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My First Deer Part 5 (A Grateful Hunter)


Well-known member
Dec 10, 2019
Ruch, Oregon
It turned out plan C was a failed grouse hunt. I won’t go into the details of that failure, other than to say that we had a great campsite with now chance of getting birds.

Baptized in fresh air, I regained a clear head about this season and its failures. I wanted that trophy buck, badly enough that it clouded my judgement. This greed had cost me. I finally admitted something to myself. “It’s my first time”, I whispered to my cup of camp coffee. I did not need a monster buck to make me happy, I just needed to know that I gave it my best. At the end of the day, if I killed my first buck, it would mean a lot to me.

I decided to make a pact with myself that the first legal animal that gave me a clean shot was going down. I got into this for the meat. Get a mature animal for conservation when you finally know how to get an animal in the first place. This commitment made, and our grouse hunt a complete bust, we decided to head home early, and take it easy for a few days while our farm sitter handled things.

The first night back we had intense wind. The kind of thing that keeps you up most of the night, making it next to impossible to get up early the next day. I got a late start to my day, thankful not to here Hoagy early that morning. Eventually, more for forms sake, I quietly checked my north forty. ALL the bucks were there on the far side bedded down. They must have had a rough night as well.

Getting to my stand with the deer in that spot would take some doing. I enlisted my wife’s help to work the cedar gate that separated the main grounds from the wood lot, so I could focus on belly crawling all the way to my tree. Tall grass would be about the only think that would keep me covered on the way to my location. The tree, a thin oak with about a 25 degree lean to it was the one I had prepped the previous day. Shooting lanes had been trimmed to give me both good visibility and concealment. It was a rough climb though, even to my relatively low height of 15 ft. It took me about 30 minutes to move the 20 feet up to my tree, and about 30 to get to hunting height. The whole time I made agonizingly certain that I made no sound, or sudden movement. If the wind could help, I’d at least do my part.

You can climb and set up in a leaning tree with a tree saddle, but I would not recommend it. First, safety is a bit of a concern. Normally if you were to slip when using a saddle the whole apparatus would not so much arrest your fall as prevent it in the first place. The one time I unintentionally tested this I was brought gently back to the tree as a reminder not to lean so far out next time. If I pulled the same trick on this one I would be hanging under the tree with the issue of self-rescue on my hands. I have the skills and equipment necessary to do that, but it was not a scenario I felt like practicing while the bucks all laughed at me. Second, this makes maintaining a good connection with your linesman’s belt extremely arduous. By the time I got to height, I was spent. I turned around on my stand and sat against the tree with my tether over my shoulder. I could not see a single deer from my position, but they could not see me either. I was left alone with my thoughts, a morning dove, and a very inquisitive woodpecker for several hours.

My mind wandered while I watched the goings on of the forest. In the middle of the afternoon, I knew there were deer on my left. I can’t say I heard them, or saw them, they just became a part of what I knew was around me. Thank goodness for turkey hunting, instead of snapping my head instantly to get a look, my eyes crept to the sides of my skull while my neck slowly followed to allow increased vision. Most of the heard was behind a nasty deadfall that has been halfway fallen for more years that I can remember. A few of them crept around that and down the ravine, to munch on the leaves from my shooting lane cleanup. I never thought of that as bait (legal in my area for deer), but it made sense that they would want the stuff that is normally out of reach. Too bad I put it in a pile that was heavily obstructed by branches. I could see most of what was going on with the deer, but no chance of an ethical shot. And yeah, both Darko and Jude were in the group.

The wind swirled and one of them must have caught the faintest whiff of me. One of the younger bucks in the groups dashed up the ravine and headed back towards the bedding area. The others followed suit. 2 of the youngest bucks took shelter behind the blow down to try and stair at me. Darko even offered me another chance to take a hasty ill-advised shot. I didn’t put tension on the string. The next arrow I sent out was going to kill, no matter when I sent it.

The deer all drifted back to the bedding area and out of sight. At least now I knew the route a bit better, so I’d be looking in the right direction next time.

I waited, the sun dove into the mountains. The wind ate away at my concentration as well as my body temp. Getting to the stand light and in the heat of the day, I did not have a lot of layers with me. No matter, I can take being cold for a while. With the end of shooting light rapidly approaching I felt my last chance slipping away. I knew that with the deer’s erratic schedule and only a few days left in the season that it was either now or never.

Which is when the deer showed up. I carefully grabbed my bow, and knocked an arrow as they made their way towards me, one by one, occasionally shuffling the order as they moved and munched. Darko and Jude were out in front. I am certain that if someone measured the tip of my arrow with a seismometer, tsunami warnings would be issued all along the coastline. The mixture of cold an adrenaline made me shake to the point of my thinking that I would not be able to make a shot. If I was not certain, I was not going to shoot. Then something odd happened. I thought for a moment that Darko was going to emerge from the brush into my shooting lane first, when I did my hands would become dead still. When he stopped before making himself available to my lethal intent, I would begin shaking again. This happened with several of the bucks, every time with the same effect. When I thought the moment of truth was going to happen, I was dead calm with control over my every move. When I knew I had to wait longer, I quivered like flicked Jello. It was embarrassing, but none of the deer saw it.

The “spike” stood directly below me and relieved himself. He was the first to come out. I could have killed him legally, but I did not know that at the time. Finally, I saw Jude come determinedly from the back of the group, disappear behind the brush, and begin to re-emerge from the other side. I began to draw my bow, but he stopped and I let down before coming to full draw. Patience, I had waited this long, and a few more seconds was not going to hurt. The sun was down at this point, and while legal shooting light would not end for another half an hour, my practical light was minutes away.

He stepped forward, I breathed out, breathed in, draw, aim, aim a bit lower for the exit wound, 8 yards, he moves, I adjust, settle, exhale, squeeze…thwock. That is a sound I won’t forget. The deer ran up the ravine as darkness seemed to envelope us all. Darko would have come out next. I am certain of it. But I kept my word to myself. I could not see exactly what became of my deer, but I thought I might have seen it flip. The others in the group, quietly surrounded him, and then one by one the slowly left. I could count them as they went, but I could not make them out at all at this point. I texted my wife, and one of my friends while I forced myself to wait 30 minutes in the tree. “I just killed Jude”, I was half right at least.

My wife, her flashlight, and her camera came out to help me with the blood trail. It was short, my buck laying 30 yards from the arrow that had been recently covered in pink foamy blood. He was a beautiful 4x4, but he was not Jude.

It was the buck I passed up on the second day of hunting. Later I figured out that when Jude stopped behind the brush, this guy started moving and the close size of the two animals conspired to fool me a bit. It was an interesting bit of ground shrinkage that I did not care about until days later.

3rd best in the group is good enough for me. I worked my tail off for this guy, and I gave him the kind of clean death that I owed both of us. Each “first” is so different for me, I never know how I will react. I was worried that it would be like the first squirrel I got; the intensity of those emotions brought me to tears. This was yet again different, the complex cocktail of emotions that we all have was still there, but the overriding one this time was gratitude. I was grateful for this animal, it’s life, it’s lessons to me, and everything that brought us together on this small blood-soaked patch of soil. I pondered that with my hand gently resting his antler, my wife took the picture then. It’s blurry and hardly worth any artistic merits due to the lighting, but it’s about as pure of a moment as you can get a record of.

Hunting can do that to a person.
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