According to my father, all proper Texas women know how to hunt dove and quail. But it is not enough to just hunt dove and quail in my family — all proper Tatum women shoot deer too.
Growing up, I did not want to be a proper Tatum woman and I fought my father every time he tried to get me to shoot something. I looked towards November with dread, knowing that it marked the beginning of weekends spent at the deer lease.
Friday after school, for the next three months, my whole family would load up in our Suburban and head off to Nowhere, Texas.
During my first couple of years in college, I began to appreciate my father’s passion for hunting. Even though I had not given in to shooting a deer, I had begun to hunt birds. For my twenty-first birthday, he gave me a Benelli Montefeltro Shotgun. I didn’t know what a special gun this was, but I could tell from the way he kept saying the name of the gun and the light in his eyes that it was a big deal. The way he got excited over my growing interest in hunting made me want to put forth an even larger effort.
By November of my senior year in college, I finally agreed to go to the deer lease. It had become evident to me that this place was not just about hunting. My father loved the lease because it was a time when he could get away from work with the people he loved the most — his family — to do something he was passionate about. As a young woman, I came to this realization, and was happy to give up my weekend to go hunting.
This was my year — the year I was going to shoot my first buck.
As we drove to the lease, I listened intently as he talked to me about how to shoot a buck, even though I already knew. All those weekends we had spent at the lease I had been paying attention, even if I didn’t show it. I knew that the magic time to shoot a deer was that special part of dawn and sunset when the sky is pink.
Also, I knew that hunting takes patience and that shooting the first deer you see wasn’t necessarily going to make your hunt a success. Finally, I knew where to shoot the deer: Aim on the broadside of the animal, above the front leg, a little below the halfway point. But I listened because my dad loved to help me and I loved to have his help.
While my love for hunting had grown, it had not fully blossomed. In other words, I was willing to dedicate one weekend during deer season to hunting, not every weekend. In the hunting world this meant we had four hunts: Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday evening, and Sunday morning.
The weekend quickly passed with no luck and soon the last hunt was upon us. Frustration was palpable. On the final morning, I drug myself out of my cozy sleeping bag and pulled on my long underwear and camo jumpsuit. We loaded up the car with our guns and other hunting necessities to begin the slow drive to the blind.
We rode silently through the black morning, listening to our song, “It Must Be Love,” by Don Williams. When we approached the parking spot for the deer blind we had chosen, my dad turned off the headlights and crept on until we stopped. Without speaking, we unloaded the car, not wanting to disrupt the animals around us.
After walking through the dark brush, we arrived at our blind. I climbed the ladder to the stand, my dad following close behind. Once safely inside, we unloaded our bags.
We pulled out guns, shells, binoculars, and a propane heater that I had insisted on. It was 5:45 in the morning and all we had to do was wait. Wait for the sun to rise and for my buck to arrive. The sun came up. The magic time came and went. We sat quietly for hours with nothing to show. The whole experience felt futile.
A couple hours later, I was ready to give up, but despite my pleading my dad insisted on thirty more minutes. Five minutes passed and he began to stir. I couldn’t believe he had given into my begging and we were finally going to leave. I was ecstatic.
However, the ecstasy was short lived when I discovered we were not leaving. He was going to the bathroom. Thoughts whizzed through my head about how absurd this was. All morning long we had been so careful and quiet, and now he was going to urinate in the woods! Ridiculous!
After he climbed down, I began packing our belongings with little care. I was going to leave and if he was going to the bathroom, I could make as much noise as I wanted. Who really cares about shooting a stupid deer anyways?
Minutes later, my dad climbed back into the blind, patted me on the arm, and pointed. Standing in front of us was a beautiful eight-point buck. Not the kind of legendary buck that old men tell stories about, but the kind of buck that would make both of us proud.
I picked up the loaded gun and pointed it out the window. Hands shaking, I turned off the safety and lowered my head to the scope. With the gun snug against my shoulder, I aimed, took a deep breath, and gently squeezed the trigger. My heart stopped when I heard a distinct thud. It was the thud that you hear when the bullet makes contact with the animal.
To my horror, the deer was running. My biggest fear was to wound a deer and now that fear seemed to be coming true. Seconds seemed like hours as I watched the buck run.
He made it five yards and then dropped to the ground. I was finally able to exhale. My dad and I looked at each other.
In my eyes were tears and his were filled with pride. We quickly loaded up our things and walked to my trophy.
As we approached he turned to me and said, “You are going to remember this moment for the rest of your life,” and I knew that he was right.
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