Michael Pearce

First buck with a bow years in the taking

Jake Holem's first bow-killed buck on Monday fulfilled a goal set more than two years ago, before he'd even been on his first hunt.
Jake Holem's first bow-killed buck on Monday fulfilled a goal set more than two years ago, before he'd even been on his first hunt.

You may have felt a bit of a tremor at about 5:17 p.m. on Monday. It was a Jakequake.

It happened when my friend, Jake, went into a full-case of teeth-chattering, leg-shaking buck fever a split-second after placing a perfect shot on an eight-point buck with his bow.

For him, it was an important “first” in his outdoors career. For me, it was the fulfillment of a promise.

Jake and I met about two years ago. Without a father for seven years, he was a kid almost desperate for a mentor in the outdoors. I was a father with kids grown and gone, looking for a hunting partner with a contagious excitement about what was becoming a bit mundane for me.

In our first hours I’d asked Jake what he’d most like to do outdoors.

“Anything!” was his immediate answer. When pressed a bit more he said, “Bowhunt for deer, turkey hunting and fly-fishing.”

By Thanksgiving Jake had shot a fine fall gobbler and by the next Memorial Day he’d taken six toms and called in another for his mom, Kimberly. Last spring Jake guided a same-aged youth to a great bird on a Big Brothers/Little Brothers hunt we hosted.

A fly-fishing trip for Ozarks trout was Jake’s reward for improving his grades in math our first spring. Watching him cast at a Flint Hills pond this year was like a scene from “A River Runs Through It.”

But bowhunting for deer would have to wait for the lithe boy with licorice stick arms to gain strength, and more outdoors experience.

Hours after he’d shot a true trophy buck with a crossbow in 2013, our first fall, we agreed he could begin true bowhunting when he could pull 40 pounds on a compound bow. Still too weak last year he used a rifle for a 10-pointer. This year would be archery or nothing. By mid-summer he’d practiced enough to qualify.

The idea meant a lot to both of us. Jake’s dad, Gary, had been an avid and accomplished bowhunter. I’m far from accomplished, but enjoy bowhunting enough that I wanted to pass it along to another young hunter.

The best bow season of my life I never carried my bow afield. It was when Jerrod, our son, was 12 and state law required me to be with him on every hunt. We went 18 times, had deer close on a dozen trips, but had a string of “well, that’s bowhunting” mishaps before he put a perfect shot on a buck with tiny antlers.

Monday’s trip was the seventh time Jake and I had shared a tree or blind.

Every trip had held action. We once had eight does and fawns milling around below us while we pair of ADHD dudes tried to hide in a cedar tree that didn’t seem much larger than some on which I’ve strung Christmas lights.

Last Sunday we about sealed the deal on a studly eight-pointer, but the combination of too many clothes and excitement left Jake lacking strength to draw his bow.

It was just one of many life lessons I knew he’d learn from bowhunting. So many times this fall he could have shot a nice buck with a gun or crossbow. Jake had been outdoors enough to know the best things are usually earned through patience and persistence.

Monday’s trip began sour when a trespassing jogger trotted under the big bur oak where Jake and I stood on massive limbs. She’d ran through one bedding area and headed through another after our “discussion” about property lines. A few minutes later a nice buck heading our way smelled where she’d crossed the woods and spooked.

Still, we stayed.

About 90 minutes later we were watching a pair of fawns about 130 yards away when Jake spotted a buck ambling towards the pair. After he sniffed them a bit I let out a loud grunt that sounded like a buck harassing a doe. The buck’s head snapped up and he looked our direction. A few more grunts and he headed down a farm trail towards our tree, the hair on his back raised and a swagger to his walk.

Our hours of talking of such things as how and when to draw a bow, and when to take a shot, put Jake on autopilot. The bow was drawn a the perfect time, but the buck’s poor body angle forced to Jake to his bow at full-draw for what seemed like an hour. A grunt directed behind our tree got the buck to turn.

I was half-way through the “th” of a whispered “there’s your shot,” when Jake released his bowstring. We both knew the shot was perfect and the buck was down and dead within less time that it has taken to tell. Eventually we headed off to get his mom and best friend, Kai, to help with the recovery and join the celebration of Jake’s taking the two-year-old eight-pointer.

But rather than rush off we waited in the tree for about 15 minutes, the boy talking, laughing, smiling and shaking. As he rambled I thought back to that afternoon two years ago, and just how little he knew about the outdoors compared to the successful young outdoorsman he is now.

All along he’s agreed that within a few years he’ll be the one passing along his knowledge to young amateurs.

That’s a promise I know he will keep.