Deer, Hunting

My First Big Game Harvest

I began the process of hunting roughly a year ago. It started with lots of scouting on public land, learning how to find deer sign and what sign meant; all with my first hunting mentor, my boyfriend. After passing my hunter safety course and becoming a licensed North Carolina hunter, I took a break from scouting deer to hunt turkey. Turkey season had its own ups and downs, I got close to shooting a turkey but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. After turkey season our focus was back on deer!

 

During the summer months it wasn’t uncommon to see does with their fawns, turkeys,countless squirrels and rabbits, and even bears on the way to and from scouting trips. Trail cameras that we had hung showed consistent sign, and we found places that could eventually be great food sources for deer. Opening day was fast approaching and I knew where I wanted my first hunt to be at, all the way down to the pine tree I was going to sit in. But, as I’ve found out the fun frustrating way, mother nature and the deer had a different idea.

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Deer on a game camera we hung mid summer.


About two weeks before season opened, the camera near my spot showed less and less movement. I decided I was still going to hunt the spot and hope to be in a “right spot at the right time” kind of situation. Alas, I was not that lucky. Even the multitude of wildlife that we had been seeing on our way to and from a hunt seemed to disappear. I tried not to get disheartened, as many hunters do, and moved my stand several times throughout the season. Somehow, I always seeming to be about two weeks too late to sit in a spot. I began to sit in the tree stand hunt after hunt trying to make myself believe that deer were even in the woods.

 

By this point in the season we were in meat crisis. Our stocks from my boyfriends deer season in 2016 had dwindled to almost nothing, and game meat is a staple in our diet. As rifle season was winding down and “doe day” was fast approaching, my boyfriend offered to let me hunt with him in an area he had been seeing consistent sign at. I was hesitant at first because I’m stubborn and I want to do things my way but, I eventually agreed. I was so excited not only because of the sign that he had been seeing but because there was a decent chance that it was going to snow, and hunting deer in snow is pretty uncommon for where we are at.

 

The morning of the hunt came and there was a foot of snow at our house. We trekked carefully to our tree in the silent snowy woods and climbed a frigid ladder to get into our stands. After getting gear settled and nestling into my sleeping bag for warmth it was time to wait. We sat listening to the thunderous crashing of heavy snow off of branches high above our heads, hoping they wouldn’t cover us in snow. We probably didn’t sit for more than an hour before we saw movement.

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Hanging out in the stand just before first light.

I’ve dreamed of the first deer that I would see while hunting, literally. I’ve sat in the stand and imagined what it would sound like, look like, and even smell like. But when it happened in real life it was unlike anything I could have ever imagined.

 

Two does entered from my left. They moved through the snow soundlessly and effortlessly, like grey ghosts moving through the woods. They entered from a direction that my boyfriend wasn’t expecting and I think he was shocked when I started tapping his arm frantically to show him the does. I had my phone in my hand and didn’t want to make too much sound by trying to put it in my pocket so I handed it to my boyfriend, who ended up videoing the the longest five minutes of my life that lead up to and captured my shot.

 

He mouthed for me to stand up and grab my bow to get ready to shoot. Naturally, I made so much noise trying to do this that the bigger of the two does became a little more wary to our presence. Hunting in a sleeping bag in a tree stand isn’t exactly stealthy but, luckily the falling snow I mentioned previously would help redirect the does attention from me so I could get clipped onto my bow. Waiting for the right time to get ready without spooking the does took four minutes according to the video but felt like hours to me. I was shaking, breathing fast, and my heart was racing. By this time a big buck was coming in from the same area that the does had come from. The buck’s body and neck were massive and I felt that I should ask before taking a shot at him, after all I didn’t want to be a rude guest and it wasn’t my special hunting spot.

 

After my boyfriend saw him he gave his blessing to get a shot on the buck if the buck gave me the chance. The buck stepped into the area where I was comfortable shooting with his nose to the ground and I drew back and for a brief moment had a pin on him. Drawing was enough to draw his attention to me and within seconds him and the larger of the two does spooked. In a matter of a few seconds I swung my bow from where he had been to the smaller doe who was still around. I put my pin on her in an area I felt confident would be a fatal shot, and fired off my arrow. She tumbled and ran off. The shot hit her slightly higher than I would have liked but she was down in less than sixty yards with at least one lung hit.

 

I sat in the tree shaking like a leaf while I heard her wheezing in the distance. Coming off of my adrenaline rush, I couldn’t tell if I was cold or not. I tried to play back in my mind everything that had just happened in the past five minutes. It shocked me that my memory felt so spotty trying to recall something that had just happened.

 

My boyfriend consoled me and told me I did a great job and just a few minutes later a younger buck came in and my boyfriend shot the younger buck. We weren’t able to contain our excitement enough to sit in the stand longer than thirty minutes. We got down and started following blood in the snow. I spotted his buck first, piled up beside a small sapling, and we kept tracking my doe.

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Blood trail from my doe in the snow.

The closer we got to her the bigger the blood trail became. She had piled up in a thicket of briar with my arrow still sticking out of her. I removed my arrow from her and we moved her to a white area of snow for pictures. She was beautiful, roughly 100 pounds, and had a gorgeous winter coat. I teared up a little thinking about the sacrifice that was made by her, unwillingly, so that we could eat and subconsciously I thanked her for what she was going to provide to me and my family.

 

We field dressed both deer and went back to the house where we processed the meat for the next few days. I processed most of my doe, minus grind, that afternoon and crashed; sleeping hard that night.

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Back-strap steaks.

The next day, after resting and having some time to start processing my emotions, I had a massive meltdown. Yes I was happy and incredibly proud of my accomplishment but, it was the first time I’ve ever killed a mammal. I kept reliving the moments that lead up to the shot and I could still hear the sounds she made after I had shot her in my head. I knew my first kill was going to be emotionally rough for me, I’m well known in my family for “alligator tears,” and I’m also known for crying at the drop of the hat but, the emotional reaction that I had shocked even me. For the week following my harvest I felt “off,” emotionally and physically drained, and I kept trying to process my experience with my boyfriend who suggested I write about it.

 

It’s been about three and a half weeks since my first big game kill and I can honestly say it’s been an emotional journey. From the sense of accomplishment and high at the moment it happened, the day after and week after low, to where I am today, emotionally more level, appreciating everything that happened. That doe unwillingly made a sacrifice and I am so appreciative to her for what she’s provided my family, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to hunt beautiful creatures like her. I’m happy my boyfriend was there to share in the experience with me and I do plan to hunt again.

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