My First Time At Deer Camp
Hunting season has been a tradition in our family for as long as I can remember. Memories of the first time at deer camp are getting fuzzy now, but I will try and tell you how it went and hope I get the details right.
In the days before opening weekend, there was plenty to do. Getting the camper loaded on the truck, sighting-in the rifles, buying groceries, getting hunting licenses, and making arrangements for the kids to stay at Grandma’s… but finally… at long last, rifle season had arrived.
Dad rode out with my husband earlier in the day to meet my brother who had staked our claim on prime hunting land for the weekend. Having already set up camp and scouted hunting locations all afternoon, it felt as if I had already missed some key, deer camp adventures by the time the rest of us had arrived. But the merriment had just begun!
The night was filled with hunting stories around the campfire while munching on traditional hunting camp fare such as pickled bologna, cheese, crackers, and beef jerky. The big lark of the night would be how I would have to complete a rite of passage if I bagged my buck.
Convoluted stories of drinking blood, eating raw deer heart, and other colorful tales (that I refuse to repeat) were circulated around the fire. And although the guys all said how imperative it was I gutted my own kill, someone in particular who always had his knife (dad) would surely take over the gruesome task if I happened to forget mine.
After the last beers were drunk, and the laughing quieted… one by one, each hunter in our camp stumbled off to bed and hoped for some luck the following morning.
As the three guys who bunked in our camper commenced to snoring, my mind whirled with excitement for the next day’s outing. Would I see any deer, and would I actually be able to shoot one?
Being pinned up against the wall in the tiny camper, I felt fortunate there were lots of air leaks to press my face against since concerns of being asphyxiated from the rickety, old furnace were edging their way into my thoughts.
Shivering, I hunkered down further into the sleeping bag thinking that we may all freeze to death instead. And as the shivering increased, I quickly realized I had to pee.
Carefully sneaking out of the bunk so not to wake anyone, I padded quietly to the bathroom in soft wool socks. Feeling around the room, I searched for the lid of the tiny, plastic toilet and set about my task in quick fashion.
Being scared to death of getting locked in bathrooms, as mentioned in a previous post, “Why I’m Scared of Bathrooms,” I kept the door halfway open since everyone in the camper was already asleep, then lifted the lid, and sat down. Gasping in shock at the ice-cold plastic meeting bare skin, it took another few seconds to relax enough so I could actually do my business.
Why is it when you’re trying to do your business quietly, it is anything but?
As the floodgates opened, I thought “OMG! Shhhhh!!!” But there was no way I could slow the flow at that point.
The sounding deluge reverberated through the tiny camper like a heavy rain on a metal roof, and as thoughts of Noah rescuing us with his ark came to mind, I started snickering. The snickers turned into giggles as the deluge continued, and finally ended in a full fit of laughter that had everyone grumbling by the time I made my way back to bed.
“Are you done, finally?” someone growled.
“Ummm… yeah. Sorry,” I cackled, slipping back into my sleeping bag and poking my nose against the air hole.
After another 5 minutes of giggling, I finally drifted off to sleep thinking someone may just hold a pillow over my face in retribution.
As it turned out, I survived the night and we were awakened early the next morning with Dad’s report that a foot of snow had fallen while we slept. As I pulled my clothes under the covers to warm them up before dressing, my brother bellowed from the upper bunk.
“What’s the matter?!” Dad asked.
“My head froze to the wall!” he howled.
While dad helped extricate my brother from his frozen berth, I pulled on my cold-stiffened clothes while still inside my sleeping bag, trying to warm back up before hitting the trail.
There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as donning ice cold clothes in the morning. They wake a person up faster than any cup of coffee ever could.
Besides long johns, I had put on jeans, 3 pairs of socks, snow pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, a heavy coat, and a hunter-orange safety vest with matching hat. Squeezing my feet into my boots, I wondered if all circulation would be cut off to my toes by the time I walked to my location. But there was one thing I learned from all the past hunting stories I had heard… I would never be invited back to deer camp if I wimped-out and headed in before 10am. That meant, dress warm!
Since it was also vital to be sitting in your hunting blind 30-minutes before daylight, it was as if the Christmas Tree at the drag strip was about to turn green. The guys frantically threw on their coats, gathered their gear, and headed out the door without even saying good morning.
“Were we late?” I wondered.
“Come on,” my husband said. “Time to go!”
Armed with hand-me down hunting clothes, a clunky, borrowed gun, and some optimism that I would finally bag my first buck, I hopped down off the back step into the snow, feeling like one of those stiff-walking kids depicted on TV that their mother had dressed too warm.
The leaves, crisp and crunchy the night before were blanketed with the wet kind of snow that creaked underneath every rubber-soled boot step, and it was so cold that every inhale of breath felt like someone pinched my nose and simultaneously scalded my throat as the icy air met heated breath.
In attempt to keep the flashlight from flickering through the woods like a warning light that would scare off any deer, I kept the beam low so you could only see about 7 feet ahead. Just far enough to spot a tree before running into it.
“Do you think I should load the gun,” I whispered to my husband.
“No,” he said, reminding me that it was not safe to be traipsing through the woods with a loaded gun.
I knew that, but the inky-black silhouettes of trees appearing mere footfalls ahead of us were unnervingly, spooky. My eyes almost hurt with the strain of trying to see them in the darkness.
Taking a turn to the west, the flashlight hovered over large animal prints that appeared way too fresh and going in the same direction we were.
“Aren’t those bear prints?” I asked, shining the narrow beam down the trail.
“Yep,” my husband groaned. “Shit!”
“Can I load my gun now?” I asked.
“Yes! Load it!” he hissed as the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end like a surge of electricity had just slithered up my pantleg.
Confirming the safety was on, I slid one shell into the chamber and snapped in the clip. Making sure one finger rested on the safety for quick release, I started once again down the trail holding the flashlight alongside the barrel of the gun as I scanned for animals that might want to eat me.
If you can imagine Elmer Fudd hunting wabbits, you’ll get the picture.
At long last, we made it to a large oak tree where I made myself comfortable at the base while my husband faded off into the darkness. His own site was only a couple hundred yards away.
Squishing myself back into the tree and hoping to appear invisible, I decided the snow made for a comfortable seat this dark morning and hoped I had enough layers on so the cold didn’t seep in too fast.
Peering into the woods, I imagined shadows moving in the distance reminding me of Dad’s cautionary tales about nervous hunters. Basically, every year during rifle season, a panicked rifleman inadvertently shoots a friend or family member because he pulled the trigger before verifying what he was shooting at.
After sitting in the dark woods knowing a bear prowled the area, I could understand how an accident might happen. But gun safety rules had been pounded in my head since I was a little girl.
Rule Number 1: Never aim your gun at a person. Even if the gun isn’t loaded… you still NEVER do it.
Rule Number 2: Never aim your gun at anything until you’re sure about what you’re aiming at.
As dawn broke across the horizon, I could finally see where I was situated at the top of a hill. Approximately 100 yards down, another hill crested and dipped down to meet a stand of trees with cover so thick that you couldn’t see past it.
The shadows I had been seeing were mostly trees with branches blowing in the slight wind, but there were some areas that appeared to have movement just minutes before that were now clear of any obstacles. Still nervous about the bear, I scanned the woods thoroughly, trying not to move too fast.
As the sunbeams lit up the frozen thicket in the distance, I noticed a slight movement among the branches. Like that match game we played as kids, “one of these things is not like the other,” I could clearly see what looked like an odd shaped branch moving beyond the thicket.
It was a buck!
My heartbeat hitched up a notch as I watched and waited until… the movement disappeared.
Relaxing back against the tree, I gazed sleepily across the frozen forest thinking it wouldn’t be long now before the cold got through all my layers. Stuffing my chin into the top of my coat, I began the countdown to 10 o’clock, willing the shivers to stay away a little while longer. I only had an hour to go when I scanned the tree line once again, and that’s when I saw him.
Stepping out from behind a great oak on the next hill down, the biggest buck I had ever seen stood still as a statue as he scanned the area and sniffed the air. The white of his chest had to be as wide as the oak he stood behind. His neck thick and strong held a head heavy with a thick set of tines, all aiming up toward the heavens as the sunlight shone between each point. He had to be a 10-point or bigger, and if he would just take one more step out from behind that tree, I knew I could make a good shot on him.
My breathing took on that labored sound like I had been running a race, and my heartbeat pounded so hard I worried the deer would hear it. Trembling with excitement, I slowly pulled the rifle up to my shoulder, taking aim at the deer’s massive chest. But when I looked through the scope, I noticed the site picture was off.
What should have been a close-up of this massive deer’s chest was a black blur with an eraser-sized hole lit up in the center that moved with every breath I took.
“Shit!” I grumbled, knowing right away what the problem was. I had sited the gun while wearing a light jacket. With all the layers I had on, I couldn’t squeeze the butt of the gun close enough to see through the scope properly!
“Noooo…,” I whimpered, squeezing the gun into my shoulder until it hurt. Still, the picture remained black with only a glimpse of light where I should have seen a deer.
Knowing the only way to have a chance at shooting this monster buck was to lose the coat, I quickly yanked my right arm out of the sleeve and remounted the gun. Taking aim at the tree once again, I thought, “Is that the right tree?”
He was gone.
Quickly scanning to the right, I just barely caught the flash of his white tail waving goodbye as that monster buck sauntered out of my sites forever.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” I groaned, pounding my head back against the oak, knowing I had missed my buck of a lifetime.
As it turned out, I had never seen a buck that big again. And as time would mellow my enthusiasm for the hunt, I feel privileged to have witnessed such a majestic creature all sparkling in the sunlight like a unicorn so long ago.
It has been several years now since I last bundled up for an opening day of rifle season, but if I get the gumption to go this year, I will carry dad’s gun with the thought he will be with me, and maybe… just maybe… I will get another chance at bagging that monster buck.
Thanks so much for reading!
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