Thursday, October 29, 2015

As I recall

I’ve been hunting deer for about 10 years and only recently have I had some success. I wasn’t doing everything right but still having fun and learning in the process. Five years ago I got close; stared down some does in a field until they finally moved on. The year before that I spooked a big Whitetail in the NE corner of Washington State. The deer moved so fast I couldn’t even get my gun to my shoulder and it was gone.

Two years I did some Turkey hunting north of Spokane at a buddy’s place. We got a turkey and we saw some Whitetails. We even saw a moose; I knew they existed in Washington State but never actually saw one. A couple of months before the opening of the season by buddy Reggie called me and told me that a friend of his had 250 acres of private land that we could have exclusive access to if we wanted to go. In addition, the land was adjacent 1,000 acres of public land so the opportunities for deer would be good. His friend told us, “The place is crawling with deer.” This sounded like a good deal to me so we began to make plans to hunt the property.

Five years ago I took up hand-loading. Since I own a Weatherby .270 I started out with simple and inexpensive reloading equipment from Lee including their .277 dies. Reloading was fun, a great hobby, and a real money saver. Plus, I could custom load my rounds and learn a ton about ballistics. I took the loads I was going to use for deer season to the range and sighted in my gun. When I consistently got tight groups I packed up the rifle and pronounced myself ready.

We arrived at my Reggie’s home on Thursday afternoon, a day and a half before the opening of deer season. On Friday morning we drove down to the property and met up with his friend; he was actually my buddy’s insurance salesman. He had a nice place on some perfect acreage for deer hunting. Everything you imagine about good deer hunting property; this was it. In addition, there were a few vantage points from which to glass around.

After spending all morning touring the property; “You could hunt here or you could hunt over there.” I point blank asked him, “If it were you, where would you go on this land?” He responded, “I’d go right to that corner over there.” So that’s exactly what we did. After a couple of beers at his house we jumped back in the truck and headed for Reggie’s home and some good eating.

The following morning on Saturday we got up at 4:00 AM. My son Kevin and I grabbed a cup of coffee, a banana muffin, and headed for the property. It all looked a little different in the darkness but we managed to find the access road. At about 5:30 we pulled the truck off the side of the road and walked in the last ¼ mile. Our headlamps barely illuminated the ground below us even though it was a clear sky. The stars were still shining brightly.

Getting over the barbed wire fence in the dark was challenging but excitement was in the air with the opening day of deer season in Eastern Washington. Our mood was upbeat as we found the precise location we had visited the previous day. All we had to do was find a good sitting place and wait for the action to happen.

Kevin blinked his flashlight letting me know just how far he was from my spot. I responded with a blink or two from my headlamp. As we settled in for what I assumed would be a long morning and afternoon the sky began to lighten just a bit and I realized I was sticking out visibly. I adjusted my position and made sure I was behind some large branches, which had fallen to the ground. Kevin was propped up against a tree; I could barely see his blaze orange through the grasses.

At about 7:00 AM, as my back began to get a little sore from leaning forward the old negative thoughts ran through my brain. “It’s going to be just like every year; we sit all day and don’t see a thing. Why do I continue to do this every year?”

No sooner had I the thought crossed my mind and I noticed some movement out of the corner of my left eye. As I strained to look in the early light I could see it was a deer. With great stealth and silence I raised the binoculars up to my eyes. My first thought was that this had to be a doe but as the image crystalized in the glass I could see it was a solitary buck and a big one at that.

Twenty yards south of me my son was leaning up against a large fir. His eyes were beginning to close. He and my buddy had jammed on guitar and drums until late so 4:00 AM came all too soon. I knew he was tired; his conversation was brief as we drove to the hunting spot and walked the quarter mile to the field. His pseudo-nap was about to be abruptly punctuated.

Slowly I dropped my binoculars to my chest. My gun was resting along my right side; the barrel propped up on a branch. I had positioned my Weatherby Vanguard .270 made so I could grab it quickly and get it to a firing position with little effort or noise. As my hands gripped the stock I prayed that the noise I was making would be heard by me and me alone. Almost by magic the large Whitetail buck appeared in the crosshairs of my scope. He was completely oblivious to my presence, his head down scraping some fresh grass off the frosted field.

The deer was angled away from me his head pointing towards the road we had previously walked down, at about 2 o’clock and his tail pointing about 7 o’clock towards my left side. In an instant I aimed just behind his ribcage knowing that the shot would do maximum damage traveling at an angle through his vitals.

With a sharp squeeze I pulled the trigger. The loudness of the shot startled me but I could see immediately that the deer was hit. The big Whitetail buck hit the ground instantly, his legs twitching for a second or two at the most. It was a clean kill; nearly painless I imagine for the animal who never knew what hit him and who lost consciousness in a matter of seconds.

I looked over at where Kevin was sitting. The sound of the rifle startled him out of his twilight zone. He jerked forward and looked over at me with his mouth agape. He was confused as to what had just happened. My fist was pumping in the air and the grin on my face alerted him that the shot was related to our day’s agenda. With my left hand I pointed at the downed deer. He could see the deer on the ground and suddenly his brain computed it to reality.

“I can’t believe it; you got a deer. I can’t believe it, you shot a deer.” Like a broken record he repeated the phrase four or five times. He bounded over to where I was sitting and we high-fived. He was far more ecstatic than I was; he was thrilled for me.

It took me a few moments to get my head around the whole concept. My first deer after 6 years of hunting and he was a big one. All the hard work, buying the gear, sighting in the gun, the long rides over to Eastern WA, the reading, the studying, listening to the experts, and the disappointment had finally paid off.

We walked the 80 yards across the plowed field to the narrow strip of grass by the road we had walked down not two hours earlier. At 7:05 my season was over and my tag was filled. I poked my gun barrel into the deer’s eye but there was no reaction. We could see where the bullet had entered but couldn’t see the exit at this point. Kevin uttered half joking, “Now what do we do?”

While he walked down the ¼ mile to get the truck I suddenly realized that I needed to field dress this deer. It was cold, around 28 degrees. There was frost on the field that we only just noticed. Then I recalled that I hadn’t discharged my gun. Kevin quickly cycled the bolt and popped the trap door to remove the other two cartridges. In the excitement of success I had completely forgotten the rules; cycle another cartridge in case you need a second shot then remove the remaining ammo from the gun. I saved that spent cartridge. I’ll reload it and perhaps it will bring me luck next year.

Now my heart was pounding as reality set in. I wasted no time getting my knife out and began cutting through the underside. I had built a chest spreader out of ply wood; it looked like a giant dog bone. Using a common drywall saw I cut through the sternum and opened it up. In a matter of moments we had disemboweled the deer letting the crisp cold morning air chill the open cavity. It was almost as though I knew what I was doing.

We were so excited we called everybody we knew, those that would care anyway and delivered the great news. Kevin kept repeating, “I can’t believe you shot a deer, this is amazing.” It was a wonderful experience, one I’ll never forget. I felt especially privileged to be able to get a deer of this size. I also felt privileged to be able to hunt with my son knowing that he took a few of his vacation days to spend with me. I am very thankful.

I had never butchered a deer before but my 15 years in the restaurant business taught me a lot about cuts of meat. I spent the next 6 hours learning how. Fortunately my buddy Reggie’s friend Cliff showed up when we got back to the garage and hung the deer. Cliff had taken well over 100 deer from the time he was a boy living in Montana. Cliff was not only knowledgeable but he was eager to guide me along and dive right in. He pulled out his razor sharp pocket knife and made some strategic cuts. In no time we had removed the rib-eye on either side of the backbone. The fraternity of hunters is alive and strong.

I spent the better part of the day cutting every scrap of meat from that carcass. When I had finished there wasn’t much left and the whole thing fit into a single green garbage bag. Kevin and I doubled bagged all the primal cuts and immediately popped them in the freezer. We amassed a large bucket of meat scraps that I knew would make some darn good deer sausage.

Part of me wanted to leave for home the very next morning but Kevin, Reggie, and now Cliff were having such a great time jamming that it seemed right to take Sunday off and enjoy it as a real vacation day; a suitable rest from our busy world and the previous day’s hunting activities.

Monday morning came around too soon. I hated to leave the beautiful log home and the pristine environment that had been our respite for the past few days. I hated to part with the memories of the hunt and the collaborative activities that had made this Saturday in October so sweet.

There may be other deer in my future but none as memorable, as joyous, or exciting as the first. The ride back to Seattle was unsettling because it meant a return to civilization and a hard reminder that the hunting trip was over. Now it was time for the dreaming and planning of next year’s hunt to begin all over again.


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