There's not a whole lot of people on the roads at 4:30 a.m. On the way out of town I pass by puke stained groups of party-all-nighter's who are starting to sober up on their long walk home. Gotta love livin' in a college town. Once I hit the country roads I automatically become weary of the critters and begin to criticize other drivers for forgetting to turn off their brights as they pass by. I roll into the small gravel parking are right at 5 a.m. A bit early, but I'm glad to see I'm the only truck in the lot. While organizing my gear I realize that the batteries in my headlamp are completely dead. Great. Knowing that the small sliver of the crescent moon won't be providing me with much light, I reluctantly dig out my backup flashlight. Thankfully, after a few nervous shakes it comes to life. It's an long, but easy walk in to my spot. The damp, cool air is welcome and refreshing after last weekend's sweaty evening sit. After finally reaching my tree I quickly realize that the large handheld flashlight that I had toted in was going to make setting up my climber very difficult. After a few minutes of cussing and fumbling I finally begin my ascent.
As daylight beings to creep through the river bottom I thank God for the opportunity to experience another beautiful morning in his creation. Sunrise always brings a smile to my face. The squirrels running around above me make me question my decision to set up in a black walnut tree. I wince each time a cluster of nuts falls to the forest floor. I guess it's only a matter of time before one of those boogers knocks me right on the top of my head. Oh well, it adds to the experience I suppose.
An hour later the sounds of the local high school marching band break through the silence. I begin to get restless and decide to check the wind. A puff from my wind indicator assures me that the wind is still in my favor. I decide to pull out my camera to give me something to pass the time. After a few minutes of struggling to learn how to set up the correct shutter speed and aperture I decide that I need to put the camera away and eliminate any unnecessary movements.
Around 9:15 a.m. I start to give in and begin packing up for the hike back to the truck. On second thought, nah, I'll hang out until 10. I've got nothing to do today anyways. I spot movement to my right and turn to find what I think is a doe heading my way. I grab my bow, clip on my release, and draw as the deer walks between me and a big mature walnut tree. The high school band is still practicing, literally providing me with my own personal background music. As soon as the deer walks directly in front of my stand I realize that it is in fact a small spike. Do I take the shot? You hear it all the time- "let em' go so they can grow"- but this could be my first deer! He's stops at my 9 o'clock, quartering away at 20 yards to take a bite. I settle my pin, take a breath, and let my arrow fly. THWAK! Perfect shot! He takes off up the hill to my left and crashes within 40 yards of my stand. Silence.
Growing up I spent a tremendous amount of time outdoors. Whether I was running around the fields behind our house or hanging out at the farm with my dad I was always outside. After high school I started to develop an interest in hunting, but I didn't really know where to start. Neither of my parents hunt, but my grandfather has hunted his entire life. Due to an ongoing battle with Parkinson's disease he was never been able to harvest a deer with his bow. After hearing of my interest in bowhunting he passed along his old PSE Polaris to me to shoot around and test the waters. After a trip to the local archery shop I was quickly dialed in out to 20 yards and counting.
I took to the woods for the first time during the fall of 2012. A handful of tags, some cheap camo, and a brand new climber was all I needed to feel like I was on top of the world. I'll never forget how pumped up and clueless I was walking into the woods for that first sit. I didn't see a thing all evening, but I was out there. I was a hunter.
The season of 2012-2013 was a huge learning experience. I discovered the importance of hunting the correct winds and being stealthy when approaching and leaving my stand. I learned the benefits of layering and how quality gear can really make a difference. I'll never forget the day that I left my arrows in the truck... yeah, that was pretty bad. Throughout that entire season I maybe saw 10 deer and passed on a small 8 pointer that would have made the perfect first deer. I ended the season with a pocket full of tags, but I knew I was officially hooked.
Last year was a much more productive year thanks to the lessons learned during the previous season. I ended up taking a poor shot on a nice young 6 pointer that resulted in a gut shot, very little blood, and hours spent unsuccessfully tracking a wounded animal. For weeks I was an emotional mess. I ended the season without any opportunity to redeem myself. I had learned from my mistakes and I had set my expectations high for the 2014-2015 season.
Saturday, September 27th 2014 is a day that I will never forget. It took me three years, but I had finally accomplished my goal of harvesting my first deer with my grandfather's bow. That feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction is something that I can't even begin to put into words. He isn't the biggest or the baddest deer around, but I sure am proud of him!
My first deer ever,
with my grandfather's bow,
on public land,
on National Public Lands Day!
Love you Grandpa!