This doesn’t start off as a Remington story, but it couldn’t be a more perfect one in the end! Since the birth of my two sons, I have always dreamed of the day I get to take them on their first hunt. I still remember my wife saying, “Well, there is your hunting buddy” while we both choked back that overpowering lump in our throat when the doctor said…BOY! Since then we have always been an outdoor family. Weeks consist of school and sports, while the weekends are filled with shooting sports and camping. My oldest son was eight when we started him in archery. His natural ability, quick learning, and desire to go further and become more accurate made it a natural weapon of choice for his first hunt. We practiced daily and slowly worked the poundage up on his bow until I felt satisfied he could make an ethical shot out to 40 yards. Also helped that he had won 2 out of the last three archery tournaments for his age group. He was ready!
As an active duty soldier for over fourteen years, overseas operations are the thief that steals family time away that you long for while you are away. With yet another year-long deployment on the horizon, I decided to pull my son out of school for a long weekend of deer hunting. The time had come: his first big game hunt was going to be wild Axis deer on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. July and August is the best time to hunt these beautiful deer while they are rutting and are hard horned. The middle of August was going to be our time. Our trip began in Honolulu flying in a single engine, nine-passenger, inter-island commuter. The flight was only 17 minutes, but some of the most scenic views you will every experience.
As the island of Molokai grows closer, the first thing you notice is how arid it is. In August the average temp is in the mid 80s with tendencies to jump over 90. The weather patterns tend to approach from the opposite side of the island during the rainy season so the west end is starved for moisture most years. Beautiful nonetheless! Mountains on one side and deep valley rolling hills on the other with a persistent wind blowing in off the ocean. Perfect stalking conditions.
We gathered up our bow cases and backpacks and headed to a house that had been recommended by friends next to a quiet, crystal clear, ocean bay. We shared this house with four other hunters, all of us friends from the local archery club on Oahu. My son insisted that we camp out in the back yard while everyone else fought over couch space in the house. Except for the automatic sprinkler system, it worked out perfectly in order to pend more one-on-one time with my oldest son.
Our first day of hunting started out with a nervous practice session out to forty yards. Once all of the jitters were worked out and the sights all confirmed, I watched his eyes light up as I replaced his field tips with broadheads. The first day out in the field was spent teaching him about tracks, rubs, scrapes, and traveling trails. The weather that day was another incredible Hawaii 80 degree, humid, cloudless dream.
Just before lunchtime on our way back to the house, we spotted a small group of does with two bucks moving quickly across an open field heading for cover. We moved fast to get in front of them and quietly position almost perfectly. The deer crossed in front of us at 50 yards. The largest buck stopped just long enough for me to draw my bow and miss. I looked down at my son who had a huge smile on his face already and it’s only the first day…success!
The second day we worked our way into a choke point in a valley. The wind was perfect and the deer trails were worn down to bare dirt. We set up together in a stand of bushes on the ground. We sat there for about an hour before two does came walking down the trail. They were on the closer of the two trails and I slowly brought my range finder up ranging trees in front of them. I quietly whispered, “Thirty-five yards.” We let the does pass just a little before the bigger one stoped and began to feed in the protected area. I whispered, “There you go.” She is slightly quartering away at 35 yards. I watch my son slowly draw his bow and take the time to carefully aim. As he releases, the doe still has no idea we are there. I watch the arrow take a perfect line towards her vitals, the neon yellow and orange fletchings are spinning perfectly and then sail one inch over her back. The red dust kicks up on the other side of her as the arrow digs into the Hawaiian clay. She jumps and spooks out of the area. My son’s emotions collapse on him at once, as the tears of disappointment begin. I tell him not to worry about it, that we all miss and we reflect on what a great shot it was; picture perfect!!
The guide and close friend asked on the third day if I would object to a switching of tactics and weapon. I asked what he had in mind and followed him to the truck where he opened a rifle case and pulled the Remington 700 VLS in 243 Winchester. We both smiled at the same time and called my son over. The rifle was equipped with a bipod and beautifully stood by itself. Our guide asked my son to lay down behind the rifle as we sized him to the rifle. His long arms perfectly fit and when asked if he could clearly see through the scope, he confidently responded yes! The guide and I both looked at each other with a smile and a shrug. “Let’s give it a shot,” he said. That evening we drove out to a shooting range and put my son and the rifle in the same prone position. My friend gave him some shooting fundamental pointers as this was a new unfamiliar rifle to my son. Prior to this, I had taken him to the range and taught him the basics of rifle marksmanship with my Remington 597 in .22 LR, but this was his first center fire experience. His first shot was about a foot off at 100 yards, but after a few more pointers his second and third shots were dead on!
It’s now the third evening of the hunt. Both my friend and I are beginning to feel the pressure of the end of the hunt approaching. That evening he took us to an incredible spot of rolling hills and steep cliffs that drop into the ocean. The terrain was that of thick brush and cover opening into little meadows dotted all over the countryside. In the distance the royal blue ocean and the sound of the trade winds blow in off the water. As we got out of the truck I loaded and shouldered the rifle. My friend was telling us that the action would be fast. He explained that the deer would use the dirt trail we were on to move between feeding and bedding areas and to crest the hills slowly watching for deer ahead of us in the next valley. The sun was beating down on us when we spotted them. “DEER!” my son said and we all hit the ground like someone shot at us. I pull up my binoculars and asked where, straight ahead he responded. As my eyes focus my heart jumps out of my chest! Approximately 225 yards down the trail there is one of the biggest Axis bucks I had ever seen! My guess was around 32 inch main beams with gorgeous eye guards. We crawl forward to get past the crest of the hill and to get my son into a good shooting position. I lay the .243 in front of him and fold down the bipod. I turn the magnification on the scope up to 12 and make sure he is comfortable. “Get set,” I tell him and begin reminding him of the fundamentals my friend had taught him. I can see him shaking and it makes me smile down to my soul. I wonder if this is what my father felt like 25 years prior.
“Can you see him?” I ask. “No!” he says as he begins to get frustrated. I tell him to put the rifle down and look at me. When he does I say, “You are doing just fine! Take a deep breath and get set.” He does exactly what I say and gets into a perfect shooting position. I ask him again, “Can you see him?” This time he says, “Yes, I can see him.” I tell him, “Okay, tell me when he is perfectly broadside” and he just responds with a quick, “Okay.” What seems like an eternity goes by and I am just about to pick up my binoculars again when he says, “Okay. He is broadside.” I quickly ask if he is ready and he says his is. I tell him to flip off the safety and I hear the click. I tell him at that distance follow his front leg up to his shoulder and to put the crosshairs high on the shoulder. When he says ok, I tell him when he is ready squeeze the trigger.
BOOM!!!! The rifle goes off and I hear that familiar hollow thud report back. I watch the deer rare up like a horse that has just been spooked and jump into the brush. “GOT HIM!!” my son says, looking back as my friend and I high five and do a victory dance. After all the celebrating and hugs die down we give the deer another 15 mins before going down to him. I was very confident in the shot and was positive we had a monster on the ground! My friend decided to head back to the truck and begin making room. My son and I began walking down the hill towards where the deer had been standing last. When we got there less than five feet away was his deer, but not at all what I had expected! The most beautiful spike buck lay in front of us with a single perfect bullet hole through the front shoulder. I asked my son if he had seen the other buck. His response, “What other buck?” I laughed and realized the monster I had seen a few minutes earlier was a monster for a reason!
We pulled his first ever big game animal from the tall Hawaiian grass and took so many pictures that I thought I was going to max out the picture storage! When we returned to the house that night my son was the hero of the day and all we could talk about! I sat back in a camp chair around a fire pit that night exhausted by the day’s events and listened to my son tell his story over and over to anyone that would listen. I couldn’t be more proud of how he performed and didn’t even care that I never got a deer. Once the adrenalin of the day had worn off we retired to our tent in the back yard. I don’t even remember laying down that night!