With Summer on the downhill slide, most people start to get excited about Fall and all the things that come with it, like cooler temperatures, drinking seasonal beverages, and being able to curl up by a fire. While all those activities are nice, there’s another thing that happens in the fall that gets me excited—deer season.
I was nine when I killed my first deer. He was a little four-pointer with a body not much bigger than our yellow lab. Big or not, I was smiling from ear to ear when my dad took a picture of me holding the deer’s head up by the antlers. After taking the picture and loading up the deer on the back of the four-wheeler, we headed back to camp to clean it and so I could tell the story of my first kill to anyone that would listen.
That evening’s hunt also happened to be the very first time I was allowed to hunt by myself. I had gone out to the stand with my dad that morning, but upon returning to camp for lunch, my dad told me (I didn’t get a choice in the matter) that I would be hunting by myself later. Excitement overtook me. He trusted me to sit out there all by myself. How cool! Then the fear hit. How could he leave me out there all by myself? I kept thinking that I would be fine, my dad would come get me as soon as it started to get dark, and that if I did see anything, I could finally be the decision-maker.
My dad dropped me off on the main road. I had to hike further into the woods to get to my stand. I had walked that path a million times before, but it seemed to take longer this time walking it alone. I finally reached the stand. My stand was a wooden box stand with about eight inches cut out on the sides in a rectangle shape, starting right at my shoulder when sitting. This makeshift window was also covered by mesh. I got comfortable in my chair, put a bullet in the chamber of my bolt-action Marlin .308, leaned it against the corner of the stand, and started to scan. The feeder was set up about 100 yards down a path right in front of me. To my left, there was a clearing where I had seen deer before. It was all I had to look at for a while. It was only 3:00 in the afternoon. The sun wouldn’t start setting until 6:30.
At 5:00 pm, I still hadn’t seen any deer, just some squirrels and the occasional raccoon. Suddenly, I heard something to my left, in that clearing. The rustling of leaves, like something walking by made my ears perk up. I sat straight up in my chair, eyes scanning the tree line surrounding the clearing. After what seemed like forever, I finally saw a good-sized doe make her appearance. I turned my body in the chair, slowly reaching for the rifle, and quietly sat the gun on the ledge of the window with the barrel just poking out. I didn’t take the safety off just yet because I knew that sometimes seeing a doe pass through means there is a buck following close behind. My patience would eventually pay off.
Not but a few minutes after I saw that doe come through the clearing, I heard the rustling of leaves again and a deep grunting sound. I knew exactly what that meant. My heart started to pound, I shouldered the rifle and got into shooting position. I finally saw him slowly making his way into the clearing. Only being nine years old, that buck looked huge to me. I decided to shoot. I got my cheek set against the stock and started to breathe in and out through my mouth, very slowly, to make my heart stop beating so fast. The deer could’ve taken off at any second, so I had to take the shot soon. I got him in my crosshairs, took a big breath in and out, and flipped off the safety. He started to move through the clearing faster, so I did a quick whistle. He stopped and looked right in my direction. I pulled the trigger. He dropped but got back up and ran to the left. I quickly listened for him to fall any second, but I never heard anything. I prayed that we could find him later.
My dad told me, “Do not get out of this stand for any reason. I’ll walk in and get you when it gets dark. You’ll know it’s me because I’ll flash my light twice.” I thought there was a deer laying out there somewhere and my heart had finally slowed down, all I had to do then was wait. It was almost 6:00 in the evening and I could tell the light was starting to fade. I hoped my dad would get there soon. I didn’t want to be sitting in the middle of the pitch-black woods by myself. But of course, the sun set, and my dad hadn’t come yet.
I remember having a flashlight with me but being too scared to shine it out of the stand because there could be something terrifying staring back at me. After what seemed like forever, I finally heard a four-wheeler getting closer. I saw my dad pull up and park beside the feeder downrange from my stand. He got out and walked to get me, flashing his light twice in my direction. He got to the stand and I almost knocked him down, jumping with excitement while telling him that I definitely shot a deer. I took him to where I think the deer was when I shot. We immediately see blood—my dad told me that it was probably a heart/lung shot from how much blood we saw on the ground.
We followed the trail for about 20 yards and laying there, behind a tree, was my very first deer. I laid the rifle against the back end of the body, grabbed those horns and inspected my “trophy.” Before my dad took the picture, he informed me of a tradition. Apparently, you have to wear the blood of your first kill. My dad stuck his finger in the bullet hole and rubbed it on both sides of my cheeks, right under my eyes like war paint. I was then picture ready. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled that hard for a picture in my life up until that point. My dad brought the four-wheeler around and by himself, he loaded the deer on the backend. I wasn’t kidding when I said it wasn’t much bigger than our dog. We headed into camp and there I learned how to properly clean a deer. I’ve killed a couple of deer, pigs, and dove since then, but my very first deer will always be my favorite hunt!