Oh my, how hunting has evolved. I can remember when I was 8 years old and would accompany my father to the woods on occasion. Back then it was simple. A dove stool, his trusty lever action Model 94, some Vienna sausages, and a couple of Pepsi Colas were essential. Anything else was optional.
Many weekends our hunting was spent as day trips to the hunting lease. Early in the mornings we would leave our house to travel the 2 hour drive to camp. Often we would have my uncle travelling with us. I'd pour myself in the backseat of his Jeep or find myself squished in the middle on the bench seat of Dad's old truck.
In those early days, I didn't do the hunting. I was Dad's scout. I accompanied him to the woods and would sit as still as I could for as long as possible. But when I grew tired, I would turn the sentinel duties back over to Dad, settle down, and go to sleep in my sleeping bag we had carried in with us. I loved the woods, the sounds, and the scenery. Hunting camp was like a whole new world to me. I learned a lot of valuable, and maybe not so valuable, things there.
For a few years it was like this. But when I turned 12 the game changed. I had my hunter safety certificate. I was ready to become the hunter and not just the scout. Through the summer we practiced with me shooting Dad's old 7mm Mauser bolt action rifle. That old gun looked cool. I thought I was cool carrying it. With iron sights on top of the gun, I was lucky to hit a garbage can lid at 50 yards. The recoil wasn't terrible, but my form needed help. The first season came and my shooting had improved considerably.
Throughout the season I saw doe after doe after doe. Unfortunately, where we hunted in the Piedmont region of Georgia, there were very few, if any at all, doe days. I couldn't find a buck to save my life. I would find trails and rubs and scrapes. I would follow a track that I'd find for what seemed like miles. That first season was long but exciting.
I can remember the end of that first season. It was just a few days after Christmas and only a few days of the season remained. After a long drive, we had arrived at camp early that morning. We went to our spots and began our quest. The morning hours passed and not a deer was to be seen. Back in camp at lunch time, an old timer in camp came up to me to ask me how things were going that season. I told him what all I had experienced and that I wasn't giving up in quest of my buck. He quickly corrected me and told me not to get so caught up in horns, but to be proud of my first kill. Those last few days of that season were doe days and he told me to quit wasting time and go out and put a doe on the ground.
Dad looked at me when the old timer departed and I remember him saying 'Son, if you want to kill a doe its up to you, but would you rather your first deer be something you can out on the wall and remember forever, or something you put in the freezer and eat away over the next year?' I pondered over his words for a few minutes and told him I understood his point of view. A short while later, we assembled our gear and returned to the woods in pursuit of our game.
The drive was a short but bumpy ride in Dad's old truck. I held our rifles and kept them from bumping together as we traveled through the wood's roads. We arrived at our parking spot and each climbed out of the pick-up. Dad was planning to climb to the ridge top above where we parked and I planned to go down into the hardwood valley below. The plan was to hunt the afternoon and meet back at the truck after dark.
While we assembled our gear, we heard what sounded like footsteps up the ridge a little ways in the thick brush. After a few minutes, silence fell upon our ears. With a 'Good luck' and a high five, I started walking down towards the hardwood bottom and dad up towards the ridge top.
My walk was short, maybe a maximum of 75 yards. As a 12 year old who was excited, I covered the ground quickly. I arrived at my uncle's stand and tied my gun on the rope and climbed up. Settling down into his seat, the sunlight was beating straight down on me. I had hoisted my rifle up into the stand with me, and before I could load it I was yawning.
Back then, we didn't have hunter safety harnesses or safety belts. But I knew me and that sun would nap perfectly together if I stayed put in that stand. But I wanted to hunt and kill a deer. I lowered the gun back to the ground and quickly and quietly climbed down and began to search for me a comfortable shaded position.
Dad was my hero. He could find things in the woods like nobody else. Like a bloodhound he could track blood trails. He found Indian arrowheads everywhere he went it seemed. As a teenager, Dad had grown up in the late 50's and early 60's. His family didn't have much money and dad wasn't into sports. But history was something he loved to study, and his hobby that he found was hunting for Civil War relics. With his buddies, they would travel around the state of Georgia and find places where they could look for relics with their metal detectors. Perhaps this is where Dad had refined his woodsman skills.
He had left the truck the same time I had. However, he was tip toeing up through the woods. He remembered those footsteps we had heard when we exited the truck. The distance he had to go wasn't much more than 125 yards. But he took his time moving in that direction. As he stepped over a fallen log, the woods out in front and to his right exploded. Three deer jumped from their beds and began running full tilt down the slope towards the hardwood bottom.
I looked around and determined the big oak to be a suitable spot for me to watch over the hardwood valley below while I rested my back against as I hunted for the afternoon. I began to kick the leaves out of the way and I heard a loud commotion. Louder it grew. I stared in the direction of the sounds and there they were. Three large does bounding straight for me.
In an instant, forgetting the conversation in camp from earlier, I decided this was my opportunity. I ran the bolt on my old Mauser and dropped to one knee as the deer neared my position. I guess with my movement, they turned to their right to avoid running into me. I raised my rifle and tried to swing and follow the galloping trio through the bushes. In a split second I had fired my gun and the group of whitetails continued to run across the shelf above me and then down through the valley below.
Certain I had hit the leading deer, I immediately began looking around excitedly. From where I knelt to where they ran by me was less than 25 feet. I rapidly searched the ground for sign of blood and my level of excitement quickly was dropping. I started walking towards the truck knowing that Dad would be coming down to help me look. With my head swung low, I trudged towards the truck kicking bark from tree trunks as I would walk by. I arrived at the truck, and Dad was already back and waiting for me. He had a smile on his face and quickly was asking for details before we began our search.
After a short debriefing and a Pepsi, we went to begin our search. I showed how I had walked in, how I had climbed up in the stand, and where I had climbed down out of the stand. I then started telling him the useful information like where the deer were running to me from and where I was kneeling. I showed him the spot I had begun to clear of leaves and where I had dropped to a knee in order to fire. It was confirmed by the ejected shell casing that lay beside me in the dark dirt.
I described and pointed where the deer appeared at and where they passed me by when I fired. He instructed me to sit still for a few minutes and he began to search. Telling me to sit still and wait was like telling someone to hold the wind. I was excited and I wanted to find my deer. He looked at the ground and he would look at the bushes. He scoured back and forth over the fresh tracks they had made in the leaves and earth. Then it jumped out at him. Right there in front of where I had been knelt was the sign. It wasn't what we had hoped for but it was an answer.
Not 10 feet from where I knelt was a sapling that had intercepted the path of my bullet. In fact, it was two saplings each about a inch and a half in diameter and a grape vine on the backside of them. In the excitement as I swung through the deer I didn't focus on trees. All I saw was deer. I had center punched the two saplings at shoulder height of a deer and the exiting bullet ricocheted off of the grapevine before the bullet ever reached the deer. I was discouraged. I was embarrassed. But I was thankful that I had missed and not wounded the deer and not been able to recover it.
The afternoon still had daylight left, but we chose to call it a day. We went back to the truck and sat on the tailgate enjoying the sounds of nature and the flavors of another Pepsi until dark. That evening the ride was long and it was tough for me as I relived the day's events and pondered how I would have redone things, but it was the beginning of a quest. That season ended a day or two later, but a year later I killed my first deer.