Justin Hermansen's Special Buck

While most of America was locked in a battle to see who would lead our country for the next 4 years another battle not many knew about played out in the woods in northern Michigan.

12-year old Justin Hermansen was out matching wits with some of Michigan’s whitetail deer. He sat quietly stroking the stock of the specially made .243 that just hours before he had rechecked the scope on at a nearby range. Justin knew the special gun would do the job if it were called upon, he only hoped his nerves would hold out as well should his dream materialize from the swamp below. Justin’s guide Bill Klein sat next to him and smiled as he watched Justin and shared in his anticipation. Bill hoped the big 8-point he had been watching would show up and give this special boy a chance for a decent shot.

As time ticked by Justin was acutely aware of every sound and movement outside the blind strategically located to take advantage of the heavily used trails coming from the swamp to the feeding area. Bill had seen the big eight several times over the last few days and Justin wanted to be ready should he show again. Squirrels chattered, blue jays squawked and chickadees flew here and there as evening crept into the November woods. There was a chill in the air but Justin barely noticed as the adrenaline of being on his first hunt helped to keep him warm.

Suddenly there was some movement down in the swamp and Justin focused on it hoping beyond hope the big buck was coming out. As Justin watched with his heart pounding and ready to burst from his jacket a nice doe slowly made her way toward the feeding area. Justin was ready but the doe was safe for now, it was the buck he was after. The doe fed near Justin for several minutes and his heart rate finally slowed to a somewhat normal rate. He watched her as she flicked her tail and occasionally looked around checking her surroundings. Justin had never been this close to a deer in the wild and he marveled at her beauty and the smoothness of her winter coat.

All of a sudden the doe snapped her head around and looked back into the swamp where she had come from. Bill noticed movement on the trail and warned Justin to be ready there may be another deer coming out. Soon the flickers of gray became the body of a deer and a big one at that. Justin and Bill strained hard to see if it was the big eight but the deer stood stock still with its’ head hidden by a cedar tree. Bill was sure it was the 8-point by the size of the deer and it’s coloring but he had to be sure before Justin raised his gun. Justin noticed he was holding his breath and slowly let it out. His heart pounded wildly as he wondered if this was his buck. Still the deer stood still.

After what seemed like a lifetime to Justin the deer started moving again and as it did he and Bill both saw at the same time that yes this was the 8-point Bill had been scouting. Justin’s excitement got the best of him and he started breathing way to fast. Bill quietly whispered to him the instructions they had gone over earlier. “Deep breaths Justin, deep breaths, let them out slowly”. Justin closed his eyes and tried to slow his breathing but it was hard. He focused harder knowing he had to calm down or he wouldn’t be able to make a good shot on the buck he wanted so badly. The crunching leaves told him the buck was getting closer and would soon be in position for a good shot. Justin slowly opened his eyes and tried to remember everything Bill had told him. “Wait for the deer to turn broadside, Aim just behind the front shoulder, don’t look at the rack, take a deep breath and let it out slowly, squeeze the trigger, don’t jerk it” Dang there’s so much for a 12-year old to remember!!!

As the buck cleared a small pine tree Justin settled the crosshairs just behind the front shoulder as Bill had told him. Bill whispered for Justin to shoot whenever he was ready and as he did the .243 roared. The buck jumped and ran hard back into the swamp from where he had come. Justin couldn’t believe it. He had missed. As the buck disappeared and he sat there wondering what went wrong Bill started slapping him on the back and telling him “GREAT SHOT, GREAT SHOT” but he had missed hadn’t he? The buck got away. What was Bill talking about? Why was he smiling and so excited?

Bill laughed when he saw the puzzled look on Justin’s face and assured him that he had in fact made a good shot on the buck and he should be down just inside the swamp. Justin trusted Bill but still he wondered how the buck could run so hard if he had made a good shot. They gathered their gear and slowly made their way to where the buck had been standing. Once there Bill showed Justin some hair on the ground and just a few feet away was a spray of bright red blood. Now Justin’s heart started pounding again and his excitement grew, he had hit the deer, the deer of his dreams.

Bill let Justin take the lead as they followed the blood trail down toward the swamp. It was a good steady trail and as they easily followed it Justin could barely contain himself. He knew his buck lay somewhere just ahead. After trailing about 70 yards Justin saw something lying in the brush just off the trail ahead. It looked like an antler but he wasn’t sure. Justin and Bill slowly moved forward and there in front of them lay Justin’s buck. He had indeed made a great shot and had taken the deer clean through the heart. Justin’s dream had come true.

Like many 12-year olds this was to be Justin’s first year hunting here in Michigan but it didn’t look like he would have the chance. Chemo, radiation treatments, doctor appointments and surgeries had kept him from having that chance. The tumor in his brain had been removed but God had other plans and it came back. More chemo and radiation treatments kept it at bay for a while but now Justin and his family just wait. All they have left now is time as surgery can’t be done again and his body won’t take another round of chemo.

Thanks to the help we get from people like you and places like Deer Tracks Ranch, for a few days Justin got to live his dream. He had the chance to feel the anticipation and excitement of his first hunt and he felt that heart pounding rush we all feel when we encounter nature up close on its’ terms. He had the chance to trail his own deer and to kneel quietly next to it and thank God for his graces. It’s because of all of you Justin and his family will have a cherished memory to help get them through the tough times ahead. It’s because of you Justin had the chance for a few days to forget the battle he faces and just be a 12-year old boy enjoying the out doors we all love so much.

Sleep well tonight for you’ve helped to make a young boy smile.

May all of your quivers be full and the winds in your face, God Bless.

Steve Pray, Benefit4Kids

B4K Notes: Justin's hunt was donated in part by Deer Tracks Ranch in Fife Lake, MI.
Justin's travel expenses were covered by Benefit4Kids and his taxidermy was donated by Oakridge Taxidermy of Waterford, MI.