Highs and lows of deer hunting are something every hunter experiences, but the first deer is often the most memorable — especially when shared with a mentor.
What a day. The details of this hunt will be engraved in my mind more than any other. This was the day I officially became hooked.
This wasn’t the day I killed my first deer or my largest buck. This fall day in 2006 was simply the moment I realized what being a hunter really meant. Ever since this day, my years have revolved around deer hunting. Every deer season all of my free time is spent in the field and every off-season has become valuable time to improve hunting ground and hone my skill set. Since that fall, it has become obvious this great sport is hardly about spending a few hours of sitting in the woods and much more of a year-round obsession.
The best memory about my first buck is much less about the deer than the excitement I shared with my oldest brother. If this is the day I became hooked, then my brother is without a doubt the person who introduced me to this sport and unknowingly carved out an important aspect of my life. From a young age I had a strong interest in hunting, so when I was finally able to hit the woods with my brother I was ecstatic. Many new hunters, especially the young ones, seem to get discouraged quickly. Even though we invested a lot of time with no results, I was still champing at the bit every morning to get back out. Each hunt brought a new lesson. For the first and possibly only time I can recall, I was a willing student of him teaching me how to be a responsible hunter, to have good ethics and of course to only make a clean shot. Important information that I use during every hunt I go on, safety comes first, enjoying time with family and friends is second and harvesting a deer comes third.
Accompanied by my brother, we sat in a stand on the other side of the farm from where we usually hunt. With no luck during the morning hours, and after recharging with some hot breakfast back at camp, we made our plans for the evening. We were on an evening hunt and, like always, my hopes were sky high. Whether good or bad, every time I devote a day or weekend to hunting, optimism runs high. Just as any hunter can relate to, most of my hunts consist of staring over a field or into the woods and imagining the deer of my dreams gingerly stepping out of a thicket and heading in my direction.
Rarely does this seem to pan out. But on this hunt it did, exactly as planned.
To this day, I can clearly see the exact image of what I saw years ago looking through the scope of my brother’s Model 700 .270: a beautiful 8-pointer that has just walked out of the tree line, midway to the top of the field we were watching. He walked slowly as he grazed. I am no trophy hunter but the shine from a set of bone-white Missouri antlers will get the adrenaline pumping. Being a rookie at the time, this was especially true. Hardly able to conjure words enough to see if my brother also spotted the deer, he calmly looked at me and motioned for me to take a breath and relax.
As with every shot, when I hunt with my brother, he helped to guide me through the process of staying quiet, making sure the gun doesn’t tap the rail of the box blind we were in and finding a way to stay calm, all while keeping an eye on the deer in the field. Not in any hurry, the buck we were watching and preparing for continued to work laterally across the field. Step after step I waited anxiously for the right time to raise my gun and line up my shot.
Having made his way to the center of the field and stopping to graze, I lifted the rifle and carefully tucked the strap between the stock and the metal railing to avoid any unnecessary noise. When I slowed my breathing and put the crosshairs where I wanted them, I pulled the trigger. Deer down! Maybe just a few steps, that’s all he had in him. Quietly, I looked at my brother as we began smiling and bumping fists in celebration.
We sat for a few minutes, as to not disturb the deer. Any time you are excited but have to sit still for an extended period of time, it starts to feel like hours. Usually this is a “just in case” action, but in this case, it proved necessary. He got up! There goes my deer, my first buck ever. I thought I made a good shot and I watched him drop. But a few minutes later, he ran off.
Disappointed at this point, we waited 10-15 more minutes. Obviously I hit the deer, and the last thing a hunter wants to do is wound an animal. All I could think was whether I wounded him for nothing. We knew we had to go look and at this point; I just hoped he wouldn’t die days or weeks from now for no reason. We found good blood. My excitement began to build again. We followed a trail of blood in the field around a bend that was not visible from our stand. Luckily for me, the buck didn’t run far. We found him lying about 30 yards from where he was initially hit, just out of sight.
The sky was turning dark. Minutes away from the sunset, my brother and I began to celebrate. High fives, fist pumps and a few unruly yells of excitement. Surely any hunter left in the woods would have thought I just bagged a new world record and to me, he may as well have been. Sure, the chances of ever bagging a true monster that can make the records books are slim to none, so I have no way to make an accurate comparison.
But the memory of hunting with my brother and being able to share the experience of all of my hard work finally coming to fruition set the bar high. As I stood with the deer, my brother walked back to camp to get his truck. We continued to yell in excitement. That day is a bit hazy leading up to when my buck walked out and again after we loaded him into the back of the truck, but that time in-between will always be my fondest memory.
I’ve bagged a few more bucks since then, the most recent from the 2016 season. Now being an even 10 years after my first buck, I will be putting another 8-pointer on the wall. This time I was hunting on my own, but with all the same lessons I learned from the beginning. As I just turned 25 and have been lucky enough to have more than 10 years of hunting experience under my belt, I know I still have a lot of learning to do. This is a challenge I intend to take on each and every season as I spend many more future decades hunting deer and enjoying this sport that my brother got me hooked on.
— Ryan Carey is a deer hunter from Missouri and continues to learn more about hunting and the outdoors each time he is in the woods.