I’d like to try something new this year. Some of these blog posts are going to be live documents that will be continually updated by the deer hunting crew. We can exchange stories and add to the post as frequently as we feel necessary.
The first topic is going to be a simple one: Recall the first time you ever killed a deer.
It was November 18, 1989. My wife’s 12th birthday. She has tolerated my absence for about half of her birthdays as a result of deer hunting since we started dating. However, that started in 1999. In 1989 I was 13 and unaware of her existence, so I can’t be blamed. I shouldn’t be blamed for any of them, for that matter. I was not the one who made the mistake of giving birth to her in mid-November.
Back then my family on my dad’s side had a well-established deer camp in Florence County. My grandpa, uncles, other close relatives, and family friends had hunted there for years. However, my mom’s brother, Ron, and his wife, Jo, had purchased a large piece of forest land in Polk County and we received an invitation to hunt there. Dad accepted, and that year we bucked (no pun intended!) years of tradition and went to Ron and Jo’s. It was the start of an annual trip that I’ve treasured for most of my life.
I don’t know what drove dad to that decision. I was too young. He doesn’t typically like to break tradition or travel too far from Northeast Wisconsin, so in hindsight it’s shocking that he decided to leave his dad and brothers to try this. I’m guessing it was repeated tales of abundant deer from my Grandpa Don and Uncles Ron and Dan. Deer were sparse in Florence County and a deer sighting, much less killing, was rare. I remember long days of freezing with little payoff there. If I saw even one deer it felt like a successful season. Killing one made you a hero. Seeing antlers was nearly impossible. Killing a buck? Legendary.
Another factor in this decision may have been that my dad started deer hunting when I did. He was an avid hunter of both waterfowl and upland birds, but he left the big game hunting to his dad and brothers. When I was a kid we’d have Thanksgiving dinner early in the afternoon so the men could head up north and get to deer camp before dark, leaving the women, kids, and my dad behind. My older brother spent his early deer hunting years in the woods being trained by my grandpa and uncles (I hope he contributes to this post to tell some stories about his early years). For whatever reason, when I started hunting, dad started hunting as well.
We arrived at Ron and Jo’s land that year on the Friday afternoon before the hunt and were taken to our stand so we’d be familiar when we made the walk out in the morning. It was only a one-person stand, so I would be up there alone, but dad sat under the tree. Even at that age I was respectful of the power of the lever-action Browning .308 I was carrying, so safety was not an issue. I was well-trained in in hunter’s safety and by my family. I was not concerned about being left alone with that rifle, especially with dad nearby. I had no worries about using my gun.
I was more concerned about seeing deer. I overheard stories of all the deer my family was seeing while hunting on that land, but I hadn’t witnessed it myself. What if I was doing something terribly wrong and I was just incapable of seeing deer. I have bad eyes. Maybe the brown of the deer will blend in too well with the dead leaves on the ground. Maybe I stink or I’m too loud. How would I react if I actually did see something? Would I freeze up or get buck fever? Those are the thoughts that consumed me as I sat alone in my stand on opening morning.
It didn’t take long to find out.
I don’t remember exactly what time it was, but it was sometime in the 8:00 hour. I heard loud crashing and saw movement just to the southeast. It didn’t immediately register with me that it might actually be deer. Again, my history in the Florence County woods left me skeptical. Shortly after hearing them, what felt to me like the entire deer herd of Polk County came trotting through the small draw I was overlooking. I had several problems, though: They were running through relatively thick brush and none of them were stopping.
I should also point out that I wasn’t being picky. Yes, it would’ve been legendary to shoot a monster buck, but at 13 years old I believed “if it’s brown, it’s down.” I didn’t care what those deer looked like, if one of them was foolish enough to stop I was going to shoot it. The deer were running from east to west, and but after a few seconds the last three of them slowed to a walk. It’s difficult to remember every detail from a moment from 29 years ago, but my best guess is that those deer were about 60 yards away. I did not observe a noticeable size difference or antlers among the three deer, so I chose the one that presented the easiest shot. I raised my rifle, centered the deer in my scope, and cocked back the hammer.
Then the deer moved.
This deer had somehow positioned himself between two trees. Luckily, there was still a clear window to shoot this deer. I could clearly see most of its neck and the front of his chest. So, I placed the crosshairs at the base of his neck and pulled the trigger with neither hesitation nor any idea what to expect. Until I’ve done something like shoot a deer, I always question whether or not it’s actually possible. Even though I knew the rifle was properly sighted at 100 yards and was certain I’d put the crosshairs on the deer, I did not expect that deer to drop. I expected it to run away and I’d suffer the rudicule of being a deer hunting failure.
Instead the unexpected happened. The other remaining deer ran away while my unfortunate target jumped about six feet in the air before dropping over dead on the spot. Could it be possible? Did I just become a deer hunter? It was at that exact moment that dad yelled out, “WHAT HAPPENED? ARE YOU OK?” I said, “I shot a deer.” I’m positive dad didn’t believe it either. He never saw the deer. In fact, while he doesn’t admit it, I’m certain he was sleeping. That shot must’ve scared the hell out of him.
I returned to the ground and floated…well, I guess I walked, but I could have been floating…over to get confirmation that my eyes weren’t deceiving me. There he was. A little button buck. I’ve had a bad habit of shooting button bucks while doe hunting and it started on that day. I would not shoot that deer today, but at 13 years old he made me feel like a conqueror. I held my head high. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
I also have to thank Uncle Dan, a.k.a. The King, for graciously offering to gut the deer for me. It was nice to observe that on my first deer instead of having to jump right in because I had no idea what I was supposed to do. “Get what’s inside outside,” works to some degree, but it’s not really sound advice for someone who is shaking like a leaf and isn’t even old enough to have dissected a science lab frog. I’ve gutted dozens of deer since, some horribly, some expertly, most adequately. I wouldn’t have understood any of it if The King hadn’t shown me the ropes on that first one.
All I recall after that is a lot of 4-wheeler riding and a lot of bragging. It took nearly ten years for me to shoot my first buck, but that’s another story. What have you guys got for me? I love the story of Andy’s first deer. I wasn’t there for Tyson’s. Who else want to chime in?