For many years, opening day of deer hunting was a big deal at our house. As a child, it was just another day as my dad was an avid gun collector that couldn’t stand the taste of venison. For my children’s father and all his friends, it was practically a national holiday. Over the years, many of my friends have moved to bow hunting as it adds a level of difficulty and challenge but for many opening day for gun season is still a big deal. So much so that in Michigan, many schools have gone to being closed because so many students were missing that it couldn’t be counted as a day of learning.
Preparing for the season was time consuming. Clearing shooting lanes, observing deer patterns, working on stands or blinds and finally shopping for supplies. I always figured that for what we spent on hunting equipment, clothing, licenses and snacks, we could have just bought a cow and had a freezer full of good tasting meat. As much as I enjoyed the sport once I tried it, I never really got to the point of really enjoying the taste of the catch.
While hunting can create great family and friend traditions, it can also be a source of family drama, end friendships and lead to disgruntled neighbors. Each hunter has their idea of a “shooter”. Most hunters I know are pretty serious about planning and “cultivating” their crop. There are books written about it and organizations dedicated to teaching the right way to harvest a deer. Unfortunately, more often than not, each hunting season brought some type of discord. Someone shooting a deer that someone else thought should have been allowed to grow. Youth hunters typically given a pass for their first kill but little grace for shooting a small buck after that.
After several years on the side-lines, I decided to give it a try. By that time, radios were popular and our neighbors and friends all kept each other posted on their where abouts on a shared channel. That gave me the level of comfort to go out and give it a try. Going out meant that I needed some heavy-duty camo clothes to withstand the wind, rain and sometimes freezing temperatures. Probably $300 later, I had my new duds and a hunting license. When opening day eve arrived, our blinds were stocked with comfortable chairs and propane heaters. Backpacks were filled with all our favorite snacks and extra propane canisters; we were ready to hit the woods.
That first year I sat with my husband in his spot. My first kill was a terrible experience. Two bucks presented themselves and while we watched, a coyote decided to chase them to us. I managed to put what should have been a kill shot on the one, but after being chased he was so full of adrenaline, it took additional effort to put him down. That experience almost kept me from doing it again.
When they were old enough, both my son and daughter took part in hunting with us. We never did the big family breakfasts which are tradition for many but we enjoyed the family shopping trip to purchase ammo, snack foods and our hunting licenses. The whole hunting experience is something that most won’t understand. Either because it repulses them or because they won’t ever have the opportunity. There’s something about spending a few quiet hours with nature and feeling like a pioneer that is like nothing else. Watching the small critters in the woods, listening to the noises of the forest and smelling the wet leaves and watching the sunrise. I understand that some find it cruel and unnecessary but harvesting deer not only puts food on the table for many but is necessary to control the population. I would much rather have people shoot a deer and eat it, than have it run out in front of a car and end up as roadkill for the vultures to feast on and an insurance claim to deal with.
Everyone had their opening day spot. The day before Thanksgiving meant a group hunt canvassing a large number of acres. For several years, I got up early and put my turkey in the oven on Thanksgiving and went out for a few hours. I always thought it would be cool to shoot a big buck on the same day I put on a big feast for our family but the timing never worked out.
My most memorable hunt was with our friend Scott. The guys had developed a tradition of going up North to a camp together the weekend after Thanksgiving. This trip eventually included the sons and it was a great father/son bonding event for them. Scott was a dedicated wrestling coach for many years so was unable to do the trip so he hunted our place that weekend. One particularly warm fall, I knew he was going out and let him know via radio that I was going to go out and sit a while as well. After a few hours of quiet with no activity, we decided that he would start walking my direction and see what we could stir up. It was warm enough that I had to shed my jacket and lined coveralls. As long as I was shedding my layers, I decided to step away from my blind and use the “restroom”. It was then that I saw what seemed to be a huge buck coming from the North. I carefully retreated to my blind to let Scott know that he should stay put until he heard back from me. I snuck back out and continued to watch this buck. I began to panic; I had never had a buck walk straight at me, would I make the necessary shot to kill? Not only that, Scott and I had always depended on the others to cut and gut our deer. If I was successful, then what? I decided that the thrill of having my husband and his friends return empty handed, only to find this trophy buck hanging in the barn was certainly worth the work that it was going to take to field dress it and get it up to the house.
By the time I made the decision to shoot this big boy, he was so close that I couldn’t use my scope. I took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. I was sure it was a good shot, but the thing ran full speed ahead and ran smack into a large tree. I heard the crash. I envisioned walking up to him only to find at least one of his antlers on the ground, broken off when he hit the tree. I relayed the events of my kill to Scott and after the designated waiting period he headed my way to see what I had bagged.
We shared a once in a lifetime experience together, cutting my way through the process. Carefully removing parts that if nicked, would not only smell terrible but could cause the meat to taste bad. We huffed and puffed getting it back to the barn and hung up to cure. We laughed and had an unforgettable adventure. Today that deer looks small compared to what is being harvested on that farm now, which is a testament to responsible deer hunting by my son and the neighboring farmers. Carrying on long standing family traditions of responsible hunting.