Hunting is a great American tradition. It brings the hunters into the heart of rural America — its forests, hinterlands and prairies — as they seek food to put on their tables. For the young hunter, it is a coming-of-age journey which reveals his weaknesses, limitations, strength and potential. Hunting binds father and son as they strike out on a rigorous trail day after day, sleeping peacefully under a star-studded sky.
Joey Coyle and his dad, Robert Coyle, had hunted together before, but their trip to the South end of Kodiak Island last fall was in a category of its own. They traveled there with friend Jake Jacobson.
Spoiler alert: Joey, 14, shot two deer on this trip, possibly one for the record books. But there is far more to a hunt than shooting an animal. The kill is the short-lived climax following the less exciting details such as setting up camp, planning strategies and hoofing it up hills, stomping through bogs and thickets, wherever the path may lead.
Toward the end of the first day of the hunt Joey had honors of taking the first deer.
It was a ‘‘normal-sized, three point buck,’’ he said.
He also had the honors of packing the quartered animal back to camp in the dark.
‘‘I let him carry the lion’s share of it,’’ Robert said.
Throughout the early part of the hunt, the group encountered various setbacks. They got waylaid by a storm and Joey got terribly sick from drinking unfiltered water from his canteen. Since Joey had been advised to drink plenty of water, he consumed large portions of it, in spite of its nasty taste.
Even though he was sick, Joey kept on hiking and hunting until he came across the deer that he wanted.
His father advised him not to shoot. ‘‘There’s a nicer one out there,’’ he said.
Joey came upon that ‘nicer’ deer after some more rigorous hiking up a ravine and up and down a ridge.
Joey calmly steadied his rifle and hit the animal with the first shot. However, he had to fire one more time in order to take him down.
‘‘I was so proud of myself,’’ Joey said.
‘‘It was pretty awesome,’’ said his dad.
Before they headed back to camp, Joey had to retrieve his backpack from a hill a mile back. The minute he reached the backpack, he opened his canteen and took a sip of water. Ugh. At that moment Joey realized that it was not fit for consumption.
Since Joey was a long way off from his kill, his dad got stuck with the job of packing the deer back to camp.
When Robert and Jake suggested that Joey’s second deer would score in the Safari Club International record book in the non-typical category (the antlers have additional points) he was skeptical.
‘‘For a Kodiak deer, it was really nice,’’ said Robert. ‘‘Usually horns here don’t get that big.’’
The men should know what it takes to score in the record book. In 2008 Robert’s deer registered No. 2 in the non-typical category. Jake’s deer from another hunt was rated No. 7.
The rating in Safari Club is determined by a formula based on the antler's size and number of points.
The Coyles have sent the numbers to Safari Club International and are awaiting the results.
Joey said his goal is to beat his dad’s No. 2 position. ‘‘I’m going to make him No. 3.’’
I don’t think Robert would mind if that happens. Dads like to see their sons beat their records, as long as they remember who helped them become good marksmen.
While hunting with his son, Robert recalled his own boyhood hunting experiences in Pennsylvania.
Since Robert grew up in the suburbs he couldn’t use firearms.
“We’d shoot squirrels and chipmunks with bow and arrow.’’
Robert was Joey’s age when he went on his first wilderness hunt on state game lands in Upstate Pennsylvania.
Robert said that, during their time together, he saw a lot of himself in his son.
‘‘The best thing about having him in camp was his positive attitude,’’ Robert said. ‘‘He always looks at things as the glass is half full.
‘‘Joey likes to hunt all day long. We’re constantly on the move, eight to nine hours a day, even longer when we packed in the dark.’’
He didn’t complain about the rigorous work, nor did he whine about the rain.
‘‘He asked if we could still go hunting. His only complaint was the water.’’
Joey came away from the trip with two sets of antlers (one set possibly for the records) and a confirmation that the best part of the hunt is the thrill of the chase.
But a successful hunt means a lot of hard work ahead. Packing out a deer is a lot harder than Joey had expected.
‘‘I’ve seen videos that Jake made of dad doing the packing. They made it look easy.’’
Some of the loads Joey carried were close to his own body weight.
Now that he’s weathered some of Kodiak’s fall storms, Joey is confident that he’s got more wilderness savvy.
‘‘If we ever get into a survival situation, like out on the boat or maybe on Long Island, I have a better understanding of what to do,’’ he said.
If there is a sour taste in Joey’s mouth from his adventure, it comes from the bad water.
‘‘If we go next year, I’ll be filtering my own water,’’ he said.