Passing the Torch

By Walt Holmes
Utah, 2009, DIY, Public Land
Passing the TorchFeb/Mar 2011 EHJ (Issue 123) - As I centered the buck in the viewfinder, I knew that a family tradition would soon be passed down from a grandfather to his grandson, and I would be capturing it all on film. Once I hit the record button and made sure everything was perfect, I looked down at my son so I could see his reaction to the event that was unfolding right before us. You could see the excitement in his little body as he stared across the draw at the buck. At this point I knew that the love of hunting was indeed an inherited trait. Watching him shake with anticipation reminded me of a time so many years ago, within a couple miles of where we were standing, that I was shaking the same way. That was when I chose to make hunting part of my life. However, this story is not about my son or me, it’s about the man who inspired our love of the outdoors - my father, Walt Holmes.

This hunt was going to be very special for our family and many friends. It was only three years ago that my dad was diagnosed with stage-four kidney cancer and was given 6-12 months to live. He has courageously beaten those odds, but it has changed my entire outlook not only on hunting, but also life itself. One thing I have learned is to spend as much time together as you can. Most importantly, I learned that harvesting the biggest animal on the mountain can never overshadow the experience shared with family and friends.

While I was out of town for work, my dad was able to locate a couple of good bucks. Since I was gone, he had to prepare the hunting camp for more than a dozen family and friends.

We were heading out to hunt, and as we came around a corner, my dad spotted a big buck 30 yards away in the cedars. He just stood there, thinking he was hidden. My son, Bridger, had my camera and started taking pictures while I struggled to get out my video camera. As the buck turned, we saw that he had only three points on one side. Too dark to see anymore, we headed back to camp.

The biggest challenge for my dad on this hunt was that he couldn’t walk very far due to his condition. Due to this, we tried when possible to increase his odds by using a Rhino to help him get around.

After a quick equipment check, we headed out and started spotting deer right away. Nothing we saw really excited us, so we decided to check out a buck that Travis had spotted. The buck had moved up the draw he was glassing, so we decided to go higher up on the mountain and look back down into the draw from a different angle. We found him right away - a decent 25-inch buck with a small inline extra on his right side, but still not quite what we were looking for. We went back to camp, had lunch, and made plans for the evening hunt.

That evening, we continued looking in the same area where we figured the big bucks were living. We started heading up another canyon and ran into a gentleman and his son coming out of the canyon. He stopped and told us there was a large buck higher in the canyon.

After heading up the canyon, we spotted the 3x4 we had seen the night before. My dad looked at him for a few minutes and then told me he wanted to take this buck. Needless to say, my son got very excited. I told my dad to let me get the camera out. Just as my dad was getting ready to pull the trigger, the buck stepped behind a cedar tree. It took a few minutes for him to come out from behind the cedar and by then, the light had faded and you could barely see him. We knew it was too dark to take the shot, so we watched him feed across the hill as last light faded.

I’ll never forget the look of disappointment on my son’s face afterward. I asked him what was wrong and he couldn’t believe grandpa didn’t shoot that buck. He was also worried that if we kept passing bucks, he wouldn’t get to see grandpa kill a buck. After arriving back at camp, we ate a great dinner and made plans for the next day. No one had seen anything worth getting excited about, so we decided to stick to our game plan. After a pretty eventful day of seeing 30 or so bucks, we all turned in to get some sleep.

Walt Holmes

For a full account of Walt's adventure, go to page 44 in the February/March 2011 issue of Eastmans' Hunting Journal.