This article was first published in the September 2020 issue of North American Whitetail magazine.
I’ve got kudu horns and turkey spurs, pronghorn sheaths and warthog tusks. They hang in my garage and my office and above my fireplace. My shelves are crowded and my desk is cluttered with these various mementos of the hunt. But there’s one piece in my collection that stands out. It’s not the fan of my best Rio Grande turkey or the European mount of my first Wyoming pronghorn. It’s the broken off main beam of a year and a half old whitetail spike buck that might be six inches long.
After weeks of afterschool commitments, I finally found a free afternoon to take my seven year old daughter to the deer woods. As soon as she stepped off the school bus, she changed into her camouflage, scarfed down a snack, and hopped in the pickup. I didn’t have much hope for a harvest that afternoon; there hadn’t been anything on the trail camera to be particularly hopeful about. And besides, as I’d already killed a decent eight point during black powder season, I only had the one buck tag left, so it was going to take something special to squeeze the trigger. Sitting in the blind that afternoon was less about hunting and more about exposing my little girl to the great outdoors.
We were still settling in when the action started. First a doe and her yearling fed in front of the blind. Then a lone doe cruised by, obviously in a hurry. But the begging didn’t start until the little spike buck stepped out. I’d heard my daughter beg before. Lots. Every stroll down Walmart’s toy aisle was another opportunity for me to steel my will against it, but this round of begging was particularly passionate:
“Daddy, please shoot that deer! Shoot him, daddy, shoot him! Please!”
I wasn’t about to punch my last tag on that spike buck, and I tried to explain to my daughter that we needed to let the little guy grow up, but she was having none of it and I felt the full brunt of a seven year old’s silent treatment on the ride home.
I was checking trail cameras a week later when I spotted something in the middle of the two-track. I could tell it was antler, but it wasn’t big enough to be anything but a brow tine, and those are rarely found. Turned out, it wasn’t a brow tine, though. It was a main beam – the main beam of the spike buck I’d passed the week before, much to my daughter’s chagrin.
I wasn’t surprised that his antler had been broken off. It wasn’t hard to imagine the little guy had some kind of calcium deficiency. What surprised me was that he was brave enough to fight in the first place. After all, with his headgear, he wasn’t even bringing a knife to a gunfight. More like a sharp stick. I picked up the bit of bone, stuck it in my pocket, and laughed all the way home.
My second tag that year wound up being filled with what’s still my best buck to date, a sixteen point, seven and a half year old whale of a whitetail. That deer hangs above my fireplace, and I admire him every time I walk through the living room. But I admit that his shoulder mount doesn’t make me smile near as much as that six inch spike buck antler on my desk.
My daughter’s all grown up now, driving cars and dating boys and preparing for college. But that six inch spike will always remind me of the little girl I took to the woods one November afternoon.