How the Relationship with My Brother Made for an Unforgettable Hunting Season

Growing up, my older brother, Damin, and I were equally passionate about two things: deer hunting and basketball.  At the time, and this is still the case for Damin, basketball took front and center stage of our lives.  We traveled all up and down the East Coast playing in AAU tournaments all year long.  Despite being 2.5 years younger than Damin, I played up 2 age groups so that we could be on the same team.  Having played hundreds of games together over the years we developed tremendous chemistry on the court; we each knew what the other was thinking simply by making eye contact.

Of course, it was only natural that this connection carries over to our everyday lives.  To this day, we remain on the same page without ever having to say a word.  It’s something I treasure and give thanks for often.

As we’ve grown older our lives have changed significantly, but our passions and brotherly bond are now stronger than ever. Damin is a full time basketball trainer, and I work as a freelance writer, photographer and videographer in the hunting industry.  In many regards, our careers are at the complete opposite end of the social spectrum.  However, every fall, our instinctive, unspoken fraternal connection lives on.

Every hunting season my brother and I am team up – much like we used to do on the basketball court – to pursue mature whitetails on our family owned piece of property in Bath County, Virginia.  We make a great team, and I am very proud and consider myself very blessed to say that my brother is also my hunting partner.  We may not harvest a trophy buck every season, in fact, many times we don’t; however, the memories we make and the laughs we share are far more valuable to me than the inches of antler we put on the ground.

Damin and I started hunting the same year, 1996.  I was 6 years old and Damin 8.  Since then we have shared 18 hunting seasons together, walked countless miles scouting, shared camp hundreds of times, and said, “Good luck brother!” to one another each and every time the other goes on a hunt, be it my text message when we’re not together, or a quiet whisper as we both slip away from camp into the cold darkness.

We don’t often hunt together for two simple reasons.  For one, we’re so driven and dedicated to harvesting mature whitetails that our odds for success obviously increase substantially when we hunt on our own.  Secondly, and most importantly, we spend so much time goofing off and laughing at one another in tree that we must alert every deer in a 1-mile square radius to our presence when we do hunt together.  But at the end of the day, I’d rather spend the day in the tree laughing with my brother not seeing any deer than I would tagging a shooter buck myself.

While my brother and I had hunted together for 15+ years and celebrated each other’s success while offering support in the failures, I really wasn’t aware of just how genuine of a hunting team we made until the 2011 season.

We had been getting regular trail camera photos of a buck we had nicknamed Clyde since the end of September, and he was at the top of our wish list.  Since my job allows a little more time to hunt than Damin’s, I had dedicated myself to putting an arrow through the 140” mainframe 10-point buck.  During the first half of the 2011 season, I hunted harder than ever.  I was fully invested in harvesting this mature buck, and this buck only.  In the month of October alone, I hunted and moved my hang on treestand 11 different times, without ever laying my eyes on Clyde.  He lived on our property, but he was moving almost exclusively at night.

While the brilliant fall colors of October quickly gave way to the frosty mornings of November, I was still in full pursuit of Clyde, but had traded in my bow for my muzzleloader to increase my chances.  Unfortunately, he remained a ghost.  Each hunt became more and more deflating, while each trail camera check refueled my faith and desire.  It was a vicious cycle that was taking its toll on me mentally and physically.

By mid-November I was spent.  Damin had a week of vacation planned starting the 12th of November, and I was excited to spend some time in the woods with him again, but the thought of waking up at 5:00 am wasn’t something I was excited about.  Nevertheless, I mustered up enough energy to climb a tree that morning hoping to harvest a doe and restore my confidence.  Damin was hoping to do the same.

It had been unseasonably warm the week prior, and the morning of the 12th brought with it the first hard frost of the hunting season.  I was too tired to be optimistic and had every intention of shooting the first mature doe that gave me a shot, cleaning her up, and going back to camp for a nap, ideally before 8:00 am.

At 7:13, the shot rang out, but I hadn’t seen the first doe.   The minute I heard the muzzleloader sound off, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach every hunter has surely felt in his or her lifetime, something special has just happened.

I got down from my stand and raced through the woods; the involuntarily screams and howls of success confirmed what I already knew.  By the time I had reached the fallen buck reality had sunk in, and I became aware of just how good of a team my brother and I made.

It was Clyde all right. His distinguished rack was unmistakable, and his body and neck were unlike anything I have seen in these Virginia Mountains.  But I didn’t shoot Clyde that day.   Damin did.

Just as the sun started to peak over the mountains and my brother had drifted off asleep, he heard a twig snap behind him, and within seconds Clyde was lumbering past Damin’s stand at 50 yards.  He stopped him, pulled the trigger, and hit Clyde square in the lungs.  Clyde, the buck I had obsessed over, the buck I had worked myself to near exhaustion for, was dead, and it wasn’t by my gun.  And I could have cared less.

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My brother and I shared an indescribable moment together in the woods that day.  We hugged, high fived, celebrated and just sat in the woods admiring the fallen giant.  To this day it’s my favorite hunting memory, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I offered to drag the 230+lb. buck out of the woods for my brother that day (it was an all down hill drag, don’t worry), and while the three of us descended the ridge, I realized just how fortunate I was to be able to share this moment with my brother.

I must have taken close to a thousand pictures of Damin and Clyde that afternoon, and we had an absolute blast celebrating over the fact that one of us had just harvested the deer of a lifetime.

Admittedly, I was worried how I would react should someone other than me kill Clyde.  It was a selfish thought, but an honest one. I had worked harder than anyone else for that deer.  I had invested thousands of hours in the stand, scouting, running trail cameras, and hanging tree stands.  Shouldn’t it be me in the harvest photos? Didn’t I “deserve” that buck?

They were silly and selfish questions, but they haunted my thoughts until I saw the look on my brother’s face when he sat beside the incredible buck.  I was genuinely happy for him.  I felt a unique mixture of relief – in that I wasn’t the horrible person I thought I could be – and perspective, in that I realized my relationship and care for my brother’s happiness and success took priority over my wants and needs.

Fortunately, especially for me, our success and good fortune continued a couple weeks after Damin harvested Clyde. Clyde was the dominant buck on our farm that fall, and that fact couldn’t have been more clear in the days after Damin shot Clyde.  It was as if someone opened the floodgates, 3 and 4 year old bucks that we had never seen before began hitting our mock scrapes, feeding in our food plots, and chasing does during daytime hours.  The King had been killed, and our farm was in search of his successor.  That was enough to get me back on the horse and give me the fire to tag my own mature buck.  It was game on.

As hard as I hunted for Clyde the first half of the season, I must have hunted twice as hard for a mature buck in the weeks that followed.  I was, if nothing, persistent.  Unfortunately, however, the weather didn’t allow for the greatest hunting. High winds, pouring rains, and warm temperatures seemed dominate the weather forecast, making it difficult to even see a shooter buck, much less harvest one.

All that changed, however, on the morning of November 25th.  Much like the morning when Damin shot Clyde, I was climbing my stand on the brink of exhaustion, just hoping to tag a doe with my rifle.  I went to an old stand I hadn’t hunted that year that always produced a lot of deer sightings, although not many mature bucks.

With sleepy eyes I spotted movement to my southeast at 7 am.  I quickly threw up my binoculars and noticed a good buck hurriedly walking from my left to right on a trail that would take him past my stand at 60 yards.  As soon as I found him in my binoculars he disappeared into the timber, but I never got a great look at him.  I knew he was a good buck, but how old?  I had a decision to make.  I decided when he stopped in the opening I was going to take him.

When he walked into the shooting lane at 60 yards I had to bleat to stop him.  He slammed on the breaks, looked up in my direction, but it was too late.  I had already settled the crosshairs on his shoulder and pulled the trigger.  He buckled up hard, and took off down the ridge.  It looked like a solid hit, but I didn’t see him go down.  I was anxious, nervous, and hopeful all in one.  I texted Damin.

“Just took a shot at a good buck.  Think I made a good hit.  Didn’t see him go down.” Damin replied within seconds, “On my way.”  Damin must have ran through the woods that morning the same way I ran to him the morning when he shot Clyde, because he was at the base of my tree panting within 10 minutes and was hunting some 500+ yards to my East.  I gathered my gear, thoughts, and emotions, and climbed down the tree.

Damin offered to film the recovery for me.  For some reason, he was more confident in the hit than I was, and was sure we were going to find the buck. We quickly found blood at the point of impact and picked up the trail.  It took us down an old logging road and through a secluded food plot before I really began to worry.  I could have sworn I made a good hit.  Why hasn’t he died yet?  I walked a little further and peaked up over a small hill and saw antlers.  Buck down! I threw a couple vicious haymakers into the air, ran back to Damin for a fist bump and, a “that’s what I’m talking about!” that would have made Stan Potts proud before racing through the woods to recover my buck.  Damin caught the entire sequence on film, and to this day I can’t watch that footage without smiling.  Like we did with Clyde we hugged, high fived, gave thanks, and just enjoyed a beautiful morning in the woods together as brothers.

I looked over the buck and was pleasantly surprised as he was much bigger than I thought he was.  A more thorough investigation also revealed that this was a buck that we had gotten hundreds of trail camera photos during the previous winter.  He had tall, tight brow tines that earned him the nickname High n’ Tight.  What makes this deer even more special, was that during the entire winter, spring and summer, High n’ Tight was always seen with Clyde.  When we got pictures of Clyde, High n’ Tight was never far behind, and vice versa.  It was like they were brothers.

The 2011 season was one that I will never forget.  Damin got married the following spring, and while we still spend plenty of time together throughout the year and during the hunting season, our brotherly relationship takes a back seat to his marriage, as it should.   We went into that season knowing it was our last together as “free men” and we were, like the first 20 years of our lives, inseparable, just like Clyde and High n’ Tight.

Ecclesiates 4:10-12, “For if one falls, the other will lift up his fellow.”  I’m beyond blessed to have Damin as my lifetime teammate, hunting partner, but more importantly, brother.