Dusty McGehee: Jackson’s comeback buck

Jackson’s Comeback Buck

We’ve all had moments or situations where we wanted to quit, but as the old saying goes “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”  Jackson Ewing proved this in the Tensas swamp a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve known Jackson all his life, but first really got to know him a few years ago when he was 7.  His father, Adam, had taken up a new interest in deer hunting and wanted to involve his son in the sport.  Adam has always been a die-hard duck hunter, but lack of ducks in our area caused him to take up a different game to chase.

Adam approached me in the fall of 2019 and asked for some advice on how to get Jackson to shoot a deer rifle.  Just like any kid, Jackson was apprehensive of the recoil and noise of a rifle, but I had an easy solution.  I told Adam to bring him to our range and I’d let Anders shoot a couple of times to ease his anxiety.  Plus, I knew Jackson was competitive so he wouldn’t want a school mate & friend to outdo him.

The barrel was still smoking from Anders’ first shot when Jackson yelled “Ok dad! I’m ready to shoot!”  Anders and Jackson turned it into a competition and sent multiple rounds down the range.  At the end of the “shoot off” we declared a tie when they both hit bullseyes.  Jackson was now ready to hit the woods.

Jackson’s first deer season was almost too good to be true.  He got a buck on his first hunt and had never been more excited in his life.  Shortly after, he killed a nice 8 point and then on the last weekend of the season, he killed a big 8 point.

The 2020 season comes around and it was the opposite of his first year of hunting.  The pair deer hunted with no luck.  They went to the duck blind on multiple occasions and had nothing to show for their efforts.  Jackson’s interest in hunting began to wane. 

In September of 2021, I was picking up Anders from football practice and Jackson walked out of the locker room.  I asked him if he was ready for deer season and he responded, “I’m done with hunting.”  I was caught off guard and looked at Adam with confusion but told him “He’ll be back.”

It didn’t take much convincing and as soon as the 2021 deer season began, Jackson was back in the saddle.  Unfortunately, the weather was awful the first few weekends of the season and deer sightings were almost nonexistent.  They hunted hard and finally got an opportunity at another nice 8 point.  Adam admitted he made Jackson rush the shot… and he missed.  Once again, Jackson’s confidence and interest in hunting began to wane.

Adam knew he had to do something to give Jackson a pick me up.  The next hunt, Adam told Jackson he could shoot the first deer that came out.  This was EXACTLY what Jackson wanted to hear.  The first big doe that came into range hit the dirt with the crack of Jackson’s rifle.  He was on cloud 9, just as if it was the biggest trophy in the world.  JACK WAS BACK!

Adam received 2 cellular trail cameras for Christmas from his mother-in-law and the plan was set.  His brother-in-law Cole had a tract of land that is a magnet to deer in the late season.  They saw a major cold front incoming around the week of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Adam had the day off.  He and Cole put out some feed in six areas and placed trail cameras on each one.  Before they even got home, their phones were blowing up with pictures.  They quickly identified 3 bucks that would be their targets for the upcoming weekend.

Adam gets to the property on Thursday, puts out more feed and climbs in his ground blind.  He didn’t see much that evening or the following morning.  He was a bit confused as to why the deer were not coming into the site, like they had all week.  He knew he was doing something wrong and after lots of thought, determined the wind direction was totally wrong.  Let’s give him a pass here, remember Adam is relatively new to deer hunting.

Adam relocates his blind for the Friday evening hunt and it immediately pays dividends.  At 4:10PM, a doe comes out to his rice bran and the buck Adam had his eye on was right behind her.  Adam takes aim and takes down his 8 point.  Cole was hunting close by, so Adam remained in the blind so he would not spook any deer.  10 minutes before dark, the larger 8-point that he had picked out for Jackson came into point blank range.  After admiring the buck, Adam slipped out after dark and retrieved his deer.

Jackson gets to camp late Friday night and is bursting with anticipation.  Jackson opted to skip the Saturday morning hunt for 2 reasons: the buck was a regular in the evenings and they did not want to spook him walking in…. and he wanted to play with his cousins.  After a fun filled morning, it was time to get to business.

Adam and Jackson head to the ground blind around 3PM.  The weather was arctic cold with a high in the mid-30s.  A young 8 point came out early and Jackson begged his dad to shoot it.  “If he asked once, he asked 100 times,” said Adam.  He told him to be patient and held him off.  As daylight faded and the temperature dropped, deer began filing out in front of them.  With 15 minutes remaining of legal shooting light, Jackson’s buck appears.

He puts the rifle on the shooting stick and gets steady.  Right before he planned to pull the trigger, 2 does get in front of his buck.  Jackson stays on the deer for what seems like an eternity, waiting on his opportunity.  5 minutes pass and he is as cool as a cucumber.  The buck finally clears the does and Jackson squeezes the trigger.

The buck kicks and makes a death run for the woods then crashes in a ravine 15 yards away.  Immediately, a celebration ensues in the blind.  They get out and hit the blood trail and within sight of the shot, they see a massive rack sticking up out of the water.  Emotions were high with a proud dad and his ecstatic 9-year-old son.

In a short 3 years, Jackson has experienced the roller coaster of hunting.  The highs are amazing, but the lows can be tough.  He learned a valuable lesson in not only hunting, but in life, too.  Adversity is inevitable but it only makes you stronger.  When asked if Jackson would consider quitting again, the response was a quick “Heck no, he is HOOKED.”

Congratulations Jackson and thanks for teaching your dad how to deer hunt.

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Dusty McGehee is a native of Downsville and a 2006 graduate of Louisiana Tech University with a bachelors in wildlife conservation. He is currently employed by WestRock and serves as an environmental engineer at the Hodge Mill. Dusty is an avid hunter and crappie fisherman, fishing crappie tournaments with his son when he is not in the woods. He and his wife Rachel have three young outdoorsmen/women: Anders (9), Ridge (7) and Mae (5). If you have a story idea or question about the great outdoors, you can reach Dusty at dusty.mcgehee@westrock.com.

 


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