: Ed had always hunted with compound bows, but he was a very good shot with every weapon he'd ever tried, including traditional-style bows and arrows. Bob had always felt Ed could do well with a recurve in the woods, and in the fall of 2006, Dad asked Son if he would do just that -- take one of Dad's vintage bows out and hunt with it during the approaching fall. Bob knew he would not be there to shoot the bow himself.
BOB PASSED AWAY on June 15, 2006, at the age of 56. After the funeral, old pals reminisced over the times they'd spent with Bob. Many in Ed's generation gathered as well.
Then, in the days, weeks, and months that followed, we all returned to our normal lives. Life sets a relentless pace, and we all get consumed in our own paths.
Even at that, Ed stopped by now and then to chat with me, mostly about what deer we were seeing as the September 15 opener loomed close. He was going to hunt with his father's 45-pound Damon Howatt Hunter bow. I knew his father was impressed with his son's accuracy, but I had not actually shot with Ed in years and knew all too well that making the switch from wheels to stick can be a tough hurdle the first year. I just advised Ed to keep his shots close and not be tempted to take shots beyond his comfort zone.
Just outside of town, Ed had a couple of hunting spots he could monitor regularly while maximizing time with his wife, Neleigh, and their son, Caleb. Fortuitously, Caleb was born early enough that Bob got to know and spend time with him.
As the season drew near, I focused on my own preparations and took a day off work for the season opener. The weather on September 15 turned out to be muggy and windy with a thunderstorm abbreviating the morning hunt. I saw just two does, and the afternoon was a repeat as a massive storm moved in just before quitting time. I'd seen three small bucks and six antlerless deer, and then, as the early raindrops began to fall, I crawled down and hustled back to my rig.
That night an incredible 5.8 inches of rain fell, and as the storm grew intense, the phone rang. It was Ed. "Are you going to be home?" he said. "I have something to show you."
Unbelievably, just as the weather moved in, Ed had scored his first traditional kill, a beautiful young buck. The typical 4x5 frame had bladed points and a couple of stickers, features rarely seen on 11„2-year-old deer. Ed had taken the buck at close range from one of his father's old wooden ladder stands -- the ones Ed had helped build years before.
I was impressed. Switching from compound to recurve often entails more trials than trophies, but Ed had met his first challenge and passed with flying colors. The shot was perfect, the trail short, and he'd done it on opening day. Dad would have been proud.
THAT FANTASTIC EVENING alone would be a heartwarming story, but Ed wasn't done. Exactly one month later, on October 15, he took his second shot of the season and killed another buck, one that would net more than 130 Pope and Young inches.
Once again, Ed had made a perfect shot with the Damon
Howatt recurve, pushing a Cabela's Laser Pro broadhead through both lungs and creating another easy-to-decipher trail. And once again, he had scored from the same weathered old ladder stand that had supported his father so often.
I'm not superstitious, but I do notice things that seem to be more than pure coincidence. Somehow, I think Ed's storybook season was not just the result of hard work (which was a factor) but was also pretty heavy with mojo, good vibes, or whatever label you want to apply to a situation that seems destined.
Even though Ed used a throwback bow, the switch had not hampered his success. In fact, he had doubled up on two very solid Nebraska bucks and had time now to do some waterfowling, something Bob would highly approve of as well. In many ways, Bob was a throwback outdoorsman and not just because he used a stickbow. He liked to hunt all types of game with bow and gun, and he enjoyed fishing as well.
AS FOR ME, I believe men miss shared moments with other like souls. Cons-ciously or not, we might long for the days of the high school locker room where boys become young men who work toward common goals to achieve great things for their school and community. The Friday night lights and hardwood glory days are burned into their memories forever.
Similar are the father/son outings in the field that supply the early visual imagery and audible soundtrack that guide our lives. Ed is surely blessed with that background.
I fondly recall the times back in the late '80s when Bob and I returned to our trucks after dark. We swapped stories about being busted by some wise old doe or frustrated by the cattle on the property. Sometimes we talked of seeing a great buck slipping through the timber out of range. Occasionally we shared stories of success.
For a few minutes after each hunt, time kind of stood still. Our post-dusk chats, our leaning against the pickups, presented a way to preserve the afterglow of the hunt. Momentarily, they delayed the inevitable return to earthly cares. Those fond memories preserve events I did not value enough at the time.
When first learning of Bob's illness, I recall wishing time truly would stand still. Of course, even modern medicine could not make that happen, but I take immense satisfaction in seeing Bob's son Ed carrying on in a manner that would make Bob proud. And I somehow believe they've been together every step of the way.
The author has had numerous stories published in Bowhunter. He hails from Fremont, Nebraska.