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Never Alone, Never Forgotten

by Hunter Ballard | Apr 07, 2014

When I was four, my grandpa Charlie gave me my first BB gun. I was also on the first hunting lease I can remember in South Texas. I picked up the shooting skills he taught me soon after, even though I wasn’t strong enough to bring the spring loaded Red Rider to full cock alone. For the next four years I rained havoc on the birds and squirrels that occupied my parents’ backyard and about drove my mom mad with all the “trophies” I would drag into the house after school.

In 1999 my Grandpa died from cancer. Being a general contractor in our hometown area didn’t allow much time for him to hunt or fish. I felt like I had missed my chance to make those hunting memories with the man who hooked me on the outdoors. I didn’t realize until October 2012 how wrong I was.

By the age of 18 I was fortunate enough to hunt some great ranches in South Central Texas and have taken some great deer over the years. The different ranches supplied plenty of camaraderie and hunting fellowship, along with some great lifetime friendships. Around the fires each night I would hear many of the great hunting stories from my father and grandfather’s hunting trips out of state chasing elk and mule deer across the mountains in Colorado and many other great stories. Being a young hunter listening to the stories, an out of state hunt became very appealing to me, even though I never thought I would have an opportunity to go on one.

In 2010 I hung up my hunting rifle and took up bowhunting for a greater challenge. Many great men who I had grown up hunting with became my teachers and role models as a new bowhunter. A whole season passed with little action and tough hunting conditions due to drought, but great memories were made nonetheless. In the summer of 2012 we booked a hunt with an Illinois outfitter. I was so pumped I could hardly stand the wait.

A few months passed. The many hours of practice and dreaming about the trip finally became reality. All that stood between us and our destination was a very long 14-hour drive, which turned out more nerve racking than I had expected. All the way up we had to have crossed some of the most beautiful country I had ever seen, and soon found myself thinking about how excited my grandpa would have been if he could have been with us.

After we reached our destination and met the staff, everything began to settle down. Reality had set in. We had a five-day hunt ahead of us and less-than-perfect weather had accompanied us on our trip. Warm weather and rain had followed us up from Texas, which in turn, stunted the deer movement and cut some hunts short.

It was obvious after the third day that this would be no walk in the park. By the end of the third day I had seen two deer while in the stand on full day sits, and my expectations were falling more and more by the minute. As the sun rose on the fourth morning, it lit up all the leaves just right, and I was in awe. The colors were breath taking. We reached the stand later than expected that morning after a long trek through a saturated cornfield and food plot.

I had settled into the stand that over looked a creek bottom as the sun began to rise. Fully expecting another uneventful all-day sit, I took a moment to say my morning prayer and talk to Grandpa for a few minutes. As I ended my prayer, I whispered under my breath, “C’mon, Grandpa Charlie; send me a big one.” Little did I know he already had it in the works.

I had only been in the stand 45 minutes that morning, and not 10 minutes after I had finished my prayer, the largest buck I had ever seen on a free-range place stepped out of the brush in front of me. The craziest part—he was headed right to my shooting lane. As he approached my 25-yard marker, I grabbed my bow, drew back, and lowered my sights on him. To my surprise as I did so, he stopped and looked right at me.

My breath stopped. Everything froze. The buck lowered his head and took one step forward. This was the opportunity I had anticipated for three months.

As I released my arrow, I thought I heard a gunshot and saw the buck take off over the top of a hill. I was completely puzzled for a split second, then I saw my bloodied arrow lying on the ground. The woods were so quiet, the impact of the arrow on his body echoed through the forest. I trembled and was short of breath as I watched him disappear over the crest of the hill behind me.

As we started following the blood trail I became nervous. Very little blood was on the ground and I was afraid that I had hit the deer too high. We crossed the top of the hill, and to my relief, my buck was right over the crest in a heap 60 yards from where I had released my arrow. I was in complete disbelief at the chain of events that had taken place that morning and soon after broke into tears.

Never again would I ever doubt that my grandpa is by my side as my spiritual hunting partner. My buck scored 168 inches and weighed about 250 pounds, by far the largest deer I have ever taken. Without a doubt, this is my most memorable hunting trip and will be embedded into my memory forever. I sincerely believe we are never alone and never forgotten.


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