Many young people in Southern Ohio learn to deer hunt at an early age: a rite of passage. As a young person in Gallia County, I spent many hours on sports fields, at Boy Scout camps, and backpacking in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains; hunting was never an activity in our household.
Through a family at Good News Baptist Church I was soon introduced to hunting at 23. Denver Garber began teaching me about hunting. On his family farm there are several deer stands set to promote the harvesting of deer.
The year 2016 was when the itch to hunt first struck, and I was limited to the last weekend of gun season in Ohio. Those two days in January were cold and fruitless for me in the stand.
The failed attempt taught me several lessons, the first of which is patience. Denver explained that had I waited, the buck would have walked right under me and placed himself directly in my line of sight. Instead, I had rotated towards the buck giving away my position. The second lesson I learned that year was preparation. I had not spent enough time preparing for the hunt to successfully harvest the deer. My impatience and lack of preparation sent me home empty handed.
Fall 2017 had me preparing to harvest a buck. So Monday morning, opening day of gun season, I rolled out of bed at 5 a.m., donned my hunting gear and loaded my gun and ammo in the truck, and made the 30 minute drive to the farm, and hiked into the woods. I was in the stand by 7 a.m. as the sun rose over the horizon.
I saw movement to the East of me coming up a long ridge. At less than 100 yards out I saw what I thought was the biggest buck I had ever seen right at 7:15 a.m. I sat patiently, moving as little as I possibly could and bringing my gun around in his direction. He slowly worked his way closer to me, grazing as he went.
At 45 yards away he saw me. He froze in place with his shoulder behind a tree for what felt like hours. My heart was pounding, I could feel my pulse in my ears, and I waited eagerly for my shot. He took two steps out from behind the tree, leaving his left shoulder exposed to me.
At 7:45 a.m., I knew I had my only chance to take this buck. I raised my gun, aimed my sights center on his shoulder, and pulled the trigger. The sound of a 12 gauge firing in the still quiet of the morning was deafening. The buck started north over the ridge, limping at a run. I waited, watching as far as I could see him.
After losing sight, I climbed out of the stand and went to to confirm a hit. Seeing fur on the ground, I called Denver confirming my shot. Soon we were moving through the woods, frost still on the ground, tracking the injured buck following the disturbed leaves on the ground.
Here we encountered another hunter that saw the buck move across the next ridge over from my stand, lay down, and then take off running again: clearly injured. We spotted the buck again, 40 yards to the north of us downhill.
He remained stationary so I lined up to take a second shot, which passed through his chest cavity missing his major organs. Deer are notorious for their ability to keep running on adrenaline long after they have suffered a fatal injury, which explains why this particular white-tail led us on another chase. We sat and waited, hoping the animal would lay down and bleed out from its wounds.
We took up the pursuit heading up the next ridge over where we began seeing significant signs of blood loss.
With Daisy, the blood hound, still in the lead, we directed her along the best possible path, which led past a large honeysuckle thicket. The branches and leaves began to shake violently as our prey began to move about inside the thicket. I rushed around the east side, eager to see the buck; and there in a hole in the thicket I saw him. Five yards away, he stared me down.
It was at this point my adrenaline was rushing the most. More than waiting to take the first shot, more than tracking him through the woods. It was at this precise moment that I had to react swiftly and effectively to be successful. I raised my gun, aimed at the center of his chest, and took my third and final shot of the day.
As the slug entered the deer, he collapsed to the ground and died.
After the buck had died we dragged him from the brush and field dressing him. Denver told me what to do, making sure I did so correctly. This was my first deer after all. Gutting the buck certainly ranks high on my list of disgusting things I have done, but I am glad to have done it.
After getting the deer back to the barn, he weighed 150 pounds and had a decent eight point rack. Denver and I skinned and butchered the deer, processing the meat into steaks, roasts, and burger. The hind-quarters I kept whole to make jerky.
The emotional response of killing my first animal — let alone a buck — was mixed. There was joy for certain over the thrill of the hunt and the success of the day. The pleasure in succeeding as a hunter has a way of validating a person.
There was also a somber nature to it, having taken the life of an animal. While I was proud of my accomplishment, I also recognized that this was not something to take lightly.
There was also thankfulness. I was thankful for the plethora of new experiences, for the opportunity to share in them with my dear friend Denver. I am thankful for all that this deer has provided for my family; a gladness for its provision in death and not wasting it.
What is most likely the central theme, is my gratitude for nature and the way our world works. My eyes have been opened to a whole new aspect of our culture and our world here in Appalachia. The way many young people learn to appreciate nature and life by hunting is not lost on me, rather it has affected me on a personal level.
Will I hunt again? I would say most definitely. My freezer is full of good meat, and I chew on some deer jerky as I write this. In the future I hope to share this experience with children of my own, if that should come to pass. Until then, I hope to enjoy the fruit of my harvest and the friendship that has grown from it.