I've always wondered if I would be able to handle hunting, specifically an animal dying. The hiking, scouting, waiting....I can do that and learn to do it better, but to watch an animal die and know that it was intentional and because of me, that's something I've never experienced before.
I'm a softie. I ran over a rabbit once and I felt so bad but I couldn't handle touching it to throw it off the road so that an animal could eat it. By logical extension, shooting an animal and watching it die seemed pretttyyy impossible. Now, not so much!
Fernando and I went hunting on Nov 1st, 2020 which was opening day of Mule Deer season if you didn't know, and we lucked into a beautiful four point buck. This is the story of that hunt.
Fernando was told of an area last year and had gone a couple days prior to scout it. Having seen lots of tracks and a couple does, we decided it would be the perfect place to go. We drove in, found a side road that I was willing to drive up that would take us higher up the hill side, parked the truck where Fernando told me it was far enough. We decided to follow the road; he knew there was a lake ahead from his previous scout of the area so scoping that out was our first priority. It was early afternoon so we weren't in a rush. We walked the road for a while. I don't know how far it was, it didn't really matter. We walked, watched for tracks, noted the fresh ones over top of Fernando's boot prints from before, glassed, avoided the crunchiest ice or snow when we started walking again. This went on for a while.
Since we were hunting in a cutblock that was affected by the wildfires of 2018, it was easy to see with the limited brush, though the lack of snow cover meant the deer could easily see us before we ever saw them. Realizing the area had more land than we could hope to scout in a single day, we went up the ridge Fernando had seen the does. We stopped at a downed fir tree that had been damaged by the fire. Fernando glassed while I took photos and tried to chase the sap suckers to get a photo. They are way too fast and I didn't have a zoom lens so it was kind of hopeless from the beginning.
After a while we moved to the other side of the ridge to watch from that direction. The wind was pretty non-existent so the probability our scent was being carried was low. It also meant they could hear us, but what are you going to do?
Since we had time we walked through the burned timber that was still standing, watching for signs. We came across so many tracks and the occasional scat that was old but no sign of the deer.
We decided about an hour and a half before sunset that we would just scout the area and decide where we should put the trail cams for next year. As we walked we found beds, perfect micro climates for the deer, watering holes, and fresher scat (but not super fresh). Knowing they had been there within a few days made us excited but we weren't expecting to have a successful hunt this night. It was Sunday night so we were really just out for fun and scouting.
We walked on, the sun setting to our right and making it difficult to see. It was borderline blinding as we came out of a dip in the ridge. Fernando noticed two deer run off while we were blinded. He would later tell me that just before we came over the top he was thinking about how the sun being where it was would affect his ability to see a buck if there was one. The two does ran off, but one stayed. The wind was in our favour and had picked up. We wanted to try and get close to the deer so I could take photos. Remember, I didn't have a zoom lens, so anything more than 20 yards away was going to be difficult to photograph.
The doe let us get within 50 yards of her, but never closer. She started up the ridge line and we followed, using the terrain to our advantage. Can you spot the deer in the two photos above?
We figured we might as well use this time to our advantage and practice our stalking skills. I got a little impatient and just really wanted my photo, so I started going faster than Fernando, and we happened to stop about 50 yards from this downed spruce tree with branches galore. We were watching the does when Fernando pointed out a fourth doe coming up the hill side. I couldn't see it, but when I did, it turned out I was looking at a different deer....the buck. Fernando noticed the "branches" move and realized that it was a buck. Binoculars up you could feel his excitement as he counted the points. In whispered shouts we had a conversation something like the following.
Fernando - There's two...c'mon deer...move...Kayla! I think its a four point! Fuck, I think so but I don't know.
Me, trying to get my camera up so I can photograph him taking the shot if it comes to that - pointing at a stump - Should we go behind that stump so we have cover?
Fernando - Yeah but we can't until he goes back to doing what he was doing, he's watching us. Don't fucking move Kayla! Don't fucking move!
This went on for a few more back and forths and I stood still, held my breath as much as seemed reasonable, and waited for Fernando to confirm the points. There are four! But now we have to wait for him to go back to doing what he was doing before he noticed us. A few minutes later, which felt like a lot more, he came around the tree, heading towards a doe. The perfect broadside shot. Fernando took the shot and the deer went down.
It felt like eternity, but was really only a few minutes. The deer was fighting to get up. I walked around, in front of the deer, while Fernando lined up for a second shot. I talked to the deer, and while it might sound weird, it helped me. I told him he could let go, that it was okay, he wasn't alone and that we appreciated him and his life that he gave so we could eat him. And while I'm sure he wouldn't have willingly taken a bullet so he could feed us with his body, that is the intent of our hunts, sustenance. Fernando took the second shot. He jerked his body up and then collapsed back down as Fernando took the shot. We never found the entrance or exit wound of the second shot so I think he must have missed as the deer dropped back down to the ground. No change. We didn't want him to suffer. It was never our intent, so Fernando lined up again and took a third shot. It was a perfect shot. Through the chest but no damage to the intestines, so it was a clean gut job (for what that entails). Despite the three gun shots the does never ran off. They weren't scared at all, which amazed me. As the sun set behind the hill and darkness started to take over, we cleaned the deer using headlamps, and then hauled him out to the truck. Luckily the truck wasn't too far, maybe 800 meters or a kilometer. It was the best situation I could have been exposed to for my first successful hunt and I am extremely thankful for the experience.
It took me a long time to publish this post....almost a year! At first because of fear of backlash from anti-hunting people, but then because it was no longer hunting season so it didn't feel relevant. Now I am excited for what the 2021 season will bring and ready to accept that some people will not approve of hunting no matter what. That's their prerogative, just as it is mine and Fernando's to hunt.