Youngest and I went deer hunting again.
When we tried about 2 weeks ago, the hunt was not successful. However, a lot of good things came from it. Best of all, it just meant we had to go out to the field again, spend more time with each other again bonding and building memories. Gee, horrible thing. ;-)
And so, we set out again.
We started pretty much the same way: waking up at a very early hour, rolling to the property, setting up and sitting down. We set up in the same place as before, because I know deer show up in that area.
Well, they’re supposed to.
We spent 4 hours in the stand… with nothing. I mean, it was deader than last time. The most exciting thing was a bird landed on a bush in front of the stand, and we saw it poop. Yeah… that was the highlight of the morning.
After our patience and bladders reached their breaking point, we got out of the stand, headed up to the house, and relaxed a bit. Had made prior arrangements to have lunch with a friend (Deputy Rudolph), so let him know that we were ready to go. Well, since he was on duty and working, I expected a little wait in case he was dealing with something. Sure enough he was. So we waited a bit, then headed up to Elm Creek Cafe, only to find out it was closed on Mondays. Rearranged plans, went into the town of Giddings. Alas, Deputy Rudolph hadn’t even started the work detail he was on, so there was more waiting. Eventually he finished and was on his way, but then got stuck at a railroad crossing. It took him a while before he showed up. Meantime, we sat in the truck, in the parking lot of the restaurant, and watched many people arrive, enter, eat, then leave… while we continued to sit. I’m not mad at things, not his fault for the timing of it all. But… it was just another case of waiting, and waiting. Still, lunch was really good and it was great to see him. We had a long lunch, talking about all manner of things, including Youngest getting to learn a little about the realities of police work.
After lunch, we headed back to the ranch. Karl had suggested we could pass some time by taking one of his .22’s and going squirrel hunting. I’ve never done that, and Youngest was hip to the idea. But it was pretty clear he was hip to it because 1. we had seen lots of squirrels, 2. it seemed to him like his best chance to get SOMETHING.
But it wasn’t to be.
As soon as we pulled into the ranch, a very nice doe ran literally right in front of my truck in the big pasture. ARGH! I didn’t bring my rifle because I have this thing about leaving valuables in the car, and I didn’t even just leave it in the house… no… I had locked it up in the safe. I ran into the house, opened the safe, grabbed the rifle, then ran back out to the pasture. I figured the doe might slow down once she hit the treeline.
We hoofed it through the double-gates into the pasture. As I reached the end of the first fenceline I looked north to scan down by the fence and treeline there towards the stock tank. Sure enough, I saw her right there at the fence about 200 yards away. I rested the rifle on the big corner fence post and as I was finding her in the scope a huge RUMBLE scared her off. Seems the fence repairs guys were out at the far south end of the property, probably what flushed her out in the first place, and as he started up his truck engine it scared her off. Damnit. We hoofed it through the pasture down to the gate, to circle around the stock tank – maybe she was just inside the woods, maybe at the water. Alas, nothing. We headed back to the house to properly prep. I decided to go ahead and just sit in the stand because hey… deer are there, and we certainly have no chance at one if we’re not in the stand.
Yes, we got into the stand early, probably earlier than truly needed. But you just can’t know when the deer will be out, and if we’re going to sit around and wait, might as well wait in the stand.
And… the boredom sunk in again. Making it worse, a good lunch digesting, unseasonable warmth (it got into the low 70’s), and facing west with the afternoon sun coming into the blind onto our dark-colored clothing… and yeah, we were both nodding off.
But here’s one change we made.
While sitting in the morning, I kept looking at the lay of the land. We weren’t in the best spot. Yes, it was a good spot from a “being camouflaged and blending in” perspective, but we couldn’t see all that we needed to see.
Here’s a map:
This morning (and all hunts prior), we set up around the the green dot. This was at a high point, altitude-wise, and gave very good sight north and south, which game cameras and observation of deer movement told us this strip was very productive. This was also a nice spot because it was up in a clump of bushes and trees so you blended in pretty well. But notice, all you can really see is north and south.
On prior hunts I had scanned the area looking for other positions, but nothing really gave us as good a vantage point. Sure better camouflage, but worse sight lines. I always looked at it tho from a perspective of “remaining hidden”.
This afternoon tho, I said screw it. Well, I actually said that after we finished up in the morning and before we went to lunch I moved the blind a bit north. The blind was totally out in the open, but we had a MUCH better vantage point on all fronts. To the south, it wasn’t as good as we had before, but it was quite adequate because if a deer was blocked by that tree/bush clump, it would just be a matter of time before they moved out. To the north, we were slightly higher and saw northward much better. But the most significant was to the west, as you can see by the red arrow.
I started to have a feeling that the deer were moving but NOT along the normal trail. Too open? Smelled us? the winds were coming from the south, so any deer to our north (normal movement pattern was starting north and moving south) obviously would smell us. Who knows why, but I just got a feeling that given all things I had observed and considered, they were moving, just behind the trees.
My hunch paid off.
Around 5 PM I see a doe poke her head out from behind the trees, basically where the red arrow ends. She starts walking right towards us.
Of course, I get all excited! Youngest knew to be still, move slow. He watched over my shoulder (he was sitting behind me in the blind; got to know the back of my head really well). But me? My heart was racing, my breathing was deep, and I was just all worked up. Not even so much because it was a deer and finally our opportunity, but because man… I really wanted this for Youngest.
There is nothing wrong with making a kid learn to wait. But there’s a balance to be had, because if all they ever get is waiting then they may well lose interest and all is lost. I really wanted Youngest to finally have his chance to see how everything goes down. I was really worked up and I guess nervous and stressed that this is it… but we might lose this chance…
And so, I rushed it.
The shot was NOT steady. I knew it wasn’t. But I was too afraid to miss the chance.
Well, I missed the deer.
From how she ran off, the lack of any subsequent noise, I knew I had flat out missed.
And I was angry with myself. Angry because I rushed it. Angry because I risked taking an unethical shot. Angry because I may have lost our sole opportunity. Angry for so many reasons. And I made sure to vocalize it to Youngest, not that it was his fault or anything, but I’ve never been anything but honest with my kids and even them seeing that “even Dad” can screw up, I think is important. That we’re human too, and here’s how to deal with it, y’know?
Still, I told him that we wait, because if she’s dead she’s dead, and if not well… sometimes they come back.
Sure enough, she did. About 5-10 minutes later she poked her head out of the same spot. I got her in my sights, perfect broadside shot. But this time I told myself to take another deep breath and steady myself. As I did that, her head shot up, major alert position, and she bolted. I swear I never have seen a deer turn tail and just sprint away so quickly.
It was interesting to show to Youngest how sometimes you have to wait, but if you wait too long, the opportunity could be lost. It’s truly a strange game and balancing act.
I slumped back in my chair.
Then… we heard snorting.
There was another deer stamping feet and snorting hard at us. If you look at the map, there’s a clump of trees/bushes between the red and yellow lines, close to the red dot. The deer was just behind that clump. No ability to get a shot, but you could see the deer easily being mad, snorting, fading back a bit, but not heading off. I figured to bring the rifle up and be ready because if she was there, likely she was going to emerge somewhere. I had Youngest watch her movements to see if he could pick up on direction — he was doing really well tracking her movements through the scrub, so I told him to let me know if she was going north or south.
And then, she stuck her head out from behind the trees, about at the end of the yellow arrow. She was quartering towards me and just standing there. I was steady, slow smooth press, and that was that. Youngest watched the whole thing, saw her jump, reported that her front leg “swung around like Jell-O”, and that was pretty clear that between what I saw in the scope and what he saw, that she was taken cleanly. She ran about 50 yards to the yellow dot, and we found her under a tree.
Now began the next phase: cleaning and processing. :-)
Of course, I did most of the work here, but Youngest helped. He helped me put her on the back of the truck, helped by holding her when it was needed to keep her steady. He’d keep the truck bed lights running and other things I needed.
And he got quite a lesson in how the body works, seeing it all up close. He didn’t want to touch any internals, but he did of course hold the body, feel the warmth, and well… it gains you a big respect for life.
He got to see how the organs are hooked up and how things work. He did also see how the organs can easily be stopped. He saw the entry would, the exit wound, and what a bullet can do. I could tell it was a sobering moment for him, which is good. Respect for such things is important, and Hollywood will never teach you that respect – only direct experience can.
We processed a fair amount of meat. As you can see from the picture, she was a nice-sized Central Texas whitetail doe. I was surprised at the meat I was able to trim off her, because yeah… we waste nothing. All the edible meat I could trim I kept. Everything else was left to feed the coyotes and the vultures, because they need to eat too. The ground was nourished by nutrient-rich blood. Really, it’s how nature works, that whole “circle of life” thing.
Youngest learned a lot.
One thing Youngest struggles with is being patient, so I think this whole thing was a big lesson to him about being patient. And how patience will pay off.
It also teaches about perseverance, because we had to keep trying. When he wanted to zone out and stop scanning for deer, I’d tell him to keep working because you never know. One moment you see nothing, then it’s like the deer appears out of nowhere. Sure enough he saw that.
He wanted to rush out and find the deer after my first shot, but I told him not to because they’ll often come back. Sure enough they did, you just had to wait.
Oh, there were so many things learned. Little things, big things. From what might have been an insignificant moment, to the overarching issues of “waiting”. There’s just so much to gain here, I can’t detail it all.
Often times the bigger things you get out of life come from the work, not the end achieved. I will be curious to see how 5-10-20 years from now he will look back on this time and how it perhaps affected him. I hope it will be great things.
For me? I’m still not fully sure all that I was to take from this experience, but I can tell you one thing.
After I missed the shot, then missed the opportunity, I was so down on myself. But then after we took the deer, just before we left the stand Youngest stood up and put his arm around me and said, “See Dad? Don’t be mad at yourself. It all works out.” Yeah… I choked up a bit. That was money, right there. :-)
We had a great adventure. Oldest and Daughter always have pretty straightforward hunting experiences. This time with Youngest was unique, and even his siblings recognize how cool it was. Even tho he didn’t take the deer, it was still his first time for the experience. I think he’s hooked. I don’t consider this “my deer”, I consider it “our deer”, because I know I couldn’t have done it without him. Thanx, son.