Just months shy of 90th birthday, hunter bags first deer

| November 17, 2010 | 0 Comments

Ray Hrbacek, right, celebrates his first whitetail deer with guide Dick Nordling at Camp Ripley near Little Falls. Photo by Paul Hrbacek

One of my finest moments in the great outdoors actually took place indoors.

I had no plans to spend time outside Oct. 7, other than heading to my office. However, during a brief time of prayer before leaving, my thoughts drifted to a scene unfolding in the woods about 100 miles away, near Little Falls.

At Camp Ripley, a large military base where training exercises take place all year, an aging World War II veteran was bran­dishing one of the lightest weapons used on these grounds — a 12-gauge shotgun.

My father, Ray Hrbacek, was making his first trip to the wooded compound. His name was drawn in a lottery to participate in a special deer hunt for disabled war veterans. At the age of 89, he was hoping to do for the first time what most hunters accomplish when they’re much younger — bag his first whitetail.

The possibility of this remarkable feat danced in my head as I read the Gospel passage for that day, Luke 11:5-13. It was about 8:20 a.m. when I began to reflect on these verses, in which Jesus tells his disciples, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Urgent request to heaven

Instantly, I decided to apply that exhortation and ask God to bring a deer to my dad. This was the last day of the hunt. No one in our family, including Dad, knew if he would ever try again.

So, with a sense of urgency, I went from asking to pleading.

But, here’s the tricky part of following Jesus’ directive: he never says that you will get what you ask for. Only that you will receive. This is the stumbling block for me — often, I am only interested in receiving the thing I specifically ask for. If I don’t get it, I end up feeling disappointed.

As I’ve gotten older (and, hopefully, more mature in my spiritual life), I have realized that there is much more to this passage than either getting, or not getting, what you want. In this case, for example, I know that my dad was already getting the enjoyment of being in the woods, and spending time with my brother, Paul, who went with him.

Plus, there was the time I had spent with him getting ready for the hunt, which included sighting in my shotgun and letting him practice with it left handed (he can no longer shoot right handed because of failing eyesight). I also took him to Clearwater for his hunt orientation. Though I didn’t pick him up until 9:30 a.m., he got up at 6. That’s how excited he was for the hunt.

Yet, despite all of these blessings, I still wanted him to put the icing on the cake and finally tag his first deer. He has shared in the success of his three deer-hunting sons over the years. Now, I figured, it was his turn.

An answer to prayer

Only about 10 minutes after finishing my prayer, my dad was sitting vigilantly in the blind, scanning the woods in front of him for deer. My brother was facing in the opposite direction in a blind set up behind the one dad shared with his guide for the hunt, Dick Nordling. Paul spotted a deer feeding in a field. He scratched Dick’s blind, using the agreed-upon signal.

But, there was a problem — Dick and Dad were busy watching a doe in front of the blind. Paul’s scratching only distracted them and alerted the doe. Eventually, it continued feeding, turned and walked away.

Dad thought he might be losing his chance. Meanwhile, Dick wondered if Dad could make a good shot after watching Dad the previous day fail to see a deer only 25 yards from the blind. The deer they were now watching was facing almost completely away, offering no clean shot.

Perhaps — though I’ll never know for sure — this is where my prayer came in. Almost magically, the deer started turning broadside. Dick gave him the green light to shoot, and Dad pulled the trigger.

A possible record

Instantly, the deer ran off. Dad thought he had missed. I can’t blame him for being pessimistic. Decades of futility would do that to just about anyone.

Dick, an experienced hunter, was not fooled, however. He saw the deer react and knew Dad’s shotgun slug had found its mark. The doe fell after running only 20 yards, and history was made.

All of this proves — in my mind, at least — that the fifth chapter of Luke’s Gospel can be applied to deer hunting.

Now, Lord, about that 12-point buck I would like to see on my next deer hunt. . . .

Dave Hrbacek is a staff photographer at The Catholic Spirit. Visit his Faith Outdoors blog at http://Community.TheCatholicSpirit.com/FaithOutdoors.

Tags: ,

Category: The Outdoors