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December 9: Eli Hampton

FAMILY TRADITION:

It's been a tradition to bring my oldest son Coltin to Kansas during the gun season. This fall his job on the pipeline would not allow him the time needed to make the trip. My wife Brandy has taken a few Kansas giants herself, but my 2 yr. old Tebow takes up most of her time right now. I struggled with Coltin not being able to go, but the torch was going to be passed whether I was ready or not.

PASSING THE TORCH:

My 9 year old son Eli is very passionate about hunting. I had taken him to our lease in Kansas during the spring and he was lucky enough to take his 1st longbeard. It was a priceless memory that we'll never forget. Eli has killed 2 bucks over the last 2 years, but I was not quite sure if he was ready to battle the elements and weather during a normal rifle season. Even though Kansas has an early youth season, my work schedule would not allow us to hunt at that time. Our landowners forced my hand when they personally invited him to deer hunt. They've been so good to our family over the years that we could never begin to repay them.

In June I gave Eli his birthday present. It was his 1st ever Kansas firearms tag. He was excited to put it mildly. He even shed a tear or two. Nearly every time deer hunting came up after around the dinner table, his Kansas trip was always mentioned.

THE SEASON:

The Reconyx cameras were capturing pics of many well known bucks over October and November. Spending way too much time chasing ghost in other states, it was not until the week before gun season that I began to bowhunt Kansas this fall. My Dreamseason partner Rod Owen & I had seen several good shooters. After a week of hard hunting and several encounters, my tag was still unfilled. The gun season was here now, and Rod was heading back to work.

Opening day of gun season, Eli was on his way up to Kansas. My wife decided she would come up and hang out with us while Eli and I hunted. I decided I would take the video camera and my bow to a beanfield the opening afternoon to do some hunting and scouting for the upcoming days. At 4:30, I caught movement of a large buck in the cedars and began recording. He walked within 50 yards and never offered a shot that could be captured on video. The buck was big , wide, and this was not the first encounter between us. It was a 5 yr. old that we had referred to as the "big 9". This year he was much bigger with more points. He was our #1 hitlist buck which earned him a new nickname.

"Mt. BIGSLEY"

The "Big 9" was a buck that my oldest son Coltin had an encounter with last December. We were trying to kill him on a cut-beanfield, but the deer had an amazing ability to end up downwind of us undetected no matter what the set up. After finally figuring him out, we had the plan where he could not possibly get around us.... So we thought. Coltin dropped something from the stand and while searching the ground for several seconds, the buck was crossing the Powerline to the north. I was facing the south and glanced back to catch the buck after he had made it 60 yards in the open. By the time the gun was up & the camera was rolling, he had slipped away again. That would be the last time we would see the buck until he started showing up on the Reconyx in October. He was much bigger, fully mature, and had 14 scorable points. A big deer in my neck of the woods is often referred to as Ol' Bigsley. This buck met that catagory. I knew if we were lucky enough to take him that he would definitely be mounted. I began to refer to him as "Mt. Bigsley".

WE MEET AGAIN:

Eli and I had hunted hard. We had several encounters and were not just dead-set on 1 particular buck. If this was Burger King, & I could have it my way, well Mt. Bigsley would be the deer we wanted to take. But the reality was that I wanted Eli to get a shot at a nice buck. We had already cocked the hammer two other times that an ethical shot was not offered. Bigsley was frequenting the beanfield every evening just after dark and we felt like our best chance of getting a shot at him would be from that location. But there were other shooters that were using the field as well. We felt our best chance was at this particular field. We had a tower blind that I could hook my pickup to and move it easily to accompany the different wind directions. On the afternoon of the 9th, I moved the blind to the edge of the field to give us the best opportunity for a southern wind. This would prove to be the best move of the week.


At 4:45 I decided to glance through the back of the ground blind, even though it was straight down wind. I spotted a doe at the fence and then movement behind her. To my surprise, it was Mt. Bigsley! I can't lie, I went into full panic mode. I didn't even remember hitting record on the camera or turning on the Garmin Verb to capture the fire drill that was taking place in the blind. I reached up and jerked open one piece of the blind opening up a small spot for Eli to shoot through, as well as myself to film. The buck was dogging the doe and moving back and forth as I would move the camera from window to window trying to anticipate his next move. He finally broke to the left and stopped to rub a tree for just a minute. I situated the camera just over Eli and out of the same small window that he would have to shoot through. The buck slowly turned and quartered away offering Eli the perfect shot. I cracked the focus to make sure it was perfect and then told him to "only shoot when you're steady". There was a slight pause before the shot rocked the quietness of the Kansas sunset. At the shot, I knew the buck was hit hard. The giant mule kick was the dead giveaway. I said "you got him babe" excitedly! Eli just melted. He was some kind of tore up, but in a good way. We gave the buck the proper amount of time before taking up the trail. The buck had only gone 70 yards...

I had been struggling this fall to say the least. But my #1 goal was to get Eli a good buck. Going to the stand that afternoon, I had told Eli that "a tough season could be made a great one in just one pull of the trigger. And who knows, it could happen this afternoon..." I'd say it truly happened just like that. We can't wait to share the hunt with everyone on Dream Season this summer. Eli's reaction to his shot is as good as I've seen on outdoor television. I can assure you, you won't want to miss it. I'm thankful for the opportunity to share the great outdoors with my family and friends. Moments like this will be etched in my mind for all the days I'm alive. I truly thank God for that...