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Sunday, December 6, 2015

There's only one first. 12.05.15

The first deer I ever shot came several seasons after I was first able to purchase a hunting license and go afield with my uncle Paul. Although that memory occurred many years ago, it might as well have happened yesterday. Yesterday was also a day that I will be able to recall for as long as I'm on this side of the dirt. It was the day that my son, Caleb, shot his first deer.


My son and I have been hunting deer together for several years, but this was the first season in which he was prepared to be on the trigger during a deer hunt. Saturday afternoon found us hunting with our friend Nick after he extended us an invitation. After several hunts with limited sightings, we graciously accepted the offer with high hopes of at least seeing some action. A shot opportunity would be a bonus. 

At 2:00 pm, we pulled into the farm, reviewed the game plan and headed out to hunt. We slowly followed the terrain along an overgrown ditch which lead us to the treeline we would eventually settle into. Along the way we spotted a doe who was already watching us before we realized. Uncomfortable with our presence, she bound off when we paused and looked her way. 

A little farther up the treeline we brushed our position in with a few fallen limbs to help break up our outlines along the hilltop, then settled in for the afternoon. I was in the cover to the left with Caleb seated field-side on my right. The shooting sticks cradled the muzzleloader barrel, aimed toward the inside corner identified by the white-barked sycamore. This is where we expected the deer to appear. Right at the twelve o'clock position. 

On cue, the sun settled below the barren treetops behind us and the deer appeared. The only issue was that they appeared at the two o'clock position off to our right. The deer browsed comfortably in the bean stubble 130 yards away. A young buck soon popped out next with November still on his mind. Thankfully, he pestered every doe he saw which eventually caused two of the deer to break away. 


The two annoyed deer were headed into range but we had to adjust the shooting sticks. The deer moved farther to the right, now at about the three o'clock position. We tried to move only when the deer were distracted. Several short moves put us into shooting position, but the target deer was on to us. She knew something wasn't right. She saw something but wasn't quite sure what it was. We would later learn that the wind was in our favor due to the evening's falling thermals. Unable to catch our scent, curiosity kept her wondering.

I thought for sure we were busted as the deer closed to within 70 yards. Determined to cause us to move, she gave us the infamous deer head fake. She had us pinned down. We couldn't move. I kept whispering to Caleb, "Don't move. Stay still." She was at about the four o'clock position now. Too far to the right even after moving the shooting sticks. She should have continued off to the right, leaving the area, but she didn't. Still fixated on discovering what we were, the deer walked back toward the hilltop and into our shooting area. 

Back on top of the knoll I talked through the situation with Caleb. He was anxious to shoot but we had to wait for the right opportunity. She stood facing us for an eternity. "Get ready. Keep looking at her trough the scope. Keep your head down. Just be ready." Finally the deer turned broadside and the gun's safety was slid to fire. "Shoot her as soon as you're ready. Shoot. Shoot." 



The muzzleloader blast instantly cleared the field as the doe dropped in her tracks. The deer was down. A congratulatory smack on the shoulder was my first reaction, followed by fist bumps, high fives and hugs. The expression and excitement on his face was priceless. Smoke from the muzzleloader now drifted down the hillside as we walked toward to downed doe.  It felt spiritual in that moment.


The teaching moments continued as we approached the deer and throughout the entire field dressing process. It was exciting, emotional, powerful and indescribable all at the same time. I couldn't help but think about my Grandpa looking down upon us, smiling from ear to ear. I could hear his voice, "Atta boy Caleb!" Atta boy indeed. 


You have to get a tailgate picture with your first deer!



Thursday, December 3, 2015

2015 Archery Buck 11.20.15


There was nothing particular about this day other than I was itching to get back into the woods. The inside corner pinch point that I was hunting produced an exciting hunt several days before, with lots of does active in the area, young bucks cruising, active scrapes along the edge of the woods and plenty of rubs inside the treeline. The dropping temperature and favorable wind made the decision a no-brainer. It's November and I'm playing the rut lottery, hoping for a winning ticket.

The first sighting of the morning was a young buck that worked perfectly through the woods at twenty yards. With the wind in my favor and his nose preoccupied on the ground, he bird-dogged his way around trees, clearly on a mission. It was exciting to watch and my mind couldn't help but hope that more deer would follow the same script.

An hour and a half later I heard the telltale cadence of deer hooves shuffling through the leaves. Instantly reaching for my bow before I made visual contact, I knew it wasn't one of the squirrels that had kept me entertained. With my release automatically clipped on the string, the deer had already crossed into shooting distance but paused facing me. No shot.


If he maintained the same line I would have a shot. Set in motion again, I drew my bow back while he stepped behind a cluster of trees that blocked my movement. The deer was at 15 yards, paused again, quartering toward me. I needed a little better angle. A few more steps were taken and a perfect window to his vitals was open through the intersecting sapling branches. Picturing my arrow's exit path the pin hovered tight to his right shoulder.

It's this single moment, frozen in time, that is forever tempered in my memory. The seconds just before the release surprised me, everything is silent. My eye captured the flight of the arrow burying through the fur of the deer. Then, as if a hypnotist snapped his fingers everything awoke in commotion. The deer jumped and quickly fired off like a rocket through the woods. I lost sight but still listened intently. Nothing.


Analyzing the arrow I was confident it was a good shot, but the lack of blood in the immediate area told me to be patient. I texted my amigo John. An hour later we met at my truck and prepared to take up the trail. The blood was visible but less than impressive. Certainly not a trail that Helen Keller could have followed but we managed. Periodically we lost sign then picked it up again. This pattern repeated several times. Finally we lost it for good. Another drop could not be found. John continued to micromanage every square inch while I lost patience, ready to start a grid search.

We looked at the aerial map on my phone and planned the next steps. About three steps later John said to me, "Hey, look over there!" Immediate relief lightened my mood. The buck laid piled up in a slight depression, not twenty yards from where we lost blood. The arrow passed completely through but the exit hole had plugged up. The shot was lethal as the deer didn't make it a hundred yards before sliding to a final stop. I felt complete gratitude for the great hunt, deer and friend to share the moment with. Smiles, hand shakes and pictures were next. Then a trip to the Mexican buffet.