As hunting tales go, Grant Willett’s is pretty cool. The 14-year-old Bangor hunter recently completed a “grand slam,” taking a bear, deer, moose and wild turkey in the same calendar year.
Three of those critters — the deer, moose and turkey — were shot within a hectic seven-day period in October.
But consider this, as you celebrate the holiday weekend with family and friends: Not everyone gets to spend that valuable time with loved ones every year. And across the country, there are thousands of kids like Grant Willett, who already know that come next Thanksgiving or Christmas or deer season their dad will be thousands of miles away, deployed with the U.S. military.
Stephanie Willett, Grant’s mom, sent in a couple of powerful emails this week, highlighting the hunting success her son had, accompanied by her husband, Josh Willett. Buried deep, and initially not even a part of her narrative, was how special this year was for Grant and his 10-year-old brother, Colby.
Josh Willett is an active duty soldier with the Maine Army National Guard. He’s often gone for weeks at a time, his wife says, and the family has learned to cope with those absences. This deployment, which will take place in April, will take him overseas to what Stephanie calls “a fairly safe location.”
That wasn’t the case back in 2006 and 2007, when Josh spent nearly 18 months providing convoy security between Iraq and Kuwait.
“It was incredibly stressful for me worrying about whether or not he would make it home,” she wrote. “Not everyone did.”
Stephanie and Josh knew the deployment was looming, but initially didn’t tell the boys about it.
Grant won a free youth bear hunt from Allagash Guide Service in a Facebook drawing, and on Aug. 25, he shot his first bear.
After the hunt, Stephanie and Josh told the boys what the future held.
“Both took it very hard due to the fact that the three of them do everything together,” Stephanie wrote. “It also made the upcoming moose hunt even more important for them to spend together. They knew of the hunting grand slam and started to realize that it could become a reality for Grant this year.”
Grant been drawn for an antlerless moose permit during October.
But before he went on that hunt in northern Maine, he had other work to do. On Youth Deer Day, a day before embarking on the moose hunt, he shot a doe.
Three days later, he made a fabulous shot on a cow moose about 350 yards away, and filled that tag as well.
Which left Grant one turkey shy of a grand slam.
“On [a recent] Wednesday evening, we took the moose to Bill Melgey up in Greenfield Township to process the meat,” Stephanie explained. “While talking about Grant’s hopes to get a grand slam, Bill invited him to come out and hunt his field on [the following] Saturday.”
And as you likely expect by now, that hunt was successful as well.
Stephanie said Grant has enjoyed cooking wild game dishes, and is appreciative of all the opportunities he enjoyed this year.
“[Grant] has since perfected a moose chili recipe, but the bear sausage is the best,” Stephanie wrote. “He said his favorite part of all the hunts was the moose hunt and just being in the woods with the camaraderie of relatives who also love to hunt. To say we are proud of his determination is an understatement!”
And while none of the Willetts is looking forward to Josh’s deployment, Stephanie said she’s confident that the family will work together and thrive.
“While this deployment will be hard it will not cause the worry we had last time. My boys are always quick to step in when he’s gone to do the mowing, snow blowing and even help with housework,” she wrote.
And she said her husband is struggling most with this impending separation from the rest of the family.
“I’m doing OK with this deployment but it is by far the hardest on Josh who will miss out on any milestones that occur while he’s gone,” she wrote. “Both boys will be starting new schools next year — Bangor High school and Cohen Middle School.”
But the family still has plenty of things to be thankful for, she said. Among those: They’ll be together to celebrate a big milestone in Grant’s life before Josh has to deploy.
“Josh has been an active member of scouts with both boys since they joined. Thankfully Grant just passed his Eagle Scout board of review and will have his ceremony before April,” she wrote.
And there’s a good possibility that you or someone you know may have the chance to benefit from Grant’s Eagle Scout project.
He spent nearly 500 hours working on a trail around Pickerel Pond at the Maine Youth Fish and Game Association, and completed that project in September.
After a memorable year, you might think Grant would be eager to get back in the woods next year. That’s not really the case. In fact, he doesn’t plan to hunt again until his dad returns in late 2020.
“We have great family members who have offered to take Grant and Colby hunting next year, but both have made it clear they will not hunt without their dad,” Stephanie Willett wrote. “The past couple months of hunting were just so incredibly important for them to be together and for it to end with a grand slam just made it that much more special.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke