BY: Dominic Sabatina
Every weekend for the first six years of my life was spent with my grandparents. On the weekends that my father’s parents would come to visit I was always excited because I knew that those weekends meant two things; Saturday Fishing at the local pond with Grandpa Max, ice cream following and Church on Sunday followed by our traditional Italian feast! When I was just seven years old my Parents moved from great state of Ohio to “the valley of the sun”, Peoria Arizona. After moving across the country the traditional weekends went away. Well, at least the fishing and ice cream did. My Father ALWAYS worked hard and did not have the time to be an avid outdoors-man like Grandpa Max was.
Throughout my childhood and teen aged years I was only able to visit my grandparents twice, once at age 10 and once at the age of 18. During the last trip I found out that my Grandpa Max was a World War Two Veteran of the 244th Field Artillery Battalion in Patton's Third Army. His battalion earned 5 battle participation stars for Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe. He was at the Battle of the Bulge. He was a walking piece of American history!
I was about to start a military career, following in his footsteps, and didn't even know it. This was also probably the last time I would see my grandmother, Elizabeth. She suffered from Alzheimer's disease and unfortunately passed away during my first year in the Navy. When I retired from the Navy I knew it was my time to get back some of what I lost during my younger years. I made regular trips from my home in Illinois to Ohio to visit my grandfather who was still alive at the age of 98.
During my time in the Navy I became a fisherman and developed a true passion for bow hunting. Over the years, when I had time away from the Navy, I would trek out to the woods, climb a tree, hope for the best and I got lucky a few times. I have harvested five black tailed deer in Washington State, A mule deer and antelope in Wyoming and in my new home in Illinois, two white tailed deer. All of these deer have been harvested with arrows that I have built myself and part of the process for me is a sentimental one. Each year I place the initials of the people I care about (family and old hunting buddies) on one of the fletchings on each of the arrows in my quiver. This gives me the feeling that I am not alone, and that I have part of them with me on every hunt. While I am out there alone, braving the elements in hopes of getting the opportunity of a lifetime, I pull an arrow from my quiver and dedicate that hunt to them. Just for old times’ sake.
The last week of September in 2013 finally came after a long off season of checking camera footage, picking spots and hanging sets. The opener (October 1st) was getting close and my level of excitement was quickly rising. On September 29th I received a phone call from one of my older sisters. Accompanying that call was the worst news I had heard all year. My Beloved Grandpa Max, WWII walking piece of American History and the last of that generation in our family had passed away due to natural causes at the age of 98. I was crushed. My father no longer had living parents and I was not able to get back near the amount of time with my Grandpa as I wanted.
All of this still fresh in my mind, October 1st came and I was in the stand, but my mind wasn't. My mind was on an upcoming road trip with my father. Once again, October 3rd came and I was in the stand but my mind was not there. That was my last hunt before the road trip. My Father and I were driving to Ohio to pay respects to the man that, through God, gave us life.
On October 5th 2013, my father's 65th birthday, we said our last “see ya later” and we buried Grandpa Max.
I came home from that trip and I didn't hunt for two weeks. I decided that my next hunt would be the evening of October 24th.
The evening prior, I was preparing for the next day's hunt and talking with my wife Tiffani. I was checking off all of my gear and making sure I had everything ready to go as I was headed to the farm right after work the next day. Tiffani wished me luck as she always does and said to me, “maybe Grandpa Max will put your big buck in front of you”.
Now, I have been chasing this certain “Big Buck” since he was 4. He is now 7 and boy is he a dandy! I kind of chuckled at the thought and then it hit me. I looked over at my quiver and noticed that not one of my arrows had initials on them. I looked at Tiffani and said “I know why I have not harvested a deer yet this year”. She asked me why and I said to her, “I forgot to initial my arrows. With everything that has happened here lately, I guess I just wasn't thinking about it”.
I grabbed a sharpie and started from the end. When I got to the number one arrow in my quiver I looked up at Tiffani. She was waiting there to see how long it was going to take me to write my grandpa's initials on an arrow. I said to her, “My grandpa gets my number arrow this year”. M.S. (Matthew Sabatina) got placed on the fetching of my number one arrow.
The next day was a great day all around. Everything when smooth, not one ounce of anything negative happened that day. I just didn't know why but it was probably one of the best days I had at work and when work was over I headed to the farm. I made it to the blind, set up my Boss Buck Decoy and settled down in the blind for a good evening of hunting.
I pulled an old trusty Carbon-Tech Whitetail arrow with a G5 T3 expandable broad head from my quiver and knocked it on the string of my Strother Infinity. I pulled my Flex Tone Bone Collector Series call from my pack and started calling. I am sitting on a Red Head Blackout 360 degree swivel chair leaned back, bow laying against my chest; call in my shooting hand and my other on the bow grip. I looked out to the sky and said “Grandpa, Please give me a sign that you are watching over me right now, please let me harvest a deer today”.
My cell phone vibrated, so I picked it up with my grip hand and answered the text from a buddy asking if I had seen anything yet. I finished answering his question with a “no”. I pressed the send button on my phone and when I looked up there was a buck standing 20 yards away from the blind in the biggest shooting lane I had made. He was not the dandy that I was hoping to see but it was the first one of the year. Time at this point seemed like it was moving in slow motion. The buck was standing there glaring at my Boss Buck Decoy. My phone and Flex Tone (which were still in my hands) slowly and silently found their way to the dirt. Grip hand on the bow, release connected to the D-Loop, I slowly sat up. I remember thinking,”I can't believe he is still just standing there”.
I came to full draw and anchored the string. While looking though the peep and orienting my 20 yard pin over his vitals he put his nose to the ground and started to move down wind of the decoy. Since I practice scent free odor control and invested in “Ever Calm” from Bass Pro Shops, all he was going to smell was another deer. He only took two steps with his nose to the ground and he stopped, picked his head up and glared at my decoy again. My finger was resting on the trigger and with just a little more back tension my release opened.
The arrow left my bow traveling 288 Feet per second. When it hit the G5 opened up and the arrow made a clean pass through the deer punching a hole directly through the center of the heart. I could not have asked for a better shot. The deer traveled 10 yards and fell over dead right in front of the blind. I exploded with excitement! I reached for another arrow and as I did I noticed that it was my grandpa's arrow that passed through the deer. My emotions overwhelmed me and all I could do at that point, with tears streaming from eyes, was look up to the sky and say,”I love you! I love you! I love you! Thank you Grandpa for watching over me and giving me a sign that you were here with me!
The first thing I did was call my Father to tell him what happened. He simply said to me,” Your Grandpa was there with you and he guided that arrow”.
In honor of that experience I decided that I was going to complete an antler mount dedicated to my Grandpa Max. Here it is. Thank You Grandpa for all of the Wonderful memories. You'll never be forgotten.