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Uncle Elvin: Thank You for the Gift of Hunting


Outdoor Columnist Ben Smith recalls the special bond with his uncle created when he killed his first deer while sitting in his uncle’s lap up against a big oak tree one chilly morning.

The first week of the year is usually reserved for my recap of the previous year. Unfortunately, that will have to wait another week. Something bigger, more important, has happened. Depending on how long you’ve been reading my columns, you might have read where I’ve talked about my “hunting roots.” I’ve tried to make sure I gave credit where credit was due with everyone that’s contributed to my love of the outdoors. That said, I attribute my first real love of hunting to time spent with my great Uncle Elvin. This is for him.

I received the phone call learning of Uncle Elvin’s passing the other day and oddly enough, all I could do after hanging up was smile. Before you go thinking I’m twisted, my smile was due to the memories that we’d shared. I’m not naïve enough to think that any of us will live forever, even though Uncle Elvin was on track (he was 93). I do, however, believe in living a life that’s worth living and he did just that.

As I’ve written before, Uncle Elvin was an avid outdoorsman. As a kid, and still to this day, I loved walking into he and Aunt Mary’s house. There are so many sets of antlers tacked to the wall in the living room. It’s enough to make the folks at Bass Pro Shop jealous. And they aren’t small racks. They are pretty much all of substantial size, especially considering that most of them were killed in Smith County through the years. I’d venture to say that there is nobody in Smith County that’s killed as many trophy bucks as Uncle Elvin. 

If I’m not mistaken, he even held the record for the largest deer killed in Smith County for a while, a buck he killed right behind the house. It’s one of several memories that I’ll never forget. My grandmother, who passed in 2022, lived next door to Uncle Elvin (they were siblings) and I was staying there to hunt for the week. Uncle Elvin called one of those evenings and said he’d shot at a pretty good buck but didn’t find blood. I offered to go help him look for it, but he said he wanted to wait until the next morning. The next morning came, and the bed was a little too cozy for me to leave, so I slept in. I was suddenly awakened by Uncle Elvin telling me that he’d found his deer. When I asked him how big it was, he just grinned and said, “10 points…on one side.”

We had a special bond. One that was created when I was only 11-12 years old. If you’re a hunter, you never forget your first deer. I killed my first deer sitting in his lap up against a big oak tree one chilly morning. I’d already missed one earlier in the morning from a ladder stand. He came and got me and wanted to walk further down the river and sit a few minutes. We hadn’t been sitting there more than ten minutes when that unfortunate deer walked by. I’ve killed dozens of deer since then, but not even the best bucks top that moment. At the time, I never knew just how special of a moment that was. Uncle Elvin, on the other hand, definitely knew. I can still see the happiness all over his face when I looked up at him. I believe he was as excited as I was…maybe more. 

Uncle Elvin was an old school hunter, groomed during a time period in Mississippi when there wasn’t the abundance of deer that there are now. That said, you’d better not shoot a doe. I’d often use his skinning rack behind the house to clean my deer, but one particular time I decided not to. I’d killed a doe that morning and figured it best to clean it on the tailgate of my truck rather than draw the ire of Uncle Elvin. He probably wouldn’t have said anything about it, but I never wanted to disappoint him, even if I didn’t always agree with his methods. Later in life he changed his tune on shooting does, but one thing I don’t ever remember him changing was the fact that he wouldn’t hunt on Sunday.

Uncle Elvin wasn’t just a whitetail deer hunter. If you’ve ever walked into the house you can’t help but notice the giant Elk that he killed in Colorado mounted next to the front door. Heck, it almost takes up the entire wall! He loved to fish and hunt other things, like turkeys and rabbits. Not only did I kill my first deer with Uncle Elvin, but I killed my first rabbit with him, too. As the years passed, he loved telling the story of that rabbit. I was standing on a stump in a briar thicket, no more than ten years old, with a twenty gauge shotgun. The dogs weren’t anywhere close to where I was, but a rabbit hopped out about ten feet from me. I absolutely obliterated it with that shotgun. When he’d tell the story, he’d crack a big smile when he talked about how I destroyed it beyond being edible.

The years passed and we all got older. I went off to college, got married, and started a family. During that time, I didn’t talk with Uncle Elvin as much as I used to. If he saw my vehicle at Grandma’s house, he’d ride his bicycle down to say hello. But, when my oldest daughter killed her first deer, I made sure Uncle Elvin knew about it. We told him the story of how it happened and of how I was as excited as she was. He just grinned. He knew what I felt in that moment because he’d felt it before with me.

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