First and foremost, I’ve never been much of a hunter. I’ve been inspired to do more of it with the intent of providing better for my family, but my wife isn’t a big fan of venison. She says that her early observations of deer hunters in their native element, which namely consists of driving around in a slightly to highly modified pickup truck (cool) with a deer that has been slaughtered, usually at relatively close range with a rifle caliber with the knockdown ability of a cruise missile riding in the bed of the truck (not cool) until it goes bad in the late fall sun.
With that thought in mind, I scouted for deer very carefully this year. I prefer an animal that has lived relatively stress free, without wild dogs or coyotes chasing him, away from highways and all the pollutants that are put into the environment and preferably existing on natural browse and mast rather than soy and corn.
We had two such animals on our property. Part of a larger herd, the two young male deer had spent the two years of their life relatively hidden in a small corner of our property with their mother, an intelligent animal who knew enough to stay away from roads, fields and other hazardous places. She is a little old, with some gray on her muzzle and a very slight limp, likely from not quite clearing a fence in her younger years.
Every two to four years she has a set of twins like clockwork and works very diligently raising them until she instinctively feels it is time for them to leave and join the main herd. She is nature personified. This year, perhaps feeling a little miffed that the three of them spent most of their summer in my garden, munching on my lettuce, carrots, early kale, and anything else they so pleased, I decided to finish my freezer with two eighty pound two year old deer.
That was all well and good, except Laura was about as thrilled as if I had offered Bambi himself to her on a platter. There was much mumbling about “redneck husbands” and “silliness” and “I DON’T LIKE VENISON.” I thought that, as with nearly everything else within reason, that once Laura had venison that she would like it – that is usually what happens with her. She wasn’t a big fan of sushi when we started dating, nor did she care very much for anything raw. That opinion didn’t last very long as we immersed ourselves in different food and spices, raw fish and finer cuts of beef along with the “Nasty Bits” to some degree.
With all this in mind, I carefully staked out their normal grazing route and waited until the right weather rolled around to allow them to hang for a few days after the initial dressing so the meat could have time to get accustomed to its new state of being and become more palatable and tender. The day finally arrived.
Over my wife’s protests, I carefully loaded the custom .270 given to me by my father with ammunition he loaded by hand. When I was a kid, he would dole out one shell for me to hunt with, and the requirement was that I have a game animal to account for my shot, or a good reason for why I missed. I think that’s ultimately why I became an ok shot when hunting – I’ll wait a long time for that perfect shot and I rarely miss. I’ve never in my life had an animal run away wounded. I honestly can’t stand the thoughts of that happening. It happened to me once when I was a kid and I was mortally horrified.
As usual, my field of vision began to narrow down and I watched the young buck carefully as he navigated his way through the branches and mostly second growth underbrush. There was only one spot to take him that was clear of debris and offered an unobstructed shot, one that I had identified earlier in the week.
He and his family were intent on last year’s acorn mast, and were working their way through old apples from the trees and other tasty deer goodness. I watched the sun recede into the west as our world spun at its dizzying rate and became engrossed in the flight of a few migratory birds, bound for somewhere warmer, no doubt. I waited – and saw the shot. My finger tightened slowly on the trigger as I scoped the head area, looking for a target. I found it. A small patch of white air just below his left ear. The rifle shot echoed across the valley for a moment and I ejected the spent cartridge, picking it up without thinking, an ingrained habit from my childhood. I never stopped glassing the deer and as I returned to the field of view, I watched him run away.
What?? How on earth was he running? I retraced the shot in my mind and didn’t think there was any way that I could have missed. Not at that distance, not with this rifle, no way. Fearful that I had wounded him, I watched as he paused before exiting through a few strands of barb wire and vanished into the gloom of the impending sunset.
Handgun ready, I tracked him as far as I could that night by a flickering headlamp (stupid batteries), imagining that I was following a blood trail. I don’t think I ever was. When I examined the area the next morning in the light a new day, I found a branch shot cleanly in two. The branch saved Spot’s life that night.
But not the next.