First deer

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40 Cal.
Aug 10, 2005
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November 11 & 12, 2004

First Deer, First Buck*

Living in Columbus at the time, there was little opportunity to hunt at all. My wife (we had just married 3 months before) was not yet comfortable with my keeping any guns in the house, nor did I have a bow yet, so hunting could pretty much only be done at my parents' farm in Tennessee. I was fortunate enough to have a job where I got 3 day weekends every week, so I was able to make plans to get down to the Farm for the very end of muzzleloader season.

I left Columbus Thursday morning early and made it to Nashville around 1:00, so I could eat lunch with Mom. Dad and I then left for the farm, arriving around 3:00. I took my Tennessee longrifle, and Dad and I walked South. I slipped up the hill to the east and about 200 yards into the woods. I called softly with the doe call, and waited. Nothing happened at all for the next couple of hours. A few sounds of feet were about all I was able to get before it was too dark to see the sight at the end of the barrel. I slipped back out and met Dad back at the cabin. The rest of the evening we hung out, and I got some things prepared for tomorrow’s hunt.

The next morning almost started too late. I set my alarm for PM instead of AM, so that Dad woke me up about 30 minutes later than I meant to get up. I got dressed as fast as possible and got downstairs to get ready. In my haste, I put my left contact in with a piece of dirt still in it, so that it itched. I put on the rest of my clothes, my boots, knife, and powder horn and bag. I had already sprayed them down the night before with Scent Killer, so all that was left was to prepare my drag rag with Buck Lure. We left the cabin at about 5:45 and made our way this time heading North to the end of the field where a stand was hung in a small grove of trees adjacent to a creek. There, the stand faced the creek, turned slightly to the northwest. There were about 20 yards between the stand and the creek itself, making a cleared alley along the length of the grove, between it and the creek. The stand was hung on the southern end of the grove about 150 yards from a pond. I hung the drag rag about 6-7 feet off the ground by the ladder to the stand and climbed up. I got into the stand about 6:00. Shooting light began at 6:20.

About 5-10 minutes after I got into the stand, my left contact was itching so bad that I had to scratch my eye, and in the process, it came out! So I could see out of my shooting eye, but that was it. Yikes! Well, all I could do was to keep at it, and do the best I could. I waited. My biggest problem has always been patience and not moving around too much, especially when it gets cold. The air wasn’t really very cold, maybe 45 or 50 degrees, but the wind-chill was lower, so that it began to cut through my sweater. I knew that I had to do something to get my mind off the cold and back on to hunting. I hadn’t driven nearly 500 miles to blow the hunt during the first hour of the last day of the season by getting up and going in because I was cold.

At about 6:40, I took out the pair of antlers I had found in the barn and began rattling. I followed the pattern described in 2 or 3 Outdoor Life articles, starting lightly and building up over 2-3 minutes into a loud brawl. This required some energy, and I was a bit warmer and much less bored afterwards. I set the antlers down and waited.

I didn’t have to wait long. Within 5 minutes of my having stopped rattling, I heard a step on my left and looked down. At the near corner of the grove, there was a deer, its head down and obscured by several sticks on the ground and on the trees. Adrenaline started to pump. And then it raised its head to sniff. The sticks on the ground came up with it. It was a BUCK! It had been sniffing my drag rag trail and heard the rattling, and came to check it out. I couldn’t tell exactly how many points there were, but having a rack was good enough for me. I reached for the .50 longrifle, which was laid across my knees, and pulled the cock to full cock. That noise startled the buck and he looked up, turned away, and loped off. Well crap. I’d blown my chance, not just at my first deer, but at a great first deer in the form of a nice buck. But he stopped after jogging 10 yards, turned back and looked around. He gave me a great quartering away shot, about 40-50 yards from the tree stand. Adrenaline was pumping, blood was pounding in my ears, and time must have come to a dead stop. He was looking back over his shoulder in my direction, but since I had raised the rifle while he was loping the other direction, I was not worried about his seeing any movement.

Here was where all my practice and a lifetime of shooting experience finally would take over. All of a sudden, as I lined the front blade up with the rear sight of the longrifle just behind his right shoulder, all of the adrenaline and nervousness was gone. What was left was automatic. I held a breath, slowly squeezed the trigger, not knowing exactly when the rifle would fire. When shooting a traditional muzzleloader with loose powder, I’m always a little afraid of a misfire or hangfire. But I’d kept my priming dry and my flint sharp, so I was not too worried. Squeezing harder on the trigger. KA-BOOM!! The flash went off, immediately followed in a tenth of a second by the main charge, and I absorbed the recoil back into my shoulder. The image of the deer was immediately obscured by a thick cloud of grey-white smoke and the sweet stench of burned sulfur. I heard him tear through the brush on the near side of the bank, splash across the creek, and climb up the bank on the other side. I couldn’t see a thing through the smoke. I’d missed. He’d still gotten away.

He’d gotten away. I’d missed. 50 yards, nearly broadside. And I’d missed. I don’t know what I had expected to happen when I fired, and I knew that deer usually run when hit, but I still wasn’t actually prepared to hear it happen (I still couldn’t see a thing; the smoke was still hanging thick in the air). That was the first thought I had, but almost immediately following was the thought that I had to check. I needed to make sure there was no blood trail to follow. The adrenaline had come back with the firing of the shot, and now moving down the ladder seemed to take forever. My possibles bag got hung up on the one of the rungs, nearly dumped everything out. As soon as a got to the ground I ran over to where he had been standing and looked closely. Nothing. I took a deep breath and began to reload.
My hands were shaking as I fumbled for the powder measure, fumbled for patch and ball, fumbled for the short-starter. I finally got the new charge loaded and noticed as I went to prime the pan that I had actually lost the priming flask when my bag got hung up. No big deal, but it constituted a few more seconds that the buck, maybe wounded, was getting farther away. I primed the pan from my main horn and looked more closely. I saw where he charged through the brush, judged where he would have come up on the other side of the bank, and circled around to the ford . The ford across the creek, the easiest place to cross without getting soaked, is about 50 yards South from where the buck was standing when I fired. I knew not to bother looking in the creek or the near side because of hearing him exit on the other bank, so I planned to circle and start from where he would have topped out off of the bank. I crossed the creek, ran up around the trail we take to get up to the field on the other side. I had to backtrack about 50 yards back through the overgrown clearing to get to where I needed to start. As I picked through the grass, I saw Dad walking my direction from where he had been stationed overlooking the other end of the field. And then I looked down. Not 10 yards past the top of the bank, laying on its side was the buck. I hadn’t missed! He had just enough energy and life to cross the creek and climb the steep bank, but that was it.

There are not really words to accurately describe the feeling that passed over me as I knelt next to him. Overwhelming joy that I had finally done what I set out to for the past 4 years (I hadn't started deer hunting until my parents bought this place, and then I decided that I would take my first deer with my flintlock). Sadness that it required the death of a magnificent creature. Those who haven’t ever hunted or killed something probably won’t understand what it means to me. It was the solidifying of my beliefs that God has given this earth and its natural resources to us, not only to use, but to care for, and perhaps more importantly to be uplifted by and to remind us of His wondrous skill and love. It shows me that if I am to continue to live on the earth, I must do my part to properly use and conserve nature, and participate wisely in its cycles.

The buck has 8 points. He ended up being a younger 2 ½ year old. I got about 40 pounds of meat from him, and now his mount hangs in the gun-room at the cabin to remind me of that morning. I also am able to feel a sense of fulfillment with my sense of duty and obligation. This first deer will always be the most special, no matter how many more I kill. The hunt where I took a nice buck with the rifle my father gave me, while hunting together with him is one of my favorite memories of my life.

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