Ten years ago, my wife and I bought a three-acre lot in the country. It’s a beautiful piece of land with woods surrounding us on three sides. One of the great things about living in the country is the opportunity to see lots of wildlife. We have watched a family of foxes raise their cubs, watched bald eagles soar overhead, seen rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks scamper around, and seen many other wildlife including large snakes. One of the coolest things we have seen are numerous deer that wander through our yard. It’s not uncommon to see five or six deer standing in the field across the road or to see a few in our front yard.
It never occurred to me that I could hunt on my own land even though my wife’s brother, Matt, shot two deer in our front yard one year. I didn’t have much interest in hunting. But that started to change when a six-point buck came wandering through our yard a year ago.
It was the strangest thing. The buck paced in circles around the yard for a long time. The kids excitedly watched from the window as he came within a few feet of our front door. After about an hour, I called my brother-in-law Jim who is an avid hunter. I told him he could come and shoot it if he wanted.
It was the alternative methods portion of the season so he came over with a 9mm pistol. The deer seemed unaware of his presence as he shot him from about 30 yards. Jim tagged it, hung it from a tree, and dressed it. As he did the kids looked on with morbid curiosity. I didn’t have any intention to keep the meat; I was going to let Jim have it. But he insisted that we could keep it.
So after seeing the third deer being harvested from my land and after tasting how good venison could be, I figured it was time to give deer hunting a try.
Every chance I got, I asked Jim about how to hunt. He patiently explained things he had learned over more than twenty years of hunting. I soaked it up, and my anticipation grew with every bit of information I gained. And every time I would see a deer or two in the yard I couldn’t wait for the hunt.
I didn’t have a tree stand so Jim suggested setting up a blind. I scouted the area and found a spot under a cedar tree. Ultimately, I decided against that, and figured I could sit on the balcony where I would have an elevated view of my entire yard. Jim said he was almost embarrassed that he hadn’t thought of the balcony. I knew where the deer would be, and the shots would be easy. I was ready! Or so I thought.
Opening day finally arrived. I set up my camp chairs and wrapped myself in a sleeping bag to keep warm. As the sun slowly rose, I saw nature awaken. First the birds began chirping and flying about. The cardinals seemed particularly bright against the brown grass and trees. Then came the squirrels and rabbits. A fox came trotting by. Finally, two does quietly walked through the back yard about 75 yards away.
But it was still a little dim and I couldn’t see the front sight post on the rifle very well against the dark tall weeds. I watched the deer intently, but for some reason I thought our dog was out there too. I didn’t shoot. After the deer walked away, their white tails clearly visible now, I was a little disappointed. But I knew I would see more. I just had a feeling. We stayed out for several more hours but didn’t see a thing. Deer-1, Me-0.
As evening approached my son and I went back out. Sitting in silence waiting and watching. It was serene. We both dozed off a little. Suddenly I stirred out of my nap by the sound of trotting hooves. A good sized 8-point buck was walking right in front of me just 6 yards away! I whispered to my son as the deer look straight at me. I slowly raised the rifle as it continued to trot across the yard. It finally stopped near some trees and I took aim. He was now about 30 yards away. I press the trigger. Click. Nothing happened. Panic. At that point the buck had wandered behind the trees. I lost the shot. Deer-2, Me-0.
The next Saturday I met Jim and Matt for an afternoon hunt on Jim’s 80 acres. It had rained all day and neither of them had good rain gear so they opted for the covered blind. I climbed up into a stand and braved the drizzle and drops of cold water. Eventually, it cleared off and got colder. I shivered in the stand, but I had a feeling I would see something. After about two hours I heard steps of deer crunching the fallen leaves. Looking to my right I see two deer then a third. I calmly take the safety off and aim at the last doe. It was about twenty yards away and perfectly broadside to me. Boom! Through the cloud of smoke I see the deer jump straight up and run off. Wow, my first shot at a deer! My heart kept pounding, and I understood why people do it. It was exhilarating.
Matt and Jim came up from their positions, and we started looking for blood. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any, and a search of the area yielded nothing. They both said I must have missed it. That seemed unlikely to me, but it was possible I jerked the trigger, breathed wrong, or messed the shot up somehow. It all happened so fast. Deer-3, Me-0.
For the rest of the firearms season I would go out when I got the chance, but I never had another shot. I borrowed a muzzle loader from Jim for the alternative methods hunt. Everyone was sold out primers, and Jim only had three left. So I didn’t get to practice shooting the .45 caliber muzzle-loader. This left me a little nervous, but I was excited for another chance to hunt.
On Christmas morning, before the kids were awake, I stepped onto the balcony for one last try. It was a clear morning, and I had a good feeling. Sure enough, a doe came walking across the back yard where I had seen the two on opening day. I lined up the crosshairs and took the shot.
Shooting the muzzleloader was much different than an SKS. It kicked harder than I expected, and the scope hit me square in the nose. I looked up to see the deer still standing and the blood dripped from my nose. I ran inside to get it fixed. I put a towel on the bridge of my nose and ran to the window of our family room to see the deer walk into the woods as if nothing had happened. Deer 4, Me 0. I spent the rest of the day with a headache and ringing in my ears.
Well, we would have one more chance. I bought my son a tag for the last youth portion. It would be his turn to try. But before that I wanted to make sure we had the equipment to do it right. I wanted to be sure that if he hit the deer it would be killed as humanely as possible. I sold the SKS and sold some scrap metal to get the money for something better. After a lot of research, I settled on a Marlin 336W. We took it to the firing ranged to sight it in the day before the hunt. It was fun and easy to shoot.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see anything and our hunting season came to an end. But I had a great time enjoying the wonders of nature with my son. I’m super excited for next season. I haven’t been able to think about much else. It’s addicting.