Text and Photos by Charles
October 22, 2000 was a great day in western New York. It dawned clear and cold,
the kind of day every bowhunter dreams of seeing. After going to church with my
wife Carla and our son Aaron we celebrated his birthday. It seemed hard to believe
that he was twenty-three. From the time I woke up my mind drifted to the memories
we had shared since he came into the world. I couldn't help but wonder where the
years had gone. In twenty-three short years he had gone from being a little tyke,
following me around in the woods, to becoming a six foot three inch giant of a
man working in the corporate financial world.
an early afternoon dinner Aaron said, "What do you say we end the day in
a deer stand." Because of the job he now had this would be the first time
we would hunt together in 2000, so I jumped at the opportunity. A couple hours
before sundown we headed to our favorite haunts on our farm's "back forty."
The temperature had risen to sixty degrees so I didn't expect much action, but
even so, just the thought of our hunting together and seeing a sunset from a deer
stand would be more than enough.
first hour was slow, with only a few squirrels scurrying around in the woods.
Then, with about an hour of daylight left a doe and two fawns passed under my
stand and into the food plot nearby. Within minutes a two and a half year old
eight point slipped through the hardwoods and into the plot. In the next forty-five
minutes three yearling bucks appeared to fill their bellies, along with nineteen
turkeys. It was quite a sight to see the bucks, does and turkeys feeding in the
With no interest
in killing any of the bucks I studied the turkeys through my binoculars as they
fed off in Aaron's direction. Above the crisscrossing jet trails and cirrus clouds
began turning amber as the sun inched toward the horizon. With no air movement
whatever I could actually hear a doe munching on clover as legal shooting time
ended. I slipped my arrow into the bow's quiver and sat motionless for several
minutes before climbing from the stand. I wanted to treasure the scene as long
as I could.
up my equipment I began crossing the food plot to pick up Aaron. He was at the
base of his tree waiting for me. When I got to him I whispered, "What did
"Boy, what a day. That was a great sit."
what did you see?" I repeated.
countered, "Oh, just a couple does, nineteen turkeys and a great sunset."
In one motion he
swung his arm around my neck and shoulder and hugged me before saying, "No,
just God's handiwork. That and a chance to hunt again with you is more than enough."
I was speechless as I
stared into his eyes from two feet away. His affection and words tugged at my
heart. It was a special moment for me—one part elation, one part sadness all rolled
into one. From early fall to that day I had been thinking about what it would
be like to be hunting alone again after many years of having Aaron in the woods
In many ways the
readers of Deer & Deer Hunting have seen Aaron grow up with me. He's not only
been a great model for my photos but also a hunting companion and someone I've
been able to learn many things from. So, he's been far more than a great son.
To say we have an incredible father/son relationship would be a vast understatement.
Our relationship has been scripted in Heaven. It's been a special run.
Lesson from the Past
in my career I hunted a deer camp in the heart of Pennsylvania called Camp Harmony.
The purpose for going there was to get a glimpse of what camp hunting was like
and share the experience with the readers of Deer & Deer Hunting.
Harmony was a special place, very rustic, but more than adequate and in many ways
comfortable beyond measure. I'll never forget seeing it for the first time as
Dick Snavely and I wound our way down a narrow forested road, in the heart of
Pennsylvania Game Lands. The setting reminded me of a painting I had once seen.
retrospect I didn't appreciate the experience as much as I should have. I should
have paid more attention to the give and take and love shown between the camp's
fathers and their grown sons rather than being so focused on the deer hunting.
While I was out in the woods checking for deer sign they were back at camp sharing
a lifetime of memories.
the time my son was very young so I wasn't able to see far enough into my future
to realize that the day would come when I'd be where Camp Harmony's fathers were
in their relationships with their sons. Now, as I reflect I can see that the beauty
of Camp Harmony wasn't the deer, but rather, the father/son bond and the love
I witnessed during my brief stay there. Unfortunately it took me nearly twenty
years to figure out that there is a bigger reason for deer hunting than the kill.
On November 20, 2000 New
York State's firearms season began. It was my thirty-third opening day in New
York. For the first time in memory I was back to square one—hunting alone. Unlike
previous openers, where I'd anxiously await the report of Aaron's shotgun, I sat
alone in my treestand thinking about past opening days, while waiting for a buck
to pass by.
As I sat there
and reminisced I thought deeply about the things that mattered most. Though I
envision many more fruitful and productive years some things struck me hard. One
was this. You can chase the trophy bucks all you want but eventually you come
back to where you started—pursuing the things that matter most—family, friends,
and the memories that gave you your base.
started my career over twenty-five years ago in the very stand I was sitting in
when I thought those thoughts last fall. In between I had reaped the blessings
of hunting big racked bucks throughout North America. Most of those hunts were
special and very productive but in reality my greatest satisfaction was chasing
bucks on our farm, where my dream was born.
Birth of a Dream
hard to dream. However, it is hard to catch your dream. When I was a kid growing
up on a potato farm in western New York State I sometimes had big dreams. One
was to be a major league baseball player. The other was to be involved in the
outdoor field as a writer or big time hunter. During my teen years my heroes in
the hunting world were Jack O'Conner, Warren Page, Erwin Bauer and Lenny Rue.
All were giants in the hunting and outdoor world and I couldn't get enough of
their writings and adventures. Because of their influence on me I chased the dream
of becoming an outdoor writer and photojournalist.
dream was fueled and fed because I had the opportunity to grow up in an area where
I had the land to hunt on and friends who loved hunting as much as I did. As a
result I had the foundation and springboard to "chase the dream."
As I became more and more serious
about the outdoor world I began attempting to write about the out-or-doors I loved
so much. Along the way I was fortunate to get a lot of encouragement from family
and friends. Unfortunately it takes more than encouragement to make it in this
business. Talent and hard work are cornerstones, but one of the key links is catching
a break. In my case several came along at critical times with the biggest being
the opportunity to start writing for this magazine over twenty years ago. Back
then no one outside of Steuben County, New York had a clue who I was. Thanks to
Al Hofacker, then editor and co-owner of Deer & Deer Hunting, my dream was able
to take flight.
with successes there is a lack of total fulfillment if you don't have someone
to share your fields, streams and dreams with. My wife Carla is the greatest wife
a man could ever hope to have, but she doesn't hunt. So, when I headed to the
deer woods I went alone. In truth this didn't bother me because I'm quite content
to hunt and photograph by myself. However, as I inched into my late twenties I
began realizing that my outdoor experience could be better.
than once I had people say to me, "It's too bad you don't have a son to share
all of these experiences with." I heard this enough times to realize that
there might be something to it. Though I didn't realize it at the time the missing
link arrived when our only child was born in October 1977. Rather than place our
son with a babysitter while Carla
worked, Aaron went with me wherever I went-and I mean everywhere. This meant that
from age two on we climbed mountains and spent endless hours in photo blinds together.
We both loved it, no matter the setting or weather conditions. In the beginning
the future looked like an eternity but as the years passed I knew that the day
would come when our incredible journey would wind down and possibly come to an
end. In spite of this realization I always tucked the thought far back in my mind.
For an athlete game
day is exciting. Over three decades ago I was a college basketball player. Those
were exciting times, especially when I became a starter and knew that I'd see
lots of playing time. Over the years I've come to realize that the feelings I've
received from my outdoor career in many ways mirror the feelings I experienced
from playing competitive athletics. There are ups and downs in both but the highs
are so high that both can be rather addicting.
the athlete there is nothing like game day. The same can be said for many days
in the life of an outdoor communicator. In my case the game day experience has
spanned four decades. But the best of times have been the last twenty. A big part
of this is because I was able to experience and share nearly every moment of this
time with Aaron. Nearly every time I was hunting on the farm, photographing whitetails
and everything from chickadees to grizzlies, or lecturing in some distant place,
Aaron was there beside me.
this kind of relationship exists it's easy for a parent to try to push their child
in a certain direction. Carla and I loved him enough to know that neither of us
wanted to steer him into a specific career track. We wanted him to be able to
fly and soar as high as he could. For this reason I never encouraged him to follow
in my footsteps. He needed his own identity.
he looked in other directions. This will probably seem strange but Aaron has little
interest in wildlife photography, though he knows much about it. Though he is
a gifted writer and a good hunter, his greatest talents lie elsewhere. He was
an excellent high school athlete and an even better college student. He has great
business talents, can make a computer hum and aspires to be a successful attorney.
He knows what it's like to have that game day feeling and I'd like to think that
a big part of the reason for his successes are because he's been a part of my
game for twenty plus years. We ran the race together and grew and learned and
became blessed along the way by the wonders of God's creation. It's been an incredible
journey; one I wish all hunting dads in America could experience.
Circle Last fall Aaron and I hunted very little together. He had taken flight,
with his own career in the offing. My days were full of photography, the moon
research project and hunting on each end of the day. His were made up of the rush
of corporate world projects and the stock market. Though we did hunt a few times
our hunting was much more limited than in the past. As the fall progressed I realized
that I was beginning another chapter in my life. In many ways I've arrived back
to where I was twenty years ago. Lest you think I'm a bit depressed think again.
I still very much love what I do; only now I'm back to doing everything solo.
In many ways the lecture
circuit has been a wonderful experience. For over twenty-five years I've crisscrossed
America sharing the whitetail story with hunters from Maine to Wyoming. Along
the way I've made some incredible friends and had wonderful conversations with
Deer & Deer Hunting readers. Many people have taken the time to ask me how Aaron
is doing and comment on the article I did on Aaron and me back in 1995 called
The Journey. Through these conversations I've come to realize that the experiences
Aaron and I have shared have had an influence on how many DDH readers relate to
their own sons and daughters.
One of the great
blessings in life is being able to contribute. This can be done many ways and
for me the pen and camera have been my way to do it. As I look at life on the
backside of 50 it's gratifying to see others picking up the torch and using the
deer hunting experience to form a greater bond with their sons and daughters.
I'll never forget a conversation
I had with Deer & Deer Hunting's editor, Pat Durkin several years ago. He saw
the relationship that Aaron and I had, knew of his talents and called to see if
Aaron might be interested in doing some limited writing for the magazine. Aaron
accepted the challenge and wrote for DDH throughout his high school and college
As the years passed
I returned the favor and encouraged Pat to get his daughter Leah more acquainted
with his business and see if she might be interested in writing due to her interest
in hunting. It wasn't long after that Leah began to write for Deer and Deer Hunting.
At the time I had no idea Pat would pursue my suggestion but it's been great to
see her in photos and see her gift as a writer blossom. I'm sure Pat is relishing
the present but the day will come that Leah will take flight, just as Aaron has.
And when it happens a big part of his life's cycle will be complete.
I leave a simple
message for every mom and dad reading this. I encourage you to make every outing
you have to spend with your sons and daughters in the outdoors count. Mix and
mold every minute into a special experience. Two of my favorite quotes are by
Chuck Swindoll. One is: "Life is like a coin, you can spend it any way you
want but you can only spend it once." The other is: "The greatest things
in life are not things—they are experiences and relationships." Both speak
volumes about the way we live our lives and show the importance of putting our
energy into family rather than things.
often ask me what goes through my mind when my nose is to the grindstone and I'm
hunting whitetails. Well, when I'm perched in a treestand I think about what matters
most in my life, and in spite of what some may think the white-tailed deer isn't
first or second on the list. I've been blessed beyond reason and thank God for
every breath he gives and the wonders He has given me to enjoy. Next to this my
family dominates my thoughts. Carla and Aaron are what energizes me and makes
me tick. The whitetail is found someplace else down the list. Regretfully, this
hasn't always been the case. When I was young my priorities were a bit flawed,
and foolishly I often let whitetail-related events take center stage. Fortunately,
those days are long gone.
reality of our existence is that life is so very short. Life is also about the
potential that lies ahead. Within every one of us is the ability to make a memory
with those we love. Sadly, too often this ability is blinded by the selfishness
that causes us to put the hunt and our quest of getting "a trophy" ahead
of teaching and sharing our love of the deer woods with our kids and family.
time on God's green earth is but a vapor. Make no mistake; the day will come when
all of our cycles are complete. The material things we pass on to our kids, are
just that, things, and will be gone in a heartbeat. But the lessons we've taught
and the experiences we've left them will last their entire life.
we approach another fall work hard to seize the moment, work hard to make a memory
with your children and loved ones. In the process of sharing your world with them
you will come to realize that your deer hunting experiences can be far more than
a rack to hang on the wall or meat for the freezer. Racks and meat can vanish
in the twinkling of an eye but the lessons learned in the deer woods last a lifetime.