Kevin, Tyler and Kristin Gray in the Missouri tree stand that Kevin and his brothers use to help young family members learn the basics of hunting.
For Kevin Gray, hunting and family are interwoven. His hunting skills were handed down from his grandfather and father, and his own children are now hunters.
He recalls how one day, as the cold of this winter began to fall on southwest Missouri, he and his son Tyler, 15, and his daughter Kristin, 12, left the house well before dawn to hunt together.
But there was a time when Kevin, 40, a driver for Transport Distribution Company in Joplin, Mo., was scared that days like this wouldn’t happen. In 1997, Kristin was diagnosed with an advanced cancerous tumor in her jaw. She was given from two weeks to two months to live.
She’s now a cancer survivor and a hunter, who was waiting in her father’s 16-foot tree stand to get just her second shot at a deer. “The first time she went out, the weekend before, she missed her only shot,” her father says. “She was shaking so bad the tree was shaking, too. But she was back. This isn’t a girl who gives up.
“The cancer was hard for all of us. Without our faith I don’t know if we could have made it. But now Kristin’s a straight A student determined to be a pediatric surgeon,” says Kevin. “She saw so many kids ‘go away,’ lost friends. She wants to be someone who can help kids like that in the future.”
Kristin is now undergoing surgery that will take bone from her ribs to fashion a new jaw to replace the one lost to cancer.
Kevin says his trucking company helped at great deal. “I went to work for them because they were family-oriented,” said Kevin, TDC’s January 2001 Driver of the Month. “I started in June and my little girl was diagnosed in August. I told them I’d like to work local so I could stay by her, and I also told them some days maybe I couldn’t work at all. The company president, Larry Kloeppel, told me ‘here are the keys, it’s your truck, work when you can.’ They gave me the time to be with her.”
Kevin drives a Freightliner Classic with a flatbed. A nine-year veteran, the last six years at TDC, he graduated to OTR after driving a milk delivery truck. “I like the challenge of the flatbed,” he says. When people ask me what I haul I tell them, ‘If you can get it on there, I’ll strap it down, secure it, and haul it.'”
Tonya Gray doesn’t hunt – but she joined Kristin, her daughter, to graduate a hunting safety course.
Kevin’s grandfather was “an old coon hunter.” “He was one of those men who knew exactly where he was in the woods at night with no moon,” Kevin says. “Daddy taught me patience and the total hunting experience. He taught me that before I shot I had to find a target, shoot a hole in it, and then shoot the hole. You’re shooting an animal and you have to shoot clean or don’t shoot. That’s what I’m teaching my children. I think they’ll love it like I do.”
The tree stand is solid with an unobstructed view of a field. It’s a good field, too. Kevin once took a 19-point buck from it. Now it was the youngsters’ turn.
“We sat there, not moving until well after the sun came up,” recalls Kevin. “We were cold and hungry. About 9:30 a.m., I said ‘Okay let’s go get something to eat.’
That’s when Tyler spotted a doe coming out of the woods about 60 yards away. It was a legal deer, and it was Tyler’s turn to shot.
“But he kept the safety on and he turned to Kristin and told her ‘since you missed your last shot, you shoot instead of me.’ But she told him no, it was his turn, he should take it,” Kevin says. “Just then a buck came out behind the doe. The debate ended, Tyler agreed it was his turn and slid off the safety. I told him ‘take it easy, Son, if he’s real big it may be my turn.'”
Tyler aimed his 30.06 at the 6-point buck and fired.
The buck began to run. “Tyler wanted to fire again to make sure,” Kevin says. “He was worried the animal would struggle into the woods. But it was a perfect shot. After 20 yards he fell.”
Kevin says what happened later that day makes him think he’s raising good kids and good hunters. After his kill, Tyler could still legally shoot another deer. The youngster went into an uncle’s tree stand that afternoon and waited. When his father went to get him, Tyler had not even slid the safety off. But he had seen four deer. “They weren’t big enough,” he told his father, “and there was no sense in shooting just to shoot something.”