Dedicated to ~~~Zac McAmis 7/22/95-6/6/09~~~Where does this story start? Does it start with his first time in the deer woods at the age of three? Or does it start with
his first deer? Or maybe it starts when he killed the deer he had been watching all summer long, “Split” as he called him.
I guess it starts in the beginning. Zac, as we called him was born 2 months early, and with a bad valve in his heart. Zac was not supposed to make it through the first night. But he was my son and he was going to be a fighter. Zac did make it through the first night. After 7 weeks in neonatal ICU, Zac got to come home. Pale blue skin and no energy, Zac had a tough row to hoe. His mother and I were up with him nearly around the clock. When he did sleep, it was on my chest. Zac got stronger but he still had a bad valve in his heart. At 3 months of age, Zac had a major heart surgery. At best, he would have a pacemaker. He would never run and play like the other kids. He would never see the deer woods from a deer stand. Again, Zac beat the odds! Not only did he survive the heart surgery, but he also came through it without a pacemaker.
My son was a fighter. With this new found hope came much joy and happiness. Zac was bouncing off the walls. Every visit to the cardiologist ended with a great report. I began to take Zac out in the woods with me for walks. By age three, Zac and I were in the woods holding hands. Zac loved every bird, squirrel, and critter he seen. Early one September, morning I woke up at 5am to head out to the deer stand, bow in hand. Zac must have heard me moving around. Zac woke up and began yelling for me from my bed. That’s where he slept. I went in the room to calm him and he just kept saying “daddy I go wish you” I would say no and he would say it again. Finally, he broke me. I bundled him up and grabbed the baby pack. You know the one. Moms walk around in the grocery store with the baby strapped to them. Yeah that one. I was going to hunt my favorite stand, way up in the cottonwood tree, but Zac changed those plans. So we walked into the ladder stand at the edge of a cornfield. I thought this is going to be an adventure. I kept telling him we had to be quiet, I would whisper in his ear to keep him content. Zac did great, several does came within bow range and we never were picked off. For the next 3 years I didn’t have much success, I had my little sidekick in the stand with me every time. But man was it awesome.
Zac began shooting the .22 at age five. He was a great shot too. He wanted to shoot a deer though. I guess the squirrels weren’t doing the job anymore. At age 6, I let him shoot the .243. He did great. The following September I bought a deer tag with his name on it. I made a blind out of an old windmill and we climbed up and sat. 30 minutes later a 7-point buck made his way out of the tree line. I whispered to Zac “Do you want to take him?” He said “OH yeah daddy.” With Zac sitting on my knee, he took aim. But he hit his gun on the metal ladder. The deer 85 yards away picked us off. The deer started stomping and bobbing his head and he was going to bolt. I told Zac “You’re going to have to shoot buddy. Get on him and squeeze.” Zac said, “Well if you would quit breathing so hard I would” So I held my breath Zac steadied the rifle and squeezed off a round. Smack!! Zac put the whompooie on the deer. His hands flew in the air and he said, “I told you I was big enough to shoot a deer.” Together we bowed our heads, said a prayer of thanks, and climbed from the windmill. We walked to the deer and Zac put his hands on his first set of antlers. A love affair started between a boy and those deer.
For the next 6 years, Zac and I hunted together. We harvested countless deer and turkey. We called coyotes and hunted pheasant. Zac was in love with the outdoors. If you talked to Zac, it had better be about hunting or he wasn’t talking. At age 12, I bought Zac his first compound bow. He would take that bow out in the yard and shoot for hours. Heck he could shoot as good as me. Zac had a new goal; he wanted to harvest a deer with his bow. And harvest deer he did. That winter he shot three does with that bow. His passion for hunting was unreal. When he decided to do something, he conquered it.
That summer we began running trail cameras in our favorite hunting spots and Zac fell in love with a deer he called Split. He swore he was going to get that deer mounted on his wall. When September rolled around Zac was ready. ZacZac laid the rifle across a tree branch and squeezed off a round (MISS). Split took off and ran to the other side of the state. Zac was heart broke. The deer he’d been praying for was gone. Zac was quiet that night. I tried to comfort him but he was struggling. The next day we climbed up in a tree at the edge of a CRP where Split ran the day before. About an hour after getting into stand, the wind came up. It must have been 20 to 30 mph. That’s one thing about living in Kansas you had better be able to adjust to the wind. With the wind about to blow us out of the tree we decided to get down and tuck into the CRP grass at the edge of the bean field. After what seemed like forever and no deer in sight, I slowly stood up and scanned the grass. There he is Split and he is going to come out in the bean. I sank down and whispered to Zac “big deer coming” Zac asked, “is it Split”? I told him I thought it was and he is only 35 yards away. After 30 minutes and no deer, I wondered had I blown it for him. Had I scared his deer off? I slowly stood up and looked over the grass again, no Split.
Wait what’s that? It’s him!! I sank back to the ground and whisper to Zac get your rifle up Split is about to step out. Zac raised his gun and Split stepped out 40 yards away. Zac centered the cross hairs and squeezed off a round. The bullet found its mark this time, Split was going down. Zac laid his rifle on the ground and threw his arms around me. “We did it daddy we did it!!” We said our prayer of thank and went and found Split. Zac sat on Split’s back and held his horns. With tears in my eyes, I snapped a few photos and gave my little man a hug. Zac said to me “Daddy that’s my first dream come true.” Zac made a statement that shocked me, he said daddy “before I die I wanted to kill Split, kill 2 turkeys with 1 shot and catch a 50lbs catfish”
The following April Zac and I were out turkey hunting. I was 50 yards behind Zac calling in a couple toms. Zac drew his bow and let an arrow fly. Zac stood up and ran to the flopping turkey. I stood up and walked to Zac and there were two flopping turkey. One Month later, while fishing a local river Zac caught his 50lbs catfish. All his wishes came true.
3 days later, on 6/6/09 while fishing a creek bank, Zac’s heart quit beating. My little man was gone. I had so much left to teach him. So much left to do. Who would I hunt with now? Who would I share my stands with? I was broken. The answer came the following September when a friend of mine asked me if I would take his son Kiel out to kill a deer. I would have said no but Kiel was Zac’s best friend. The next day Jim, Kiel, and I headed out to the deer blind and Kiel shot his first big buck. I had my answers. Zac’s legacy would live on. There are young people all over who need good mentors. So for me THE HUNT IS NOT OVER!! It is only the beginning for as many young people as I can find who want to see life from the deer woods.
Written By Phil McAmis