This fall would have been Franklin Nauta’s first chance to hunt deer with his father, Dan, a moment for which the two had been preparing.
But while helping take down a tree July 6, Dan Nauta collapsed and could not be resuscitated.
He was 46 years old.
“He was gone before he hit the ground,” wife Cherié said. “It was a complete shock. I did CPR but he was already gone.”
The family awaits the autopsy to shed light on Dan’s death while Franklin, 9, decided to take part in the youth hunt weekend Sept. 19-20 to honor his father’s memory.
Turkey Creek Whitetails, a ranch in DeWitt, offered to host a hunt for Franklin after hearing of his loss.
The young hunter, with his brother Brad Benham, 23, by his side, had chosen to use a crossbow as he was tentative with his dad’s .30-.30, but after seeing a deer walk by out of range, he and Brad decided to switch weapons.
“We went back and got his dad’s .30-.30 and about 20 minutes later he put the smack down on it,” Brad said.
A family with deep roots in their faith, the brothers knelt down for a moment with God and the 8-point buck.
“Once the deer was down I put my hand on his dad’s gun and asked him if he wanted to pray and we prayed,” Brad said. “We thanked the deer, we thanked for success and God’s grace. It worked out well.”
Throughout the bittersweet moment, Franklin remained thankful of his father’s teachings.
“You’ve got to be quiet and try not to make any noise,” Franklin said, recalling long-taught tips. “Another thing he taught me was not to put the scope too close to your eye; he said one time he hit his nose with it.”
Cherié said her husband would be beaming with pride at their son’s accomplishment.
“He would be just full of pure excitement for him,” Cherié said. “It’s his boy. Dan was 36 before he got his first buck so for his son to get one at 9, he couldn’t have been any happier for him. I know he’s happy.”
The brothers will hunt together now as tradition, Brad said.
“His dad was with me when I shot my first deer and to have the experience flipped was very emotional for me,” Brad said, tears seeping from his eyes.
“It was a little hard. I would have rather it been his dad (out there with him), but I cherished it. It was really special. I plan to hunt with him until he’s ready to go sit by himself.”
Upon hearing of the successful hunt, Mill Creek Taxidermy of Rockford offered to do the mount for free while Wilderness Meats & Deli of Alanson processed the deer.
Franklin said it felt good to sit and talk with his brother while hunting and recalling memories of his dad.
“I feel very proud to have gotten my first deer with my dad’s gun,” Franklin said.