It was cold. The bone chilling sharp cold that creeps in as the wind blows. There was no way to sit with my back to the sun to warm myself, and the snow was hard and crunchy, the kind that’s loud and gives you away long before you could ever see a deer. I wanted to get Taylor set up in the stand then backtrack to one of the cabins at Molunkus Stream Camps, swing a right and head into the woods there. I wanted to go to the oaks to look for signs, then if nothing looked promising I’d walk up the ridge to another road and circle back. The crunch and cold changed my mind. I stayed with Taylor.
We turned on the little heater when I got chilled (a side effect of losing 80 pounds). I sat on the right looking out to the left and Taylor on the left looking right. Sitting this way helps us see the entire five acre field without having to lean and bend to work around blind spots. I know where the bucks usually come in so I put her on the left so she’d see him first if by some slim chance one showed up. There haven’t been many signs this year. I’d seen one small doe in this plot at the end of archery season and nothing else.
The propane started to run low and smell so we turned the heater off. Later, when I couldn’t stand the cold anymore, I switched the one pound tank to borrow someone else’s and we warmed up. I’d replace the tank next time I was in. We bleated and rattled off and on. I threw in a wheeze even though I don’t really know for sure what a wheeze means in the whitetail world, but hey, I had little to nothing to lose. We warmed up and I was able to relax again. We were talking and looking around, and I’d already started to think about walking the quarter mile back to the Jeep.
And just like that, there he was, walking up the knoll like a boss. I’d finished a set of bleats just two minutes earlier. He’d heard “her” and he was on a mission. “Holy bleep, Taylor! Look at him!”
I grabbed my rifle and banged the shelf while Taylor slid the window open.
I’m thankful to Dad for giving me my rifle. I have put it to good use this year with the bear and deer. I’m not someone who likes things. I’m not particularly sentimental. This rifle however, is my prized possession because it was Dad’s.
He heard the thump and was looking in the window at us. Safety off, take aim, wait for him to take one step forward with his right leg to open up a better shot. “He’ll run. If he steps he’ll run,” I thought. I pulled the trigger.
The buck jumped slightly, arching his back and tucking his tail. I shot my first deer. He ran slowly, not the all out run I expected to ever see if I didn’t kill a deer instantly. I knew he was going down but he was headed for dense woods, it was 3:58 pm and we were losing light. There are four or five coyotes in the area. I’ve been watching their tracks and scat for three weeks. He disappeared from view then reappeared through a small clearing in the trees. Taylor could see him through an opening to the right of a large clump of birch. We waited. I called Steve to tell him. “I did it. I got my deer! I think it’s eight points. It’s big.”
I am more thankful than I can express. Steve has given up the better spots to give me the best chance of shooting a deer for seven years. He sat in the cold wind while I sat in the warmer stand. He brings me with him. If we had ever been together when we saw a buck he’d have given me the shot without hesitation. When I’ve said he should take a shot if one came up because he has very little time to hunt and I have a very flexible work schedule, he always turned it down. He’s never once babied me because I’m a woman. The first morning we hunted “together” he sent me out into the dark, alone, to find my way to a ground blind a half mile away. He pushes me when I need to be pushed and lets up when another nudge would be too much. He answers my questions even when I ask the same thing over and over and over again because I’m uncertain.
I called Peter, owner of Molunkus Stream Camps, to come help us but it went to voice mail. I called Dad. I shot my bear first this year and now my deer with the rifle he gave me. “I did it,” I said in a low, excited voice. I had to keep my voice controlled to keep myself from screeching. I didn’t want to scare the buck further into the woods if he could hear me. We waited.
I was ready to make a wide sweep starting out by walking away from the deer then up to the knoll so I could take a peek but Taylor was insistent that I not go yet.
I’m thankful for Taylor’s insistence that I not leave the stand too soon. She had a lot more patience than me.
When we finally left the stand to look for him, and by finally I mean less than 20 minutes later, I called Kristin, our oldest daughter. “Hey! What are you doing,” she asked when she answered. We talked just long enough for her to know what I’d done and what we were doing then.
Taylor went back to the spot where the buck dug into the soil when he jumped. Isn’t there supposed to be hair and blood right there? No hair. No blood.
“I know I hit him. I KNOW I hit him.”Taylor reassured me that yes, I hit him, and we moved on. I found a tiny spec of blood on the snow. Taylor found a larger spot 20 feet ahead. It was getting dark and my hands were so cold they hurt. If I had to shoot him again I might not be able to do it safely so I asked her to go back for my gloves. I’d need a bigger flashlight. I could hear voices. Steve was on his way to the field.
The coyotes came to mind. I read comments about losing deer to coyotes overnight. It was not happening to me. I’d have someone bring me a sleeping bag to sit in overnight while I listened for them if I had to. I was not losing this deer to them. I’d walked beside deer tracks covered by coyote tracks for three weeks. My stomach turned a little and determination built.
I followed tracks to the right where Taylor saw him standing. A few drops of blood led to a blood spot the size of three grapefruits. Aha. That’s where he’d been standing still. A steady trail led to another large blood spot. He’d gone down a bank to denser woods. This probably wasn’t going to be easy. I took a deep breath at the bottom of the bank, looked past a huge balsam tree and a few feet into the woods before the trees turned to a wall of solid black. One more deep breath. I can do this. I glanced down to find a good place to step, and there he was. He was lying at the base of the huge balsam, leaning against it, dead.
When I found my bear I screeched from relief. We’d put hours into finding him and I’d had to leave him in the woods overnight. When I found him it was pure relief. Not this time. This time, pure joy. The buck, my buck…my first deer…hadn’t gone far. I whooped but I still don’t know if anyone heard me! “I FOUND HIM!”
I looked him over, counted eight points, and laid his head back down before I walked out to meet Steve and Taylor. It took less than a minute to walk them to my deer. They looked him over and commented on his size.
The next phase started when Steve muckled onto one antler. I grabbed the other and we pulled him up the bank, back to the trail, over a downed poplar and its wild branches and to the food plot. I probably did more to slow Steve down than I did to help but I wasn’t missing anything in this experience. I waited seven long years for this experience.
I’m thankful to Peter. I didn’t expect to be at his camp Saturday afternoon. This was an almost last minute trip. I had different plans in mind when he said camp was available. He is as excited for me as I am. He drove into the field beeping the horn as Steve and I dragged the deer out. I will always be grateful for the opportunities Peter gives me on a regular basis.
We took him away from the food plot to field dress him. I watched Peter closely as he cleaned my deer. Smells get to me. I was mentally prepared to do the job but extremely grateful to be able to watch this first time. My stomach turned a couple of times when the wind blew the smell into my face but it could have been a lot worse. Thank you, Peter!
He weighed 188 pounds field dressed. There are a lot of meals in that deer. And eight points.
I wasn’t ready to leave my first deer at the butcher on Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t done reliving seven years of hunting failures that ended in 60 seconds while admiring him. That’s it. Sixty seconds from the time I saw him until I pulled the trigger. I never imagined it would happen so fast. I can’t wait to bring the shoulder mount home to a wall in the living room so I can continue to admire him up close.
I’m thankful that Taylor was with me and that I got to talk to Kristin while it was happening. Family is everything. I can’t wait to sit down to a meal from this deer with Steve, Kristin and her husband Matt (a future hunter), and Taylor.
What an experience.