My best friend grew up in a family that does not hunt. They haven't really spent much time outdoors for that matter. Growing up, we would take Justin out on our family camping, fishing and backpacking trips and he fell in love with nature and the outdoors. His mom, although a good cook, doesn't eat red meat and therefore he never really had a chance to give wild game a try. Except for when he'd come over to our house to enjoy the wild delicacies that always graced our table. Plain and simple, Justin is a carnivore. He is a big kid that strength trains and therefore protein is a big part of his diet. So it didn't take long to convince him that he had to take up hunting in order to keep his freezer filled with high protein, low fat meat that his training called for.
I remember the excitement he had right after getting his hunter education card. He needed a rifle for the upcoming big game season but I knew his budget would be limited. I decided that we should go to the Tanner Gun Show and see if we could find something that would work out for him. I wanted to get him into a bolt gun in the .270 Winchester to .30-06 range. As luck would have it, we found a rifle in that caliber range. But it wasn't in the action type that I would recommend a new shooter. It was a Remington 740 in .308 Winchester. For those of you who aren't familiar with the 740, it is a semi-automatic. From that first moment I picked up the gun I envisioned Justin blazing away once buck fever took hold. Little did I know that this vision would actually take place! The rifle was in good condition and it was the best deal we found at the gun show so we ended up getting it. It shot well at the range and we sighted him in and got him ready for the upcoming hunt.
His first hunt was frustrating. He joined our third season hunt with a doe mule deer tag. Hopes were high for him because the area we were hunting was absolutely loaded with deer of the female persuasion. Every single day, all the guys would see does... and lots of them. But they eluded Justin. Over the course of the hunt, I probably had close to 30 does within range. Justin didn't see one the whole trip! We couldn't figure out how this was possible. But sadly it was a trend that would continue into his second year of big game hunting. That second year also brought an additional headache. Justin got lost. He was out hunting with my cousin and brother-in-law and did not make it back to the truck by their determined meeting time. He ended up tracking an animal that he could only hear. He never got a look at it but followed it for nearly an hour and a half. Meanwhile, he hadn't kept track of where this mystery creature was taking him. He ended up walking about 3 miles past the truck but ended up hitting the road. He got dropped off at our camp by three Mexican ladies that didn't speak a lick of English. They had given him bottled water, apples and a bean burrito. Justin showed up all smiles but the guys were worried sick and were pretty mad at him. Their confidence in his outdoor skills had been shaken. He did not take a deer that year either but the getting lost fiasco lit a fire under him. He has quite the drive to excel at whatever he decides to take part in and he felt like he needed to prove the guys wrong. He worked hard in the offseason on everything from marksmanship to fire-building to orienteering. All this effort ended up paying off. But because of the rifle that I had helped him pick out, the shooting of his first animal sounded more like a high intensity fire fight in the Vietnamese underbrush than your standard doe hunt.
Last year we returned to the site of Justin's first hunt. By day two of the hunt, my brother and I had both taken elk. Around the fire that night we talked about where he would have the best chance at getting a doe. I had to go back to the site of my cow in the morning to pack out the meat and wouldn't be able to go with him. Since my brother had already filled one of his tags, he offered to go with Justin and play the part of a guide. When the guns started going off, he would have his work cut out for him.
They wanted to get to a saddle about two miles down the trail before light came up. Due to the breakfast burritos (and some potent green chile) the night before, their stomachs set them back a bit. They ended up hiking in after shooting light. They were taking it slow, stopping frequently to glass through the aspens when all of a sudden my brother grabbed Justin's shoulder and said, "There they are. Right over there." My brother was looking through the binoculars and picking out the closest doe and making sure she didn't have antlers when a deafening shot rang out. My brother was luckily looking at the doe that Justin had shot at and was able to call the shot just a little over the doe's back. Before my brother could communicate to Justin that his shot was too high another bullet was down range... and another... and another. The hillside exploded with does running in every direction but for some reason this doe decided to play chicken with supersonic 165 grain slugs! She just stood there as if to say, "You don't have it in you boy!!!" Meanwhile Justin kept blazing away from an offhand position. Finally, my brother grabbed him and made him get into a kneeling position. Another shot rang out and the doe slumped a little. Justin kept pulling the trigger but nothing was happening. Buck fever had taken over so badly that he didn't even realize that his rifle was empty. My brother took Justin's gun out of his hands and placed his own 7mm WSM in his hands. Meanwhile Justin's eyes had not wavered from his quarry and his finger had not stopped squeezing. As soon as the rifle was in his hands and the safety taken off the rifle roared and the earth took another bullet. Again, he just kept squeezing the trigger not recognizing that he now had a bolt action in his hands. My brother reached in and worked the bolt and as soon as it locked shut, another projectile was put in flight. This one found its mark however and the doe finally ran up and over the ridge.
Chevy Chase and Benny Hill... I mean my brother and best friend started looking for a blood trail. After 10 minutes they couldn't find blood but rather were following a trail of little pieces of fat. They had followed it for about 75 yards when Justin spotted her. He looked back at my brother and let him know that she was down. When he looked back at the deer though, her head raised and was completely responsive. He yelled for my brother to grab the rifles. Yes... you read that right. They had left both rifles at the site of the shot! My brother had to run back and grab them and about a minute later the hunt was finally over.
Now the shenanigans didn't stop there. Somehow my brother, who has been around the hunting block a time or two, chopped evidence of sex off the doe. Now they would have to carry this deer with the head attached (to fulfill regulations) the 2 miles back to the truck. They found a good stout limb, tied her to it, threw it over their shoulders and slowly carried her out in the same way that you see in African hunting shows.
Justin had finally become a hunter... but in an interesting way. This summer he put a lot more time in practicing shooting from hunting positions with his heart pumping. I would make him run in place, get into a shooting position and then shoot a random target down range that I would call out once he was in position. Although it wasn't the romantic first kill, he had taken his first animal. And he is hooked for life.