Most of us look back at our first big game kill fondly. It started a chain reaction of events that defined our lives and shaped our hopes and dreams giving us courage and helping us make new friends. Killing my first deer was exactly that for me. I started hunting at 12, as soon as legally possible. From my adult perspective, putting a shotgun in the hands of an unsupervised 12 year old is completely reckless, never would I consider allowing this to happen now, but they were different times. The very first year I hunted, I shot a doe and never found it, so my hopes were at record levels for season number 2. At the ripe age of 13 I was sure I could handle absolutely anything that came my way.
In Ohio, shotgun season was 7 days long and we were only allowed 2 deer in those days. My uncle Dick drove us down the highway toward our destination. The usual hunting cmap on National Forest ground in one of the most backwoods areas of the state. The long drive on gravel roads was more than worth it to get to the deer loaded woods of Ring's Mill.
I still look back on these old days at the deer camp. spending the week camping with my uncle, eating leftover turkey sandwiches from Thanksgiving (always being the week before deer season) and spending time away from mom and dad becoming a man. Not only was deer camp where I drank my first beer, it was where I had many of my firsts as a young man. Part of my soul will always be with the hollows surrounding the tributaries of the Ohio river. It was almost a magical place to live.
On opening day of my second deer season, as you can imagine, I was already an old pro at deer camp! I chose my spot and consorted with other hunters at the camp ground to make sure we weren't hunting the same spots. Good news for me, nobody else was hunting that far from camp.
I walked in for what seemed like hours. And it may have been. When I chose a spot next to a tree, the sun was just coming up. Squirrels started their morning shuffle through the thick leaves and I leaned back to listen for deer hooves. It didn't take long and I heard that familiar sound of hooves falling into the dirt
When I looked to my right, I saw the rising sun gleam on the bucks small horns. I re-shouldered my shotgun on my left shoulder, aimed with my iron sights, and put a sizeable hole into the buck precisely too far back. I watched in surprise and shock, as the buck stumbled over to the edge of a small creek. He laid down and licked his wound. I was paralyzed thinking "he's supposed to die. Any second now." An hour later the buck laid down his head. I stood up and reloaded my shotgun. When I approached the buck, his head sprang up and he tried to crawl with his front legs. He crawled to the creek bank where he fell down the 4 foot tall bank into 1 foot of water.
The wounded buck was trapped, he was mortally wounded and I was not mature enough to know what to do to handle the situation appropriately. We were at a stand off. I pointed my shotgun at the buck to finally end his misery. The buck looked at me, and he grunted a deep, gutteral death grunt and expired before I took a second shot. Quite possibly it was a combination of the first shot and the broken leg it got when it fell into the creek, or maybe God saved me from myself.
I'm not proud of how the situation unfolded. I know better now. I tell the story, not to boast of my accomplishment, but to acnowledge my humanity and exercise my humility. These points I admit so that I can reflect on how far I've come as a hunter and as a man. We never took a good photograph of my buck, but I will remember the drag back to camp for the rest of my life. It took the rest of the day. In fact, my uncle already had the sheriff out looking for me. When I drug the deer up to the nearest road, only a few hundred yard from our camp, the sheriff was heading down the trail in my direction and he asked me if I had seen a lost kid. I replied "no sir, ain't seen another soul all day." He laughed, returned to his car and headed out to do whatever sheriffs do.
I returned to camp, dragging my trophy, as a man in my own eyes.
I'll never forget those moments, they've made me the man I am today.