David, Wendi, Dalton, and Carson Pond 2013 Oregon A familiar story to new and old hunters alike, those long evenings at the kitchen table before the application deadlines planning the next seasons hunts. The question for most people , do I have enough points to hunt where I want to, and who do I want to partner up with. For me that's easy, my family are my favorite hunting partners and we've paid our dues at the kitchen table. The first big game hunt of the season was Dalton's archery antelope hunt. He didn't have enough points to guarantee a tag, but he got lucky. So a couple days before the season we loaded up the trailer and headed to the desert. It was a late August hot summer day just a week before the kids had to head back to school. I've hunted this particular unit before and have even shown people where to find the antelope. This season it seemed everyone decided to hunt in the same place and all the water holes had multiple blinds already set up. We scouted all day and finally talked with a few people and found one unoccupied water hole off a terrible road. This spot did not pan out for us on opening day, so we pulled our blind. I told Dalton that the hunting community can be a pretty good group if your polite and respectful. With that in mind we contacted a camp near us to talk about the days hunt and exchange some information. The hunters in that group told us they had put blinds on a waterhole close by. They had planned on hunting another spot they had found and offered us the use of those blinds. I was more than excited and told Dalton we were going to be into some good antelope bucks. The year before I told a friend who had this tag about that same spot and his group tagged out in three days with four nice bucks. Back at camp my wife Wendi and my Dad were enjoying the scenery and were watching my youngest son do his best at jack rabbit control with his .22 rifle. Standing on the flats with his Varmageddon shirt on he didn't let to many jack rabbits slip by him. I'm pretty sure he was having more fun than anyone. The next morning we were in the blind before daylight and we watched as the sun come up and the sage grouse came into the water hole. Taking your kids hunting is a lot like seeing things again, for the first time. You spend a lot of time talking about all the new things they are seeing and the experiences they are having until sometimes they fall asleep against your shoulder. But soon the grouse left and the antelope started showing up. I was pretty impressed when Dalton passed on a small buck and some does. He was content just watching them do their thing. The day ended and we were back at camp telling stories and having dinner. A storm moved through that dropped hail and blew dust like nothing I had ever seen. We had to park our trucks in front of my dad's tent to block the wind and to keep it from blowing away. Then it froze, in the desert, in August! We were up an out to the blind before light. After enjoying a beautiful sunrise and watching about a hundred sage grouse dancing around us, the antelope cautiously approached. For some reason they wouldn't commit at first, and then a couple hours later a few does with a nice buck came in. The buck didn't present a good shot and he was about 30 yards away. During this time we whispered back and forth about shot placement and tried to be patient. Finally, the buck dipped his head to drink. Dalton had been sitting awkwardly and needed some help getting his bow back. As I helped him the buck looked up quickly and stared straight at us. After a long hold Dalton took aim and let his arrow fly. The arrow hit the neck near the shoulder. As I was watched the antelope take off Dalton jumped out of the window of the blind. I had to grab him to keep him from running after them. Young teenagers aren't very patient! We watched as the buck fell over and then the excitement set in!
Arriving at camp was very exciting for all of us! A 14 year old hunter on a DIY public land hunt filling his first archery antelope buck tag with a bow is quite a feat. His buck scored 68 & 1/8 and had some wide character to him.
We spent another day in the desert helping a friend get his antelope buck. We were enjoying the last days of summer and just letting the boys shoot jack rabbits and drive trucks on an old dusty lake bed. I didn't think they would ever want to leave. It wasn't long before it was Carson's turn. He used his First Time Youth opportunity (ODFW Program) to hunt mule deer bucks close to home. Opening day came with high winds and lots of rain. We have good luck in the rain so that was a welcome sight for us. We started off getting beat to the areas we wanted to hike into so we ended up glassing a couple areas with very little to show for it. We ventured out to get better views of our hunting areas and got cold and soaked. Carson is one of the tougher and more determined kids I've ever seen. Recently, he had decided to spend $60 of his hard earned money on a new video game. I told him I'd give him a dollar for every mile he was on our elliptical running machine until he got to $60. I figured it would take him a few months, he did it in three and a half days! He showed me. Back to hunting... We moved to another area and started seeing some deer. We weren't going to be too picky as he only had two weekends to hunt. I spotted a nice 3x3 and we went after it. Somehow it gave us the slip. Then we found a smaller 3x3 but it wouldn't hold still and it finally ran off. Getting a bit discouraged we warmed up a bit and moved to another spot where we could see a little better. Carson then spots our nice 3x3 along with another buck. We repositioned ourselves so Carson could rest his rifle on a downed log. He took aim and dropped the buck with a neck shot!
Cold and wet we took care of his buck but Carson didn't want to leave the woods just yet. So we stopped near a creek and took out our Jet Boil stove and had some Mountain House meals. Carson looked up at me while we were eating and said, "thank you for this opportunity and thank you for taking me hunting". That's a moment I'll never forget. Another successful public land hunt. Both boys drew cow elk tags in one of our favorite areas. My wife especially looks forward to this hunt because elk is her favorite game meat . We got permission to hunt on a friends ranch that usually holds quite a few elk. The family hunted all day hiking and glassing. We saw numerous elk which is pretty exciting, but it starts to get a little discouraging when you just can't make it happen. So we decided to split up and work our way out. Carson was able to spot an elk just before dark so he set up for a 200 yard shot. One well placed shot dropped it in its tracks. Now it was time to get to get to work. Our headlamps came in handy because by this time it was dark. That hunt resulted in the purchase of another freezer.
A couple days later Dalton put a stalk on a large herd of elk and he was able to fill his tag. That elk dropped without taking a step. When I asked Dalton where he aimed he said, "right where I needed too." At this point we were feeling our recent purchase was money well spent. As a family we spend a lot of time outdoors camping, fishing, and just taking pictures. As a lot of serious hunters often say, "there is no off season," so we also spend time practicing with rifles and shooting our bows at Top Pin Archery in Redmond and attend 3D target events in the local area. As a result of accumulating points as early as possible, Dalton drew a late season youth rifle deer tag. This tag is a trophy mule deer hunt for kids! This hunt is in late November when the snow usually pushes deer from southern central Oregon to wintering ground near the California border. Scouting here doesn't do much as the deer aren't here till the snow flies. So phone calls were made to the biologist in the area, and to the ranchers moving cattle on the forest, and to anyone I could find that had the tag before. Being this is basically a once in a lifetime youth hunting opportunity everyone was willing to give info or even drive over and help if needed. Where's the snow??? The one thing you can't control is the weather. When we set up camp we were in t-shirts and I was a little worried. The morning hunt produced a few does, spikes, and forken horns. That was our "plan A" best spot to go area. Plan B in the afternoon wasn't any better. The next day we at least had to wear sweatshirts. Plan C was just as disappointing and the other youth hunters we had talked to were not seeing much action either. Back at camp we had a big lunch and prepared for a long afternoon hunt further away from our camp. We discussed with Dalton whether he wanted to hold out for a trophy or just fill his tag and go home as the weather prediction was for more of the same throughout the entire hunt. We decided to head to our Plan D location and then discuss our options later in the day. We were basically going to a spot we had learned about from a friend of my dad's. He drew a map on a napkin during a recent dinner. On our long drive through the woods where you normally can't get to we still were not seeing any deer. Late in the afternoon while looking at a steep ridge we finally spotted some deer milling around as they feed. I could tell one was a decent buck for the conditions so Dalton got set up on the shooting sticks while I looked at him through my binoculars. I wasn't too sure about this buck until he turned his head but at this point we could not be too picky. I hadn't finished telling Dalton he should shoot when he pulled the trigger. We were all able to watch him as Dalton shot and the buck made a short sprint before going down. Dalton made a perfect shot to the heart. We were so excited as we all headed up the ridge for a family celebration and photo session. His buck scored 172 and he now holds the bragging rights as he has the biggest buck in the family.
As we were celebrating this amazing opportunity to witness Dalton's success, My wife turned to me and said, "And that concludes the Pond family hunting season." Of course I still had some work to do.... Kids grow up so fast and now days they seem to have so many distractions that can sometimes keep them from hunting. I have found that getting them into great opportunities or just simply spending time outdoors as a family will probably benefit me in more ways than one! What a blessing it is to share my love of hunting with my family. I have picked my hunting partners and I can look forward to more time at my kitchen table planning our next hunting adventures... where ever they might be!