Son helping out his father with passion for the outdoors

By Alyssa Choiniere

The Associated Press

SMOCK — As soon as Matthew Houser learned to walk, he learned to help his father scout during hunting season on their family farm in Smock.

On a recent Monday, Matthew helped his dad, Vaughn Houser walk up a ramp to the tree stand he built as a Father’s Day present a few years ago, when a rare muscle disease began stealing away his strength. Matthew’s son, Taylor Houser, followed behind.

“I had a rough year last year,” Vaughn said.

In January, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. A few months later, he had a heart attack. Meanwhile, he was becoming progressively weaker from inclusion-body myositis, attributed to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. About six years ago, Matthew assigned his Fayette County Career & Technical Institute building construction class to build pieces for his dad’s tree stand, which he assembled so he could continue hunting from a more comfortable post. About two years later, Vaughn’s leg and arm muscles weakened and he could no longer climb the ladder. Matthew added a 41-foot ramp.

“I know one of these days I’m gonna have to give it up,” Vaughn said. “But then, I don’t know if these guys will let me. I told my wife, I’d probably be dead and buried and come hunting season they’ll come and dig me up.”

A few days before turkey hunting season opened last year, Vaughn realized he lacked the strength in his hands to pull the trigger. Matthew quickly went to work, unwilling to give up their family pastime prematurely. He rigged a holder for a Winchester 1300 with a velcro strap to attach to Vaughn’s body and limit the recoil. Matthew attached a wrist strap to the rifle so his dad could use the full strength of his wrist to pull the trigger.

The trio set out for the woods. Vaughn, in the tree stand, struggled with the scope and the strap.

“Finally the gun went off,” he said, “and surprised me when the turkey fell over.”

On the same day, Taylor and Matthew both shot turkeys of their own.

“People don’t realize what a struggle it was for him to go,” Matthew said. “It was the last thing I expected for us to all get a turkey on the same day.”

This year, he plans to upgrade the modifications, saying he had short notice last year. Taylor insists his dad should patent the invention.

He, too, started hunting young. Matthew said when deer season opened after Taylor’s seventh birthday, he expected his son would only have the patience to sit still for a couple hours. He offered to take his son home, then bring him back out later.

“He says, ‘You and Pap sit here all day. I’m staying out here all day.’ So he sat there, from dawn ’til dark, in the rain, hunting,” Matthew said.

A few days later, Vaughn picked Taylor up from school so he could get back in the woods as quickly as possible. From another part of the woods, Matthew saw several deer, including a buck, heading in their direction.

“I sat there for what seemed like an eternity, thinking (the deer) should be there by now. And then finally I heard a gunshot, and dad called me on the radio saying Taylor hit one,” he said.

Vaughn remembers his grandson’s first deer as his favorite memory among decades of hunting recollections.

He said he helped teach his grandson to hunt, but when asked if he also taught his son, he chided, “I tried.”

“Hunting has been a big part of our life. It has always been our relaxation,” Matthew said.

“Well, you go to sleep,” Vaughn said with a grin.

When Matthew’s mother, Dorothy Houser, did not understand what drew him into the woods so often, he showed her. She asked him why he would go sit in the woods in the morning before work before turkey hunting season even opened.

“Cause there’s nothing like hearing the woods come alive in the morning, and hearing the turkeys coming to roost,” he recalled telling her. “She didn’t understand. So I took her one morning.”

“It is one of the most beautiful experiences. There is nothing like it,” Dorothy said. “Money can’t buy things like that. Money comes and goes. Those things are precious.”

The three generations hunt on their farm every year on the first day of the season, sitting around a fire, talking and making fun of each other.

“Every family has their thing,” Matthew said.

“That’s our thing,” Taylor added.

Vaughn has only missed the first day of deer season once in Matthew’s lifetime, when he took his granddaughter to the hospital for surgery.

“You try to get all your jobs taken care of before hunting season, and during hunting season everything gets put on the back burner,” Matthew said. “But when something comes up with family, hunting comes second.”

“Family first,” Dorothy said. “Then hunting.”