With the season winding down we went for a late-season chance to get Tyler a deer this weekend. Two years ago he took his first doe. Last year he hunted hard, and he passed on some smaller deer, but he never got a shot off.
This year he again hunted very hard. He’s on the swim team, so many weekends he can’t hunt due to swim meets. This weekend he got up at 0515 Saturday morning for a swim meet, then his momma drove him down to meet us for the afternoon hunt. What seems to be typical for the weekends he hunts is sub-freezing temps, wind, and precipitation…it’s a wonder the kid keeps coming back. This weekend the weather ranged from snow and temps in the 20’s to rain and temps in the upper 40’s.
Saturday afternoon he almost got a shot off on a doe but right when the deer was about to walk into his shooting lane it started to trot and denied him a good shot. We finished out the evening hunt with no luck. We then did a long hike back to the truck over some difficult snow/mud covered terrain. No complaints from the kid…he did ask to stop once because his fingers were “burning” from the cold. We took a minute to warm them up then we marched on.
Sunday morning we hunted a big corn field on a two-man ladder stand. This would enable us to sit side-by-side so I could provide guidance. I thought we’d see a small doe and let him bloody his new rifle. We got to the stand about 0630…this was a little later than I wanted but it would work as we still had 5 minutes before legal shooting time. The first few minutes on stand were spent alternately scanning the dark expanse before us for activity and getting his gear set up. After roughly 4 minutes I saw a large bodied deer emerge from the standing corn on the left side of the field. It was clearly a much larger bodied deer than I normally see so I was excited that this would be a good shot opportunity. I leaned over to him and whispered “deer”. At that moment the adrenaline began to flow into his blood stream like jet fuel into an afterburner and the shaking began.
I pulled my rifle up to get a look at the deer through the scope and while I couldn’t tell how big or small the rack was I was confident that it was a buck. Trying to pick out antler mass against a wet cornfield in low light conditions is a difficult proposition…especially as the range increases. This deer was 142 yards away and standing there in the dim early light of an overcast winter morning. It was late in the season and the kid needed a deer and I was sure this was a big bodied specimen and it has some headgear so I leaned over to him again and whispered with a sense of urgency “kill that deer.”
Now the shaking really kicked in. He was shaking so violently that it was like sitting in the stand with a running jackhammer. I swear you could have cracked walnuts between his knees they were knocking so hard. From my perspective it seemed like an eternity. Once I gave the order to shoot I felt very exposed…like that deer was about to figure out exactly where were and would bolt. I knew this deer wouldn’t stay long on the field. He was still just barely out on the field…he was so close to cover that it looked like his tail was still in the standing corn…two steps and he would be gone. Two steps and the kid gets nothing for the year. Two steps and three years of hunting goes by with no shot on a decent buck.
After about 5 seconds (felt like days) Tyler told me that he was shaking too hard to get a shot off. Despite the urge to scream “HURRY UP AND SHOOT!!!!” I did the proper thing and calmly told him that it’s OK…just take your time…calm down…focus on the fundamentals…and when you feel like you’ve got a good sight picture just do your thing.
Another few seconds goes by with me alternately watching this deer and watching my son’s body violently shaking under the load of moment. I glanced over and noticed that his finger still wasn’t on the trigger…I’m stressed at this point. All I can do is watch.
When I see him take the safety off and engage the trigger I look downrange and wait. His rifle cracked the silence of the first legal minute of shooting light and set in motion a chain of events that he will never forget.
I was shocked with the quickness of the deer’s reaction. It turned around and bolted into the corn so quickly that it looked like it was under rocket power. It didn’t exhibit any of the signs of an animal that was hit. It made a terrible racket as it busted through the standing corn and took off to parts unknown. Tylers first question to me was “do you think I hit it?” All I could tell him was that it didn’t look like he did but we won’t know for sure until we get down there and check. It was everything I could do to keep him in the stand…he really didn’t like the fact that I was going to wait 20 or 30 minutes before we started tracking. Interestingly enough Tylers perspective on this chain of events was perceived much differently than my own. As is often the case in high stress situations the brain reduces the tempo of your perception to slow motion. When I asked him what he thought of the deer’s reaction he said “it just turned around slowly and walked off.” I had to laugh at that…he was definitely in the pressure zone.
Ultimately we got down and didn’t find any sign that the animal was hit…no hair…no blood. I set off in the direction I thought it went and over the next 30 minutes we found no sign that the deer was hit. We then went back to the scene of the crime and I asked him how he felt about his shot. He said he felt very good about it. He said he had a good sight picture, his breathing was good, and he had a good trigger pull. The kid can shoot and I trust his judgment…so I went back to tracking. I pushed further up the field and ultimately found a corn cob with blood all over it. At that point I told Tyler we’ll get this deer…if you leave blood I’m going to find you. His spirits lifted immediately. I can only imagine the sense of hopelessness he must have felt as he was relying on someone else for everything and it was all turning up negative until we found that blood. Once I showed him the first sign of blood he exclaimed “ I KNEW I hit him!”
This turned out to be one of the most difficult tracking jobs I’ve ever had. The deer left very little blood which concerned me. Tyler got a great lesson in tracking and was a very good helper in this process. The blood trail died after about 50 yards and we were left to doing some very basic search patterns until we found the next sign. Ultimately I found a single drop of blood that filled in a 100 yard gap that had no sign at all. We got our big break when I found a track in a creek bottom that led my eye to a single drop of blood in the snow. This was good…the deer was running straight toward a snow covered corn field. Even the slightest of blood would show up easier than in the mud and leaves we had been tracking him across earlier.
I called Tyler up to my position, put him on the blood trail, told him to keep his rifle ready, and to track that deer down. We had gone about another 50 yards toward some woods when the trail dried up again. I searched for a moment then announced “there’s another drop of blood” and he answered back “and there’s a dead deer.”
After more than 2 hours of tracking I couldn’t believe the words he had uttered. I bent down and looked into the woods and sure enough there he was. Laying in the snow with a bloody corn stalk that he had dragged the whole way.
It took three years of hard hunting in some difficult conditions but the boy got his first buck…and a dandy at that. I couldn’t be prouder of the kid for his hard work and his great attitude…and I couldn’t be happier for him that he put this deer on the ground. That night he got to tell stories and feed the guys at camp with fresh venison tenderloin.
That was a great weekend…neither of us will ever forget it.