Like many young hunters, Boyd Edwards indeed, really wanted to shoot a white deer. And like many young hunters, 10-year-old Boyd was concerned about the recoil of a rifle. In fact, he wasn’t sure he ever would not be concerned about hitting a deer rifle. But unlike many young hunters, Boyd had Uncle Red on his side—and Uncle Red had a plan.
“On opening day of dove season,” Robert Edwards, aka Uncle Red, told me, “Boyd was so terrified of the recoil that he taped a full-sized bath towel around his shoulder. I bet he used half a roll of duct tape. It took us 30 minutes to break it down. But the worst thing you can do for a child is tell them to pack up and get it. It will haunt him for the rest of his life.”
Robert is a long time friend of mine and an avid hunter. He and his brother, Patrick — Boyd’s father — are fourth-generation farmers in eastern North Carolina. This time of year, photos of smiling faces and downed deer are floating around the social media sphere as hunters share photos of bigger deer and even smaller bucks and come up with an exciting story behind them. And this is the story behind one of those photos that Robert sent me just a few days ago. As you can see, there’s a pretty cute baby in it, and a pretty big deer. But it’s an even bigger deer story.
An inventive cure to ward off fear
Uncle Red’s plan was to get Boyd over the hump of his fear of rejection, but he knew it would take some doing. His first step was to pull out of storage a .22-250 that had never been fired. Her withdrawal was pretty tame, Uncle Red thought. It just might work. He cleaned the bore of the rifle, fitted it with a new clip, and sighted. The next step would be more complicated.
Uncle Red knew that his nephew held him in high esteem and thought that if he could tell Boyd in person how little recoil the rifle produced, he would win the day. So he took the young man to his shooting shack and shared his plan. “I said, ‘Boyd, I’m going to prove to you how little this gun kicks,'” Robert told me. “I’m going to put this gun here in my crotch. Do you see that? And now I’m going to shoot him with one hand'”.
Boyd’s eyes were as big as pie plates. And Uncle Red did what he said he would do. When the muzzle blast had faded, Uncle Red turned to his nephew. “So what do you think?” he asked.
Boyd had a wide smile. “Uncle Red,” he replied, “I think I can shoot that deer rifle.”
A boy’s first document
The barn is outside the house, lightly dressed in peeling red paint, one of those old farm structures that make you think of mules and musty hides and black-and-white photographs of wild men at work. Uncle Red Boyd and Boyd’s younger brother, Fielding, climbed into the second-floor attic where Uncle Red had cut a window for the shooting 35 years earlier. He looked down on a wide shooting lane, surrounded by pine trees. Boyd practiced resting the rifle on the edge of the cut, practicing his grip as Uncle Red told him.
The first deer that came up was a four point buck. “I thought, What a lucky little man to hunt a buck for his first deer,Uncle Red told me. But the small dollar never paid off for Boyd. She walked down the shooting lane, and out of sight.
Boyd was disappointed but undaunted. And he was ready too. So when a towering 11-pointer came off 20 minutes later, Boyd never wavered. He would later tell his father and uncle that he saw the deer’s antlers once and only once. “I focused on the shot,” he said, “just like Uncle Red told me to.”
Robert was at his side, training his grandson and making sure Boyd held the safety until he was ready to shoot. Boyd’s blow broke both of the buck’s shoulders and left him in his tracks. In a smartphone video taken during the shoot, you can see what happens next in the family farm’s old barn.
When Robert called to tell me about these pictures, his voice was still shaking. “What a blessing to be there,” he said, now and then. “What a blessing.”
And it’s a blessing to all of us to get these deer photos spamming our text messages and emails from friends and family near and far. There are many things behind these captured moments. Some of them arrive with surprise messages. Others are the product of hard work and long hours in the deer woods. Who wouldn’t be proud of a kid who just dropped an 11-pointer on his first shot at a deer? And some of the photos make for good old-fashioned bragging. Nothing wrong with a little of that.
But most of these photos come with a deeper subtext, be it nuanced and subtle. They are a way to acknowledge how hunting binds us together. They commemorate the shared excitement and awe that even today has those of us who return to the woods each year to dip pumpkins into a well of wildness and renewal. They are a way of marking each other as one of the same tribe: This is who we are – part of a long line of hunters, stretching back to the past and the future.
Welcome to that family, Boyd Edwards. And thank you, Uncle Red. Your shot was no less impressive than your nephew’s.