The gateway to a memorable father/son hunt could be nothing more than a little friendly persuasion.
Shortly after the Pennsylvania bowhunting season I approached my wife, Liz, about the possibility of booking an out-of-state trip for the following season. I pride myself in the strength of my negotiation skills. They have been keenly honed through many years of field sales experience and focused training. After a brief discussion, which included some give and take, Liz readily agreed to my request.
Kyle had success during PA's 2008 archery season.
Wanting to do a combination whitetail/javelina bowhunt in Texas, I made countless phone calls, reference checks, and e-mails, which all led me to Bucky and Leesa Bonner's B&B Outfitters in Southwest Texas, an operation that leases more than 40,000 acres of low-fence ranchland.
After booking the hunt, I learned that B&B has a booth every year at the Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. So Liz, Kyle, and I traveled to the show and introduced ourselves to Leesa. When Leesa learned that Kyle had started bowhunting the year before, she pulled me aside. "Why don't you bring Kyle on the hunt, too?" she asked quietly.
"How much additional will it cost?" I asked.
"The price of a youth hunter license," Leesa said. "You can split your package with Kyle at no additional cost."
I had booked a two-buck hunt, which also included the choice of two of the following three animals: javelina, whitetail doe, or Rio Grande turkey, plus unlimited predators. I would happily share this bag with my son. Only one challenge remained -- getting my wife to agree to let Kyle come with me.
With Kyle at my side, I took this Texas nine-pointer from a ground blind.
After I'd again employed my negotiation skills, Liz agreed that Kyle could go and that he would receive a card for his March birthday, with the details of his December trip to Texas.
That summer, Kyle and I used every opportunity we could to practice with our bows. We bought a javelina target and added it to our backyard archery range, which also included 3-D deer and turkey targets, placed at various yardages from our patio. "Patio practice" became something we did every free moment.
October brought the Pennsylvania archery season, and with much persistence, both Kyle and I tagged bucks. We had one more month for additional practice ahead of us, and then we would be off on our Texas adventure.
When we arrived at the Philadelphia airport on Saturday, December 6, our first stop was Terminal A, where I dropped off my lovely wife and our daughter, Halie. They would be traveling to someplace warm, with a beach. This was our first separate vacation after 23 years of marriage. Liz, too, displayed strong negotiation skills.
Every free moment all summer, Kyle and I shot "wild animals" from our patio. Below, a continual parade of deer kept us entertained at B&B Outfitters.
When Kyle and I reached Dallas, a plane carrying U.S. troops coming home from Iraq for the holidays had just landed -- their first stop back on U.S. soil. An announcement was made that fire engines would arrive and hose down the planes to symbolically remove the sand from them before anyone deplaned. We watched from the windows of the terminal and then joined many other people at their gate to greet all service personnel with claps as they walked by us. It was a very moving experience to see the pride and appreciation in each serviceperson's face, and we both felt very lucky to have been there to welcome them home.
We arrived in Pecos County in Southwest Texas, 14 hours after leaving Pennsylvania.
The ranch we would hunt lay somewhere between Sheffield, Texas, and the Mexican border, 60 miles away. The landscape was filled with cedar, devil's claw, prickly pear, and strange plants -- the locals called these "stickers" -- that would jump out and hurt you when you weren't looking.
Prime time for the rut was close, and the deer were active. But the unseasonably warm weather put a halt to any midday activity, making early morning and late evening the most productive times to hunt.
Kyle and I hunted together throughout the hunt, and one day, while driving back to the ranch house with Bucky for lunch, we spotted a pair of javelinas near a corn feeder. Kyle and I almost hit our heads on the roof of the truck as we jumped out of our seats and grabbed our bows for a stalk.
The pigs were at least 400 yards away, and a stiff breeze was blowing right into our faces -- perfect conditions for a stalk. Only problem was, we faced a quarter-mile of prickly pear and "stickers" along the way. Quickly we plotted a course, and, as best we could, we crawled and dodged those sneaky prickly pears and devil's claws until we reached our marker, an overgrown yucca plant. This put us 20 yards from where we thought the javelinas should be.
We were still on our knees when another black blur streaked down a hill to the feeder.
The javelina's profile, speed, and agility amazed me, and momentarily the size did too.
From the side, javelinas look very big, especially with their bristly hair standing on end.
But when they turn straight head-on or away, they virtually disappear into a thin "angelfish" form.
We couldn't see the animals, but we could hear them popping and clicking their teeth.
Motioning to Kyle that I was going to sneak a peek, I slowly rose above the yucca -- and found myself looking at four very angry, beady eyes staring right back in my direction.
As slowly and cautiously as I peered over the plant, I reversed the action, nocked an arrow, and took a de
ep breath. I motioned Kyle to nock an arrow and move to my right, as I crawled to the left of our cover.
Slowly I rose again, this time at full draw. The javelinas were still looking in my direction, but they apparently hadn't perceived me as a threat. My sight pins were dancing in front of me, and thoughts of totally blowing this, after months of practice, kept racing through my head. I prayed that Kyle would take this opportunity to show me up again. I glanced to my right. He had not moved from behind our cover.
Finally, the closer javelina turned to his right, and although I was still shaky, I touched the release trigger just as my 20-yard pin floated over his vitals. The arrow zipped completely through the animal, lodging in the sandy topsoil 10 feet behind my target.
Both animals took off at warp speed and disappeared within seconds.
Then I turned to Kyle. "Why didn't you stand to shoot?"
"I didn't want to mess up the opportunity for you," he said.
We turned back toward the truck and saw that Bucky, along with the father/son team of Walt and Jim Cheney, were making their way toward us. They had watched the whole event through binoculars. Bucky had a line on where my javelina had gone, and we found him 40 yards from where I had shot.
Kyle showed maturity in deferring to me on this javelina. We hunted deer and javelina from a roomy ground blind.
The following evening Kyle and I hunted from a ground blind. Kyle had a good shot at a javelina just before dark but missed his target. The following day, I had the good fortune of tagging a nine-point buck from the same blind. The buck approached stiff-legged behind a smaller eight-pointer and actually circled the blind twice before my Muzzy-tipped arrow pierced his chest at 28 yards.
On the fifth day we were scheduled for very late return flights to Philadelphia. Wanting to see Kyle score on a javelina, Bucky and Leesa graciously offered us another half-day of hunting -- an offer we readily accepted -- and we spent the additional morning in search of javelinas. Unfortunately, we didn't see any, but we did get to watch several whitetail bucks that would surely be trophies next season.
On the flight home, Kyle said, "I know you promised Mom to do some things so we could both go on this hunt. I can help you while we plan our hunt together for next year."
At that point, I realized that finely-honed negotiation skills like mine can be passed from one generation to the next. With Kyle helping me negotiate next year's hunt, poor Liz doesn't stand a chance!
The author and his family hail from Ottsville, Pennsylvania.