The Last Hunt
A Fiction Story Inspired by Real People
Written by Jackson Owen, Fueled by Faith Outdoors
From the author: "The story is something that was laid on my heart while I was hunting one morning. I never met my grandfather. He died right before I was born. I've spent my whole life wondering what it would be like to hunt with him."
I had plans to pick him up around two-thirty at his house. He said he would be ready to go and that he would be waiting on me. As I turned into his driveway reality began to set in. I tried my best to hold back the tears but the emotions were overwhelming.
Grandpa’s house was located on our family land that had been in our family for nearly two hundred years. He grew up there and he knew every inch of that ground. From the time he was a boy to the time his age finally caught up with him he was in those woods chasing deer and turkey. He could have hunted other places but his heart belonged to that piece of land. Those woods, swamps and the creek that slowly snaked through the property were his home. He knew that land better than I ever would and it was an honor to take him hunting since he had taken me so many times.
As I put the truck in park I saw Grandma walk away from the sink through the kitchen window. I knew she was telling him that I was there to pick him up. I went to knock on the door but it opened before I had the chance. Grandpa stepped out in his old Mossy Oak bibs and said “ Are you ready to go, it should be a good afternoon?”. He walked slowly down the steps trying to hide the pain but I could tell he was hurting. I helped him into the truck and we were on our way.
I told him that I thought we should go to the powerline and he said “ No, we are going to go hunt that old eight point that has been giving you so much trouble “. I thought his best opportunity to harvest the buck was on the powerline but he did not agree with me. So I asked him where he thought we should go and he said “ that deer is bedding in the thicket up in the duckhead by the creek, let’s go sit in that blind. From what you have told me I think he will be there this evening. I’ve killed a lot of deer right there this time of year and I bet he will do the same thing. “
It took us a lot longer to get to the blind than I would have liked but he kept stopping to just look at the trees and the deer sign. As he limped along I kept hearing him breathing real deep and exhaling. I knew he was probably struggling so I asked him if he was okay. He said “ Yeah, I am fine. I’m just taking it all in son. You never know when it will be your last hunt so you need to slow down and appreciate every hunt “. His wisdom over the years had taught me so much and as we approached the blind I hoped he was right about this deer.
I was unzipping the ground blind when he tapped me on the side and I saw that he had a bottle of Tinks 69. He said “ Here, I bet there is a scrape under that limb go freshen it up and let that scent blow down into that thicket “. By the time I got back to the blind he was set up and we were ready for the afternoon hunt.
I watched him as he scanned the field with his old Remington rifle. He could barely hold the gun up but he was doing his best. We watched as multiple does and fawns eased out of the timber and fed for most of the afternoon. A few young bucks made their way into the field around four-thirty and I could see he was excited and anxious. Right before dark I heard a twig snap in the bottom and told Grandpa to get ready. Just as he said the old buck appeared from the thick cover and walked straight to the scrape. Grandpa said “There he is, I better get on him quick before he follows those does “. I handed him the shooting sticks and he steadied his rifle. The buck needed to turn broadside before he could shoot. Just as the buck turned he clicked off the safety and put his finger on the trigger. I said “ You better shoot before he leaves “ but for some reason he didn’t pull the trigger. He took a deep breath and pulled his head from the rifle. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “ I can’t do it, I want you to kill this deer “. He handed me the rifle and I dropped the buck in his tracks.
Grandpa said “ You got him, you got him. Great shot son “. Watching his reaction was more important to me than the deer that lay dead on the ground. I asked him why he didn’t shoot and he said “ Son, I’ve killed my share of deer on this place and I know how hard you have hunted for this deer. I wanted to watch you enjoy doing the same thing I enjoyed doing for so many years “. I wanted to show him how much I loved him by humbly stepping aside and allowing him to harvest a deer that I had lost sleep over but he had other plans.
Grandpa was a servant of God and it showed in his life. I watched him for so many years do his best to show others the love of Christ. On that day things were no different. He stepped back and let me harvest that deer. I am not sure if he knew what he was doing but I think it was another life-lesson that he taught me that day.
A week later Grandpa went to be with the Lord. He left our family behind to go be with his Savior. I know as he passed holding Grandma’s hand that he had no fear of what was to come. I’m sure he thought about all of us and all of the good times but I also know he thought about these hardwood bottoms and every buck that the Lord blessed him with. He left behind a legacy of being an outdoorsman, a family man and above all a man of God.
Grandma called the family together and said that he wanted his ashes spread under the ancient Oak tree in the pasture. That day there was a steady East wind as we all held hands walking towards the old oak. As she let the ashes blow into the wind they carried off into the timber and towards the creek. I know every big buck over there let out a sigh of relief because they knew the odds were now in their favor. The greatest man I ever knew blew off into the wind and down to the woods that held his heart for so long. We all shared stories, laughed and cried until it was time to go.
I had a hard time walking away because I wanted him back but I knew he was in a better place. He had taught me so much and as I stood under that oak watching my children walk away with my wife I knew it was my turn to live like he did. I knew that he had passed the torch to me without ever even saying it.
It was just Grandma and I left there staring at the giant sweeping limbs of that oak. As I turned to walk away with tears in my eyes Grandma stopped me. She said “ Right before your Grandpa passed he told me to find the book in the top of his gun safe and give it to you. So, here it is. He loved you so much and worked on this for years. He had it before we were married “. I opened it up and there was a note that said “ Next time you go hunting, I want you to open this and read it “.
That afternoon I snuck into one of my favorite spots that Grandpa and I had hunted so many times. I could have cared less about the hunt, I just wanted to open that book. As I opened it up it and flipped through the pages I realized what it was. It was a journal he had kept for over forty years where he recorded every harvest and the story behind each one. Also, he had written down times and dates and drawn maps. Every deer trail from one end of the property to the other was recorded in that book. There was old stand locations, bedding areas and where to hunt on each wind. He had given me a cheat code. I received ten lifetimes of deer hunting knowledge in that book. Most importantly, every time I opened that book I felt like he was right there beside me. Even though he was gone I think he knew how bad I would miss him and here he was still looking out for me. He was like that, always looking out for others whether they knew it or not. He was a servant and a man of God. As I skimmed through the pages I wondered if he included the hunt we shared from the previous week. As I reached the end of the book, there it was in bold letters “ The Last Hunt “. I cried uncontrollably reading how much that hunt meant to him. That evening in the deer stand I was able to let go of my Grandpa and grow closer to God. It happened just the way he would have had it happen. Even after death, he was still looking out for me.
We never know when it will be our last hunt so we need to appreciate each one. We need to go as often as we can before we run out of time. Most importantly, we need to sow seeds while we are here and never grow complacent in our faith. We need to keep running the race and work for the kingdom until the day of our last hunt.
A photo of the author's grandfather, P.H. Owen.