The cold Friday night in November crawled by. Between bouts of fitful sleep, I’d get up and look out the window to the pasture and imagine a perfect silhouette of a twenty-point buck framed by the moon. I finally gave up on sleep and waited for my friend Don to wake up and tell me it’s time to get ready. My eleven year old heart nearly jumped out of my chest when I heard the knock on the door.
Dressed and excited, we sprayed each other with scent killer and grabbed our rifles. He lead the way through the pasture and up into the utility cut. I knew the path well from scouting throughout the year, but it seemed alien in the pale moon light. We reached his stand and he sent me on farther up the hill to a game trail that cut into the very center of the stand of trees.
Picking my way as carefully as I could, I stumbled over roots and snapped twigs like it was my first foray into the woods. Each rustle of a leaf seemed amplified in the still air of the early morning. Taking a deep breath, I moved slower as I approched the stand I was to use. With a brief moment of relaxation, another twig snapped echoing through the darkness. Then another. And another. I realized with sinking feeling in my gut that I had ambushed my quarry an hour before shooting light. My heart racing, I tried to catch a glimpse of the creature moving through along the trail.
There he was. In just a spit second, the buck of my dreams all night was there, his rack framing the lowering moon as he dashed away from me. With the next blink of my eye, he was gone. Silence returned to to woods. Dejected, I walked the rest of the way to the stand.
I tied my rifle and climbed the homemade stand. Uneven steps shifted and creaked as I climbed then ten feet up to the platform. I let out a deep sigh and pulled my rifle up to the platform. Sitting back with a thud, I inspected the rifle in the soupy light that was slowly brightening with the as the sun fought its to the horzon. Putting three rounds into the .243 rifle, I sat back for a long day of sitting and sulking.
The scene played over and over in my head as I looked over the game trail. Play. Stop. Rewind. I mapped out where I was and where he was and what I could have done differentlty. That’s when the shot rang out.
One shot, then two. The sound rolled up the hill like low thunder, filling the woods with excitement. Birds fluttered and squirrels jabbered in disapproving squawks. Then the sounds of twigs snapping, hoof beats.
Things moved so quickly. The deer burst from the woods into the small clearing and started down the game trail at a fair clip. The rifle found my shoulder and clicked off the safety. I led the deer just slightly and when the animal filled my scope, I pulled the trigger.
It kicked and thrashed on the ground. The sight sent a wave of mixed emotions through me. Excitement blended with axiety interspersed with confusion and nausea. I remained in the tree, watching the last death throws subside. My hands shook but my breathing returned to normal. Finally, I unloaded my rifle and lowered it down to the ground. Following quickly, I scooped up the rifle and loaded one round into the chamber just in case. I approached slowly and tapped the downed deer with the barrel of my rifle. Finding no response, I unloaded to gun and leaned it against a tree.
“Nice doe,” Don called from up the trail. he walked up and gave me a high-five and shook me around. “Better get to work,” he laughed at me while nodding for me to turn the deer over to start field dressing it. “Whoa, nice little buck.” I laughed as I was confronted with undeniable proof that my first deer was a young buck.
I went about the task of dressing the deer as Don talked me through it. When I reached into the chest cavity, what was left of the heart slipped out. Don told me about the tradition of eating the heart of the first kill. My eyes went wide at the notion, but he noted my shot had made sure I wouldn’t be partaking in that particular ritual. Then he noted how lucky of a shot it was. A clean kill on a moving deer quartering toward a person is difficult for skilled hunters, let alone a rookie. But my bullet had found its way between the young bucks front shoulders and hit the heart perfectly.
Don left to get his ATV while I sat with my first deer. I pet it’s back and thanked it and smiled, knowing that this would be the first of many. Many hunts. Many failures. Many successess. That cool November day so many years ago, with its rollercoaster of emotions, hooked me. And now, I look forward to the day my own son pulls the trigger on his first deer.