After two years of unsuccessful hunts, I finally became a tried and true big game hunter. It was my third year of hunting big game and I wasn’t ready for the flood of emotion that would flow over me after I took my first animal. We had decided to try a new area that I had never been to. It was an area that a couple guys in our group had hunted when they were greenhorns; about 30 years ago! The area is normally considered good mule deer habitat however and I was not worried about spending a couple preference points to get a shot at my first animal. About half our group would be blessed with the good deer hunting the area offered and the other half would try to get lucky and stumble onto one of the very few elk that inhabit the area.
I was a sophomore in high school at the time and would have to miss class to go hunting. Needless to say, I was happy. We left on Thursday afternoon after school and didn’t get into camp until well after dark. The next day would find us scouting areas that our pals had hunted decades prior. The weather was ridiculous. I wished I had a swim suit and tank top on because it was in the mid 80’s. I didn’t like the way things were looking. My spirits were lifted however when, after hiking over a strange, flat rock formation (a random patch of flat, bare rock covering nearly 3 or 4 acres), I jumped two decent bucks that were around 20-24 inches wide. This young hunter was PUMPED UP!
The next morning found me set up on top of a ridge overlooking a gully with pinyon and juniper sprinkled here and there. My brother-in-law was with me as I was still required by law to be within ear shot of an adult. He also had a deer tag but was allowing me to take the first shot. About a ¾ of a mile down the drainage was the highway, the river and some cropland that deer in this unit love to munch on. About a half mile up the drainage from our location the junipers get really thick and ponderosa pines start to become more frequent.
We were set up way before the first rays of light start to dance across the land but I could hear things moving in the bottom of the drainage. I was growing impatient. I was envisioning giant bucks moving around within range but I couldn’t see them because the sun didn’t want to cooperate. Matters only got worse when the sound of antlers crashing together reverberated up from the gully.
Finally the land started to become visible in only tones of grey. I could still hear something moving around but couldn’t spot what was making the commotion. All of a sudden, four deer broke out of the gully running straight up the ridge across from us. I swung my rifle on the shooting sticks and got on the deer. It was too dark to see if any of them had antlers until they crested the ridge and silhouetted themselves. The first three deer did not put any thought to stopping and barreled over the top and out of sight. The first two were does and the third a small buck. I prayed that the last deer would stop. And you know what… HE DID! For reasons unbeknownst to me the buck hit the top of the ridge and stopped and looked at us. I held the crosshairs behind his shoulder and fired. It was a long shot for my experience at that time. We would later rangefinder the shot at 287 yards. In my scope during recoil, I could see the deer jump straight up into the air and then take off on a dead run. My brother-in-law thought I had hit him but having not ever had this experience before, I had no idea.
We made our way over to the area the buck had been standing and I started looking for blood. The next 30 minutes were agonizing. I couldn’t find any blood, any hair or even any deer tracks. I was certain I was looking in the right spot and began to give up on the hope that I had hit him.
Then all of a sudden my bro-in-law, who had been looking for blood about 50 yards away from me, yelled that he had found blood. I jumped up and down in joy! I pulled out flagging tape and started flagging literally every drop of blood. This was my first time tracking an animal that I had shot and I was determined to not miss a clue. While I inch-wormed my way up the blood trail my bro-in-law walked the 15 yards to the top of the ridge, looked 20 yards down the other side and said, “There he is. He’s down!” My heart started pumping like a hamster’s. We got up to him and I was overwhelmed emotionally. I was overjoyed to have taken my first animal. I was sad for having taken a life. I vowed to use every piece of meat on him and to tan his hide and cherish this deer forever. I had hit him in the heart and both lungs. My first shot at a big game animal could not have been better and I was relieved to have killed cleanly.
As I have gotten older and my hunting pursuits have brought me more successes, the act of taking a life has become less overwhelming, but it is something I still take very seriously. I still say the same simple prayer that I said that morning; giving thanks to the animal that had allowed me the opportunity to use him and thanking my creator for giving me the opportunity to take part in the sacred hunt. I smeared a small amount of that deer’s blood on my face felt like I had really achieved something. I had finally been indoctrinated into the sacred art of hunting big game.