By Nate Krohn
My 9-year-old son Landon Krohn has tagged around with me in the woods since he was 6 months old. At this time it was mainly on a pack when I went to check cameras or was shed hunting. Since Washington doesn’t have an age limit on hunter safety/big game hunting for kids and Landon has been shooting and hunting with me his whole life, I allowed him to sign up for hunter safety at the age of 8.
We had a great time turkey hunting in the spring and he was with me when I called in my nephew, Chance Sands, first turkey.
We were never able to seal the deal on a turkey for Landon, but we hunted hard and had a great time trying.
I took off in early October for a five-day mule deer hunt near my hometown of Coulee Dam, Wash. I had permission for some private land near Lake Roosevelt that I have hunted for almost 20 years. I hunted hard for three days and wasn’t seeing much to get excited about.
A good friend tipped me off to a bachelor group of bucks hanging out near town. I studied maps of the small piece of public land they were sometimes moving through and went for an evening hunt on the evening of the fourthday. I was able to get a spot on them but couldn’t put a sneak on them due to wind, terrain and fading light.
I got up the next morning, the last day and slowly moved onto a ridge near where I had seen them. As it started to get light, I spotted the same group just off the public land. I was watching the bucks and doing some additional glassing when I spotted “my buck,” a nice 4×3, bedded down under a 100 yards away. I belly crawled through the rocks to get into a better position and wait for him to get up. Well, in the meantime the buck got up and moved through a cut right past me. I snuck back to where I had left my pack and he presented a shot at less than 30 yards.
This trip really got me excited for Landon’s hunt. I knew there would be more pressure to the area, but I was feeling good about at least seeing some bucks. We shot regularly the next few weeks and planned a long weekend for the modern firearm opener. We made the long drive and arrived at our bed and breakfast, my parent’s house, late Friday night.
We got up early and got into the area in the dark and set up. As expected, there were several other hunters on the public ground pushing the deer. About mid-day we had a hunter jump a really nice four-point right to us. Landon had his rifle ready on his shooting sticks and he had a clear shot at the buck but couldn’t find it in his scope when it stopped broadside at about 50 yards for a brief time.
We watched the buck bound off and go over the hill. Knowing the land fairly well, I had a pretty good idea what the buck was going to do, assuming he didn’t get harvested along the way. We gave the buck some time, came up with a game plan and started to track him. We would stop often and analyze the situation, which was an amazing learning experience for Landon.
After about a mile-long loop, the buck began to slow and appeared to be getting comfortable. We slowed as well and found him shortly after. The only problem was he actually found us first. Landon was able to get on his shooting sticks as he stood broadside at about 100 yards but just as he found him in his scope the buck turned and slowly walked off up and over a small rock bluff. He just didn’t present the shot Landon needed. We had an amazing opening day, but never saw the buck again.
Due to the hunting pressure on this small piece of land, we decided to mix it up and head back out to the private property on Lake Roosevelt. For two days we hiked hard and saw a lot of animals, included a couple of legal bucks (three-point or better); we just couldn’t ever make it all come together.
We had to head home the next day so I left it up to Landon whether we give it one more shot in the morning. He looked at me with determined eyes and said “Heck yeah, but I would really like to give that 4 point one more go.”
It was definitely a proud dad moment, but I explained that he could be in someone’s freezer by now or the next county. Regardless, we got up several hours before daylight and headed out for one last chance.
We went into the property a different way and set up in a small “bowl” area mixed with rocks, sage and buck-brush. As it started to get light I realized that there were already deer in the bowl and they had us busted. I knew the deer would be fairly nervous by now, but it was obvious this herd wasn’t going to stick around long. They were over 150 yards to start with, and moving away at a steady pace. I determined the back deer to be a legal buck through the spotting scope, but didn’t like the situation. We watched the small herd move away, up and over a small ridge for the next half hour.
About 10 minutes after they went out of sight we heard a rifle shot, then another and a third. I told Landon that this was it, be ready because things are going to be moving. Sure enough, here came three deer over the same ridge, just a little to the north of where we just watched the deer disappear. I watched them in the spotting scope and Landon with the binoculars as they made their way down the hillside directly towards us.
We knew the back deer was legal, so I had Landon switch from binocs to his gun. We had a great backdrop with the hillside and the deer were moving straight towards us. He was able to find the buck in his scope just as the deer got to the flat area at the bottom of the hill. I quickly ranged the deer at 190 yards and told Landon we need to wait a little.
The deer came at us for another 30 yards or so and then turned broadside and started walking south. I whispered to Landon to go ahead and take him when he stopped. Not 30 seconds later the shot rang out and the deer dropped straight down. His single shot .243 dropped him in his tracks.
Landon cleared the gun and put another load in and we patiently watched. He was shaking like a leaf now, mainly with excitement. We kept one eye on the deer and gathered our stuff up. The smile on Landon’s face as we got to the deer will be something I will always have etched in my mind.
We got him tagged, took some pictures and got to work. Landon dove right in with the field dressing and was bound and determined to stay with the buck while I walked back to the truck to go to town to borrow a deer wagon from a friend.
It was a great ride home. I European mounted the buck and he is hung above Landon’s bed. I was laying in his bed before bedtime the other night and we were looking up at the deer and talking about the hunt. He said, “Yah know, Dad, every night before I fall asleep I look up at that buck and think about our hunt. Man, I can’t wait to next year.”
Neither can I, son, neither can I.