Nov. 10—Trace Tatum, 8, of the Dorsey community in Itawamba County, has grown up in a home where an active participation in the outdoors is not so much a hobby or a pastime as a way of life. Both parents and all of his extended family hunt and fish. His dad, Jon, is a corporate account manager for Mossy Oak, a national camouflage brand based in West Point, and has a lifetime of experience on the water and in the woods. Trace has always had opportunities to take part but, until recently, did not prefer to go. When that changed, though, it changed dramatically.
"He just took an interest in hunting recently," Jon said. "I had always asked him if he wanted to go, but I never forced it on him. Then he started fishing with me a while back. He showed an interest in dove hunting, so we got geared up and he shot several times in September, but didn't connect."
Deer hunting is a pursuit that can last, in one capacity or another, all year long. Mississippi's deer hunting season is open throughout most of the state from mid-September through the end of January. During those as well as other months of the year, avid hunters cultivate food plots, maintain club property, cut roads and much more. Helping with the setup and maintenance of a property's readiness is a key part of eventual success and in simply doing your part as a land manager. It's also another way to have fun in the deer hunting process without actually sitting down to shoot a deer.
Jon and a friend lease a 200-acre spot for hunting. Getting it ready to hunt, and keeping it that way, leads to lots of good father-and-son time in the woods.
"Back in September, when we were starting the yearly routine of getting the food plots ready, Trace was helping hang stands and put up shooting houses," Jon said. "He said then he'd like to try to kill a deer this year, so we started working with that goal in mind. He said he wanted to kill a buck, but I told him to let us get one under our belt before moving to that, so he was good with shooting a doe before we ever went to the woods to hunt the first time."
Trace had never fired a rifle before his fall deer quest began, so practice and preparation began at the range.
"We went and shot a couple times," Jon said. "I tested him by having him dry fire without a cartridge in the chamber, just to make sure he wasn't going to just close his eyes and jerk, and he did great. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze ... snap! The snap surprised him, which was exactly what you'd want."
The following two shots sent bullets downrange.
"He cut the same hole twice at 100 yards, so I felt like we were more than ready," Jon said. They took to the woods hunting Trace's first deer last weekend.
"The land we've been hunting for the past several years is a big thicket," Jon said. "The whole place is one big thicket, and we have food plots in it to provide supplemental nutrition and to hunt.
"We walked in a long way. I'm a stickler about walking to go hunt rather than riding. We took care to park well short and walk in so as not to spook anything, then we climbed into the shooting house and got ready."
When it comes to hunting with kids, especially those trying to shoot their first deer, getting situated to actually aim and fire can be pandemonium. The moments between seeing a deer to shoot and getting ready to fire are some of the most intense seconds known to child or man. That's why innovations like the BOG shooting rests are game changers.
The BOG Deathgrip is a shooting rest on top of a tripod. Upon arrival in the shooting house or blind, the user extends the legs to whatever height is desired, then the crossbow or firearm is clamped into the rest. The prospective shooter gets comfortable with the height, practices moving the rested rifle into position and aiming through the window. With that squared away, everyone can rest easy until the deer arrive. The rifle rest holds the rifle still and ready so it doesn't have to be scrambled into position while wary deer tip along looking for an excuse to spook.
The rifle is not sitting around propped up or loose, waiting to be knocked over, either. The shooting implement can't fall out of the rest, and the rest itself will be situated so it's not apt to fall over.
"I pushed his chair back as far as it would go, and I had him a cushion to sit on so he could be up high and able to see," Jon said.
With all in readiness, father and son sat back to wait, but didn't have to wait long.
About 90 minutes after they were squared away, a big doe and a yearling popped out 120 yards away and walked directly away from the shooting house. About 30 minutes after that, the first two deer walked back toward the shooting house and had several others in tow.
"I was really excited, but just didn't show it a lot," Trace said. "I was really nervous."
A big, older doe made an ideal target and, at 100 yards, Trace closed the deal with a perfect shot.
"She plowed out of the field but I was pretty sure she didn't go far," Jon said. "We gave it 10 or 15 minutes, then I walked down there first just to make sure she was dead, which she was, and just beyond the edge of the field. We did the whole blood-on-the-face thing there in the food plot.
"Fried is my favorite way to eat deer," Trace said. "Fried."
"Walking out, he asked if we could do it again next Saturday," Jon said. "If you'd drawn up an ideal father-and-son, first-deer moment in your mind, that's how it went.
"He had never taken an interest in hunting like an avid hunter would want one to when they were little, but I never pushed it. Folks said it would come, a switch would flip and, sure enough, it did."
Kevin is the weekend edition editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.