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A Hunter Goes Home

SilhouetteYesterday's headline in the Virginian-Pilot read, "Truck hits, kills worker at terminal in Norfolk." On the surface it looked like just another report on the randomly unlucky who fill the pages with their near-anonymous tragedies on a daily basis.

But it isn't. In fact none of them are, for every person, every loss, touches somebody in a way that will transform lives forever. I realize this, because the unnamed victim in this story was Drew Richardson, a young man I grew up with hunting. He and his father shared my room at the United Hunt Club in Southampton County, Va., where we hunted for many years. I got the tragic news, relayed to me by phone by my 7-year-old, while I was sitting on the tarmac in a plane in Minneapolis, heading home after an unsuccessful deer hunt up North.

The news struck me with extreme sadness, the type reserved for people who still should have had a lot of life ahead of them. Drew was one of these people. He was only 29, married and a father of two small children and I knew his immediate and extended families were reeling from the crushing news. I can't imagine what they are going through.

One of my fondest memories of Drew took place about nine or 10 years ago this month. It was the opening week of deer season and on a bright, sunny day, the few of us who had taken the whole week off from work or school decided to do a few short drives in a grown-over clearcut. I was working my way through a tangle of brush when a deer exploded from the cover ahead of me. I couldn't tell exactly what it was, but I shouted to Drew that a deer was headed his way. About that time, several shots from his shotgun rang out. I was hopeful.

Finally making my way to the young hunter, he stood there almost speechless, a look of shock in his eyes. He looked like he had seen a ghost. It had been the biggest buck he had ever a seen, a monster of a dreamer's proportions, and he had knocked it down with the buckshot, only to watch it get back up and run off. Drew's father, Dennis, and the rest of the hunters in our group gathered and began trailing.

"Don't worry," we told him. "We'll find that deer." The hunter was sick that we wouldn't. Almost near tears.

We tracked for an hour, leaving our property and heading onto the adjacent lease. Somebody ran to confirm it was okay to continue the pursuit from the leaseholder, while the rest of us doggedly sought out the now-tiny flecks of blood scattered along a deer trail through a thick reed bed.

Suddenly, the buck exploded from hiding ahead of us, my only glimpse of the monster coming over the guy's shoulders in front of me. At that time, it was truly the biggest buck I had ever seen. In the narrow deer trail ahead, I could see only antlers dashing away. Drew hadn't been exaggerating the size of the buck and confirmation of that steeled the rest of us to the pursuit. Hours later, though, the trail was lost. We eventually had to give up the search. We never found the buck. And everyone involved felt sickened, but none as badly as Drew.

Drew recovered from the loss and moved on as any good hunter does. As any hunter must. But I don't think he ever forgot the image of that deer running past his stand. I know I will never forget that day of hope, of loss and of comradery among the searchers, nor how one young man bravely shouldered the responsibility of his actions and kept right on in the effort to finish what he had started, imploring us to keep looking when everyone knew it was a lost cause.

Now, this weekend, as the Virginia firearms deer season opens, a time when every hunter should be rejoicing in another season, many of Drew's friends will be saying a final good-bye. No doubt the thought of his children growing up and never really getting to know their father will be first and foremost on everyone's mind. There is no sadder thought. But I'm also sure that as they grow, their mother and grandparents will remind them that their Dad was a good kid.

I also like to think that entering into the hereafter is a little like Corey Ford's famous short story, "The Road to Tinkhamtown," where a dying hunter joins his birddog and leaves this life into the world of one last, great successful hunt. It's one of the best stories I've ever read.

As such I picture Drew head deep in reeds, tracking that monster buck of long ago, but this time he pushes through the wall of grass and reaches down with a joyous cry and grabs the heavy beams of the rack in his two hands. I see him kneeling there and smiling, that big, wide grin that was always on his face (I wish I had a picture to share right now). Yes, that's how I'll picture Drew--finally finding his buck, finally going home to a place where all hunts end as they should and no sadness is ever known.



Sorry for your loss. He sounded like a good guy, but for some reason things happen to the best people.


A touching story. My condolences to his loved ones.

I believe that the most important thing in hunting is not the hunt itself but, in the comraderie you share while doing it. It's nice to have the fond memories of such hunts as you have just described. These we carry with us forever.


I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. I've known the same, and the shared loss of deer we thought were down, too. I hope that all of Drew's friends will take his kids hunting and fishing for him, teaching them the love and values we hold so dear. Make them your kids now, so that his parting is not in vain. Our thoughts and prayers-A fellow Virginian

norm, michigan

Chad said best, now when you go back to your hunting camp next year don't forget to take a picture of him with you. Remeber he will always be there with you guys hunting just as he did the years gone by. And maybe say drew let me know when that big ones coming in so WE can shoot and track him together