When I write about pretty much any type of hunting, I have at least one memory that involves my friend Thomas.
Thomas and I met when I was in high school and he was in middle school. We went to the rival schools of Odessa-Montour and Watkins Glen, but we had something in common. We both were getting into hunting in a nontraditional way of being mentored by someone who was not our parent. My dad passed away when I was 13, the same week that I took Hunter Education. Thomas’s dad was a farmer who did not hunt.
I had bounced around with a few people who took me hunting once or twice but not in a true mentorship. I ended up starting to hunt waterfowl with a classmate and when deer season came, he got me an invite to hunt with Mike at the winery. Since then, I have waterfowl, deer, and turkey hunted under Mike’s watch. When Mike was scouting for a place to goose hunt, he found a bunch of geese feeding in a field. When he asked for permission to hunt the field, the owner said yes but Mike had to take the owner’s son with him because he was interested in hunting, but the owner did not hunt.
Thomas’s dad was the landowner. After that, Thomas would only waterfowl hunt with us because he was not old enough to deer hunt yet. After a few years, Thomas finally turned 16 and could join us during regular firearms season. The three of us continued to hunt together for the past 13-14 years when we could. In that timeframe, there have been plenty of memorable moments that will stick with me forever.
Last year I wrote an article about the “kill kit” that Mike gifted to Thomas. The quick version is that Thomas offered to help dress a deer out after someone shot two deer on a drive to make it quicker, only to realize he never put his field dresser equipment in his vest that morning. For Christmas that year, Mike gave Thomas a small pouch to put in his vest that housed gloves, zip ties, pens, and his knife. It was termed the “kill kit.” A few years ago, I gifted a similar kill kit to my brother-in-law.
In 2018 I went to the winery to do deer drives with Mike and Thomas. I had already shot three deer up to that point that fall but Thomas had not shot one yet, so I wanted to help him out. Mike was the first driver while Thomas and I sat on opposite sides of a creek bottom. A doe came out right to Thomas and he made an excellent shot.
I was the second driver and deer came out to both Mike and Thomas. Thomas shot another doe and as we were talking as he dressed it, Mike offered to be the driver on the last drive. Thomas said no and insisted that he walk it since he had shot two deer that day. Mike and I got to our stands and waited for Thomas to come to us. After a minute or two I hear the familiar “MRAP” of someone trying to get a deer to stop from Mike’s direction. POW! A couple deer take off behind him.
Another minute later, a pile of deer come out in front of me. One after another after another. There ended up being seven deer within 50 yards of me.
I had 2 doe tags for that WMU so I picked a big doe out, put the crosshairs of my scope behind her shoulder, and pulled the trigger. They all took off, but I knew she was not going far. Thomas finally emerged and we all went to track the deer Mike and I had shot. We made it around the bend of the hill to the creek and found both deer had fallen into the creek, with one of them at the bottom of a 20-foot waterfall.
It took Thomas and I all we had to get that deer back up and around the waterfall. He would lift the drag rope so I could scramble two feet higher, then I would take the rope so he could scramble. After a lot of sweat, we got the deer up and dragged it out to the road. It was not even noon and we had 5 deer in the back of the truck. It is a day that I will never forget.
Last month, Mike called me on a Saturday afternoon. When I answered the phone, I knew that something was up. Mike told me to sit down. He was choking up as he told me that early Saturday morning Thomas was in a car accident and he passed away at the scene.
I still cannot describe what I felt when my brain finally put the words together. Every day I think about Thomas and all the good times we had together over the years. Gone too soon is not an understatement.