I remember my first successful deer hunt like it happened yesterday. So, as I sit here today, I can only imagine the excitement that is still coursing through my daughter’s veins. She just shot her first deer last week — the day before Thanksgiving. Taylor is 11 and was allowed to hunt under Wisconsin’s new hunting mentor program. All fall, we had lessons every day after school. We would sit in my office at home and go over everything — the hunting regulations, possible hunting scenarios and, most importantly, shot placement. We used photos in Deer & Deer Hunting in a game we called, “Shoot or Don’t Shoot?” We also used my desktop version of our Shot Simulator to go over the best possible shot placement. By the time we got to last week, she had become a pro on exactly where the deer’s vital organs are and where the scapula is positioned on a deer’s skeleton.
Our plan, if we saw a deer close enough, was to aim dead center for the scapula. I wanted her first shot to be no guesses. No blood trailing, either; if at all possible. Several unsuccessful ground blind vigils in 20-degree temperatures wore down Taylor’s excitement, but she was bound and determined to just see a deer this season. That moment came when our good friend Cory Johnson placed us in a prime spot on his property. As the afternoon daylight faded, a big doe appeared in the woods before us. The only problem was another deer — a young buck — had crept close to our blind and winded us … sending both deer high-tailing it out of sight before she could shoot.
It all came together when another friend, Michael Solberg, allowed us to hunt one of his best spots: a blind overlooking an oat food plot. He told us several deer were visiting the plot regularly during daylight, so we slipped into the spot at 1 p.m. The excitement and anticipation must have wore Taylor down, because she fell asleep on my shoulder almost immediately after her midday snack. I couldn’t help but smile and just soak it all in. Michael had told us to be on our toes at about 2:30 p.m. That’s when the deer usually showed up to feed. It was just a few minutes before 2 when I slightly nudged Taylor and told her it was almost “prime time.”
We quietly talked about school, her favorite TV shows and her upcoming part in our church’s Christmas choir performance. Then, just like always, a deer showed up unexpectedly. Taylor was facing due west and I due east when I noticed a flicker of movement through the blind’s window behind her. There, at just 4 yards, stood a white-tailed doe. “Don’t move,” I whispered anxiously. “Don’t move. There’s a deer coming to the plot!” Taylor froze in statue-like form. Her breath billowed from her mouth like a freshly stoked wood fire.
The deer took a few steps and stopped. “She’s so pretty!” Taylor whispered. The doe whipped her head toward the blind and started doing a head bob. “Donnnnn’t move.” I whispered, my heart now in my throat.
After a few more head bobs and a swirl of her nose, the doe determined the Double Bull blind was not a threat. I moved for the rifle — a Knight .243 single shot that we borrowed from D&DH’s Brad Rucks for this occasion. My excitement got the best of me, however, as I made a slight noise when I tried to position the gun on our Caldwell shooting tripod. The deer heard something and slowly trotted across the food plot and out of my line of sight.
I thought I had just completely ruined Taylor’s chance. However, Taylor could see through a window behind me, and noticed the deer had not completely fled the area. Within moments, Taylor whispered excitedly, “She’s coming back!”
Peering out the window, I noticed the doe had returned to the plot and started feeding. It was game on once again. With the rifle solidly anchored in the tripod, I tuned the scope down to 3-power. “Can you see her?” I asked as Taylor lined up the shot. “Yes!” Taylor replied.
“How about now?” I asked, turning the power up to 5X.
“Yes, Dad!” she replied with a hint of “duh.”
“OK, let’s go for it,” I replied, turning the scope’s power all the way up. “She’s broadside. You know where to aim, right?”
“Yes, that square part at the top of her shoulder,” Taylor said matter-of-factly while lining up the near-70-yard shot. I wanted to brace myself for the shot, but it was too late.
With one eye on the gun and one eye on the deer, I recoiled slightly, but that didn’t stop me from seeing the deer drop dead on the spot. Her reaction said it all.
The true celebration, however, didn’t begin until we got out of the blind and walked up to the deer. It was then that Taylor knew that she was bringing home the venison. Her excitement was truly contagious.
One of my favorite memories of this hunt was the next video clip. This was completely unexpected improv from Taylor. She is constantly singing at home, and always makes up her own songs, whether or not she has an instrument handy. This is a moment that any seasoned hunter can appreciate — pure unbridled enthusiasm over something that is primal. This is why we hunt!