Family rifle bags another hunter's first
Crouched over the carcass of his first deer, 14-year-old Eli Bone pumped his fist and exclaimed, "The legacy is complete!"
With one shot from a 49-year-old rifle, the St. Albans youngster became the last of his generation to kill a deer with what could be described as "the family deer slayer."
Eli's grandfather, Ted Bone, purchased the .30-06 caliber Remington 742 in 1962, and killed his first deer with it shortly afterward.
When Ted's sons John and Jim became old enough to hunt, Ted established a family tradition: He would loan the rifle to each sibling, and as soon as one killed his first deer he would pass the gun to the other and buy a rifle of his own.
John and Jim killed their deer, bought their rifles, and sent the Remington back into retirement.
When John's three sons approached deer-hunting age, he passed the tradition along to them. Ben, the oldest, took his first whitetail with the rifle when he was 14. Caleb was also 14 when he downed his first deer.
But Eli, the youngest, showed little interest in hunting.
"He squirrel hunted a little bit last season, but didn't kill any," John said. "He told me that hunting 'just wasn't his thing right now.' I kept asking him if he'd like to go with me and the other boys, but he said no, and finally he told me to quit asking."
Imagine John's surprise, then, when he received a text message from Eli just three days before this year's Nov. 21 buck-season opener.
"He shot me a text asking if he could go hunting with us on Monday," John said. "I sent him a text that said, 'Come ahead, baby!'"
Eli had never shot a high-powered rifle, so John took him out to get him sighted in. Eli's first two shots from 50 yards cut the same hole in the target. John deemed him ready.
On opening morning, John and Eli set up their stand at John's favorite hunting spot - the exact spot where Ben and Caleb had killed their first deer.
The day dawned rainy and foggy, a miserable day even by seasoned hunters' standards. Shortly after daylight, a deer wandered within range of the stand, but brush and fog kept them from getting a shot.
"We sat there for a couple of hours, and then we heard Ben shoot," John said. "He called and told us he had shot at a big buck. We went over to try to find any sort of sign that he'd hit it, and we finally determined that he'd missed."
John and Eli headed back to their stand and ate lunch.
"I could tell Eli was starting to get frustrated, and we discussed going back to the truck. He said he could hang in a little longer, though, so we stayed there," John said.
"Shortly after that, I got a text message from Ben. It said a couple of does were headed our way, but they were on the bench behind the stand and out of our view. I told Eli we should move up the hill to try to cut them off."
As soon as the two hunters crested the bench, the does came out of the brush toward them. Eli raised his rifle, and the does froze.
"About the time I heard the safety click off, one of the does raised its tail and got ready to bolt," John said. "That's when Eli pulled the trigger."
The doe dropped in its tracks.
And now, said John, the old rifle will sit idle until the next generation of Bone offspring grows ready to hunt. Then the legacy, now complete, will continue.