Monday, December 13, 2010 Updated: December 14, 11:16 AM ET
Passing buck fever
By Mike Suchan ESPNOutdoors.com
Editor's note: To accompany Deer Camp 2010, we've asked athletes, prominent figures and outdoorsmen to relate their first deer kill.
A bow. Snow. A running deer. A clean hit. Dropped on the spot.
What would you expect from Kevin VanDam's first hunt?
Kevin VanDam with his big Kansas buck.
The Kalamazoo Kid, who's taken over the Bassmaster Elite Series with his golden touch, had a similar First in the Field. Since that first deer, KVD has had notable success deer hunting and enjoys imparting his knowledge to his sons, Jackson and Nicholas.
The twins scored their first deer last season at 12, the legal age to hunt in Michigan with a bow. Both have a deer this season and will be going out for their second.
VanDam began hunting when he was 12, but didn't have the quick success like his sons, most likely because of his high expectations.
"I was just adamant that I was going to shoot nothing but a buck," he said. "For the first few years, I missed a few and had a few opportunities."
He also passed on some does he could have shot, waiting for his buck. After those first hunts were fruitless, he lowered his expectations.
"I finally said I need to just try to get one underneath my belt," he said. "It was late season. It was in December, and we had a lot of snow. It was deep snow. There was one main big trail where a lot of deer were heading to this corn field to feed in the evening, and I had a stand right there underneath it.
"So I got there and this deer comes down this trial. I think it saw me up there in the tree when it was about 60 yards away, but it was so focused that it wanted to go to that field that it decided it was coming.
"It was a little nervous so as it was getting ready to come it started to trot. A lot of times they just get excited before they get there and they'll run the last 100 yards to get in the field."
"So I drew back and this deer was coming, and I didn't care if it was doe, buck, whatever, I was just gonna get this deer. And it come running down the trail and I was at full draw and I just put the pin kind of right on it and shot it. I ended up shooting it right in the neck."
VanDam admits it was more of a trot than a full-out run, but he hit a moving target for his first deer. He said he would never take that shot today.
"At that time, I was just bound and determined I was going to get that deer, and it just dropped instantly right there underneath me," he said. "So I was really excited to be able to get that first one."
VanDam has gone on to rather prodigious deer hunting career, traveling to far flung places pursuing whitetail. He recently returned from Kansas, where he took his largest buck several years ago, but didn't even take a shot this time. Not that he didn't have any.
Jackson VanDam killed his with a bow this year.
"I could have shot some good ones. I passed up a deer that was probably right at 160," he said, trying to surpass his best of 173 inches. "You know there's 180s, 190s around."
Yet he said it was an enjoyable hunt.
"It was one of the best hunts I've been on, and I didn't even shoot a deer," he said. "I saw a lot of nice deer and a lot of interactions ... Bucks fighting, chasing does. There were three bucks after one doe, sizing each other up."
Lately, VanDam has been getting his sons involved in deer hunting, and that's helped refocus his energy.
"I've been hunting so long, with so much intensity that the entrance of my sons Nicholas and Jackson into the sport probably saved me from burnout, or at least returned me full circle to the fun side of deer hunting again. I absolutely love teaching them about deer behavior, body language and the daily habits of deer," he told BASS Insider.
Nicholas VanDam with his buck.
VanDam can walk out of his home in Kalamazoo right into the deer woods. It's a year-round deal for him as he plants food plots, scouts, sets out game cameras, the whole nine yards.
Both boys scored small bucks this year, and since Michigan requires a second deer to have 8 points or more, they've had to pass on several opportunities.
"The hard thing at home is juggling the weather, school and homework. We've been out quite a few times, but we are not done, for sure," VanDam said. "We'll be getting out some more. We definitely want to fill the freezer."
Last year, both VanDam boys killed their first deer, each bringing in a buck and doe.
A little sibling rivalry reared its head when Jackson got his first and Nicholas missed one before redeeming himself the next day.
"There was definitely some smack talk going on, but they also root for each other," VanDam said. "Their hunting career is just starting.
"You always remember that first one. I've been doing it ever since pretty fanatically and travel around a lot to some good places, and I've shot a lot of nice deer since then, but that first one -- you always remember that first one."