It Just Takes Heart

This was to be a very special hunt. It was the week of Thanksgiving and the morning was cold with a stiff breeze blowing that cut through the blind built of natural brush. Sitting on the edge of the food plot waiting for daylight I watched my son Jeremiah intently scanning for that first deer of the day. Though it was cold, I was enjoying our time together in the blind and our first day in Texas. My joy was tempered however, knowing that Jeremiah was facing a very serious heart surgery just three weeks away in the second week in December. We hoped not, but this could be his last hunt.

This wasn’t our first trip to Buffalo Mountain Ranch. I have been with my good hunting buddy, Jay Ledbetter, on his Texas ranch a few times, and I always look forward to it. Last year, in our quest to get Miah a nice buck, we had been thwarted by Miah’s under weight and noisy bow as deer after deer jumped his shot. This trip we were armed with a new Mission bow that was quiet as a soft spring breeze and a bit more poundage, but well within Miah’s strength range.

Buffalo Mountain Ranch is a high fence ranch of nearly 5000 acres. They are engaged inBowhunting Paradise - Buffalo Mountain Ranch serious deer management with the goal of giving hunters the experience of a lifetime and a crack at whitetail bucks in the 140 class and above. BMR has hosted a number of hunting celebrities including Greg and Fred Abbas from Away-Hunting, country singer Aaron Watson, and famed hunter and rock star Ted Nugent. BMR has a strict policy against shooting bucks that score less than 115, or have fewer than eight points. Jay, ever the big hearted guy that he is, told Jeremiah that this restriction did not apply to him, but Miah was determined to take only a buck that would meet those qualifications. He wanted my help to make sure a buck he shot would qualify and I wanted to film the hunt.

That first cold morning we only saw one deer, a doe. Miah’s license was good for both a buck and a doe so Miah decided to try to get this one under his belt. The breeze had calmed somewhat and it was a very still morning. The doe was at 18 yards when Miah touched off his release. The doe instantly ducked, turned and fled. A tuft of fur was brushed off her back by the near miss of the arrow.

As I watched the young doe escape to the safety of the brush, I couldn’t help but be reminded how close Suzanne and I had come to losing Jeremiah so soon after his birth. Miah, as we call him, was not a stranger to heart surgery. This would be his third open heart surgery. His first surgery was when he was just thirty four hours old, to open a blocked pulmonary value, the valve between his heart and his lungs. His second surgery, when he was just fifteen months old was to remove that same value because it wasn’t growing with the rest of his heart and was slowly cutting off blood flow to the lungs. Neither of these surgeries addressed his malformed and misplaced tricuspid value problem which would plague his childhood and young adult life. These problems restricted his physical activity throughout his life, and while I was big into bow hunting, Miah didn’t have the stamina or strength to hunt as much as he and I would both like him to.

Watching the video of Miah’s shot you could clearly see the arrow passing through where the doe had been and just touching her back as she ducked. Considering the speed of Miah’s arrow, the doe had about a quarter of a second to react to the sound of the bow – and did. It was a clean miss.

Miah came out of the field that morning, cold and a bit discouraged. We had hoped his faster and quieter bow would prevent the deer from jumping the string, but at least in this instance it didn’t.

We decided to extend our range a bit, so as to not spook the deer at the sound of the string. Miah and I practiced daily out to 30 and 35 and even 40 yards to give us a little noise reduction room. At 35 yards he was dead on.

Every morning and evening I, or his Mom who wanted to share the experience as well, would sit with Miah. We saw deer every time and most often multiple deer. Miah wanted a good mountable deer, and decided not to spook any potential bucks with shots at does. There were many occasions where a very nice buck would come into a feeder or food plot, but stay just out of range, or would be chasing does. Although Miah drew his bow a couple of times he didn’t get another shot. Waiting for the right shot, or the right buck is part of hunting. Miah and my patience were tried waiting for that perfect moment.

We had been waiting also for the next round of surgery for Miah. His childhood cardiologists had assured us that further surgery would be needed. His tricuspid valve leaked and the lack of a pulmonary valve placed increased strain on his heart. At some point he would need surgery again. It was a message that we dreaded every year at his annual physical. But as long as he wasn’t experiencing any serious problems, the doctors wanted to wait while medical technology and cardiology understanding grew.

Earlier this fall, Miah’s cardiologists had warned us that his heart was beginning to show signs of failure. The doctors were convinced that we had delayed surgery as long as possible. Technology had improved and Miah’s heart was beginning to show the strain of his abnormalities. Now, while Miah’s heart was still relatively strong, was the time to attempt the repair.

The December surgery would attempt to address both the lack of a pulmonary value and repair or replacement of the tricuspid valve. Really, it would be a complete rebuilding of the right side of Miah’s heart.

Bowhunting Paradise - Buffalo Mountain RanchOne hazy morning he and I were thirty yards from a feeder and watched as a nice seven point fed at and around the feeder. It was getting late in the week, and I was anxious for Miah to take a buck. There were no other deer in the food plot, and I kept filming the buck and alternately whispering the yardage, “28 yards, 31 yards, 27 yards”. The morning was dead still, and Miah would acknowledge my yardage, but he never drew his bow. I was a bit disappointed when after a half an hour the buck ambled away into the brush. When I asked Miah why he didn’t shoot, he responded, “He’s not big enough, he wouldn’t qualify!” I reminded him that he didn’t have to meet that qualification, and Jay wouldn’t mind, but Miah responded, “I would know”, and that was the end of that. I couldn’t have been prouder!

We had planned to leave on Friday after Thanksgiving Day for the long drive home, but Thanksgiving morning came and Miah still didn’t have his deer. He was really discouraged. We decided to extend our hunt one more day if necessary. We would leave on Saturday after a morning hunt. It would mean a very long day to drive to Bloomington, Illinois, but it would give us one more morning to hunt. But after the disappointments of the week, did Miah have the heart to continue to hunt. He was tired and discouraged. Miah wasn’t sure he even wanted to hunt. Chad Davis, Jay’s ranch manager, and a great guy, suggested that we give Miah a crack at a field where a nice buck seemed to be hanging out. This buck was there almost every morning. The problem was that there was only one tripod stand. Miah would have to hunt it alone and the feeder was in the middle of the food plot thirty five yards from the stand and at Miah’s extreme range. Miah decided to give it a try.

Physical problems weren’t the only problem caused by Miah’s heart condition. The restricted blood flow of oxygen to his brain in the first few hours after his birth caused some learning disabilities as well. These weren’t severe, but he doesn’t like making decisions on his own and he is challenged when he has to. His brain just processes information a bit slower than most people. In addition to wanting to film his hunt I was with him to help him determine whether or not to take a shot. I was concerned that hunting alone he might decide to take a shot too late, or even take too long to determine if he even wanted to take a shot. But we were down to the wire. This was our best opportunity at getting him a nice wall hanger.

Late morning on Friday after things had settled down in the food plots, we drove to collect Miah from his stand and he was all excited. He had seen a nice buck that morning, and he was convinced that it met the minimums. “The buck strolled in and I could tell he was a shooter the minute I saw him,” Miah said. “He went right to the feeder and actually stood under it. One of the feeder legs was covering his front leg, but his vitals were wide open, so I decided to take the shot.” With a smile on his face, he held up a shattered arrow with a broadhead that was pretty mangled. “I hit the feeder leg” he said, “two inches to the left and it would have been a perfect shot.” You could tell by his demeanor that he was both disappointed and excited at the same time. “I want to hunt here again tonight and tomorrow morning”, he begged.

That evening, he saw nothing but does.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. Miah was dropped off at the tripod stand a good half an hour before daylight.

I hunted a food plot about a half mile away. I watched as a nice buck, a couple of smaller bucks and a couple of does fed in the field my blind covered, but all I could think of was how Miah was doing. Modern medicine does incredible things today. The odds of success for Jeremiah’s surgery were decidedly in his favor, but it’s hard for a dad not to worry. I think I spent the entire morning praying for a successful outcome to the surgery, and that Miah might get his buck.

It was late morning. Time to go. When we drove into the food plot to pick up Miah he was walking toward us with an incredible grin. I noticed that his quiver was one arrow short, and when I asked the inevitable question, “did you get a shot”? His answer was a resounding, “Yes, and a good one too!”

Explaining where he hit the deer and where the buck had run off, we followed Miah’s direction and found the blood trail and started to track it. After a hundred yards it was clear we wouldn’t find him soon, and we had to get on the road. We headed back to camp, where Mom was packing the car for our trip home. Jay and Chad assured us that they would look for and find Miah’s deer.

We left Texas that day with a heart sick Jeremiah. He was worried that he had justJeremiah's Trophy wounded the deer. But later that day we got a call from Jay saying that they had found Miah’s deer. He had made a near perfect shot on the buck, but caught the back part of the shoulder blade. The arrow had punched through into the chest, but with not enough force to take out both lungs. Miah anxiously asked about the size of its rack and Jay happily informed him that it certainly qualified as a trophy buck.

Jeremiah’s hunt was a success. We would mount his buck and hang it on the wall next to the Russian Boar he had taken a few years earlier. I was a happy though pensive dad.
Our thanks to BMR manager Chad David and Jay Ledbetter for making Jeremiah’s hunt the hunt of a lifetime. If you would like more information about Buffalo Mountain Ranch, visit their website.

ps. Jeremiah’s surgery was completely successful. The doctors placed a bovine bicuspid valve in his heart, made some repairs to his tricuspid valve, and fixed a hole in his heart between two of his chambers. He is currently recovering at our home in Northern Michigan.