By Kevin Tate
PRAIRIE – Tacos may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect breakfast, but when Jace Counce, 11, asked for them last Saturday the guys at the Aesland Sportsman Club were happy to oblige.
“We made the grocery store open at 7 a.m. to buy taco seasoning,” said Kevin Kimbrough, a club member and one of the organizers of last weekend’s special youth hunt. Held on Mississippi’s youth gun opener, the deer hunt focused on getting youngsters into the woods, and on one youngster in particular. The club raffled off one youth hunt to pay for another, one they wanted to give to a child who’d suffered a serious illness, one they wanted to supply with a fully-catered weekend for the child’s whole family, one they gave to Jace.
“We’ve hunted here three or four years,” Kimbrough said. “It was definitely time to give a little back.”
“Jace has had lymphoma,” his father, Rod, said. “He was diagnosed in January and was treated at St. Jude. He was released in April in full remission.”
“They told us it was unusual for kids to respond to the treatment as well as he did,” Jace’s mother Regina said, adding that remission had arrived sooner than anticipated, but still not a moment too soon.
“The type of chemo he had was an especially rough one,” she said. “He was hospitalized for each treatment.”
That confinement was especially tough for Jace, whose favorite things all happen outdoors.
“Farming, hunting, fishing, anything outdoor-related Jace loves,” Rod said.
The weekend hunt was a surprise and a treat for the Counce crew.
“We’ve loved being here,” Regina said. “It’s beautiful, and the folks here are like family.”
“We hunt up around home,” Rod said, “but them calling us to come was totally unexpected and a real blessing for all of us, especially Jace.”
“They’ve totally spoiled him,” Regina said.
“I’ve really been looking forward to this,” Jace said, and he wasted no time taking advantage of the opportunity. Rolling out early Saturday morning, Jace and a club member dropped his father and younger brother Jude, 7, off at one stand and got to their own around 5:30.
“Jude and Jace fight like cats and dogs, but both were pulling for the other to get a nice one,” Rod said. “We were in the stand and Jude took my hand and prayed that Jace would get one.”
“We waited and waited,” Jace said. “I prayed to the Lord and said if we didn’t see one soon, we’d go back to the clubhouse and eat. About that time a spike walked out into the food plot. I was about to shoot it, but a doe walked out into the food plot after him and we decided to shoot it instead.”
One shot from his .270 and a short tracking job later and Jace had his hands on his first deer of the season and the fourth of his young hunting career.
“When Jace was a year old, Regina’s brother-in-law, Tommy Smith, who was the police chief of Saltillo, died of a heart attack,” Rod said. “I’ve kept all his guns in my safe since then for climate control. I asked my niece last year if she’d sell me Tommy’s .270 for Jace to use.”
The rifle came with a box of custom handloads, one of which helped Jace take last Saturday’s doe.
“From what my Mama said, my uncle loved me and my daddy said he figured he’d be really proud of me,” Jace said. “That was the first deer I’d killed with his gun.”