Thursday, November 25, 2010


This year I went deer hunting for the first time. I always wanted to hunt but I don't come from a deer hunting family. We're from Chicago. I am part hippie. Guys like me don't just start deer hunting.

One time, over a campfire and venison brats, I listened to my pal Brian tell some hunting stories. He just broke out one season and started deer hunting (with some guidance.) I certainly was intrigued, but I felt deep down that I was too far away from hunting to actually do it. Just because Brian can just up and start hunting doesn't mean that I can. Don't get me wrong; I love the outdoors. I love fishing (but not so much cleaning fish.) Stream trout fishing in particular feels like hunting, stalking, but shooting a large mammal with a large gun is different.

But, with Brian and other friends as mentors, I decided to try it. I wanted the experience. I wanted to reduce my families' dependence on farm-raised beef (and all the harmful farming practices.) My wife and I looked forward to lean red meat that was free of hormones and antibiotics. Deer get to live freely in the wild as opposed to cattle.

If I am willing to order a steak at a restaurant, I might as well be willing to kill a deer.

One of the first steps was learning to use a gun. Brian took me to the Oakdale Gun Club to practice shooting slugs with a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun. Gun clubs can be an scary place for a city boy with ties to the Socialist party, but all them NRA-card-carrying-members were kind and welcoming. I did feel very much out of my comfort zone, though, and when I fired my first slug I (and my shoulder) were certainly very uncomfortable. I seriously wondered if I was up to deer hunting. Maybe I should just hunt rabbits first. Squirrels. With air rifles.

A week later when the ringing in my ears stopped (I am being a little dramatic,) I went to the range with my pal David. David had a semi-automatic shotgun that didn't quite kick like a mule. I felt more comfortable with the gun. I felt a little more confident.

At the urging of my father I signed up for a Hunter Education class that the DNR offers, despite being old enough to not have to. After completing an online course that was more involved than I expected, I took part in a field day. I was officially able to safely handle a weapon.

Meanwhile, I absorbed information from anyone and everything I could. The safety guys at the gun range, dudes on Youtube, the guy behind the counter at Fleet Farm and even my boss who happens to have grown up deer hunting in Wisconsin (and she's a lady!)

I couldn't believe how much information I'd downloaded in such a short period of time. I felt (kinda) like Neo with kung fu. I learned how to field dress a deer through a computer.

In late October, I hunted the early antler-less season down in southeastern Minnesota. I saw a few deer, but none that I could shoot at with the 12-gauge. It was an awesome experience though, despite the rain, gaining more confidence in the field, safely handling a loaded gun. On a side-note, I was using a semi-automatic shotgun, but typically I had only one shell loaded because I didn't want to shoot at something and then, while adrenalized and excited, have a live gun in my hands. I was allowing myself one shot. No runners. Broadside only.

Then, for the "main" firearms season I again couldn't find anyone to hunt with. I had a couple contacts for joining others on private land, but in the end they fell through and I decided to head north to hunt public land in the Superior National Forest. I was just hoping to find a young doe. Something with nice meat that I could easily handle by myself.

This time I got to hunt with a rifle being that I would be hunting in the northern part of the state. One of my neighbors was kind enough to let me borrow a Marlin 336. Some say that gun has killed more deer than any other. I took a couple trips to the Gun Club to practice and quickly I came to realize that bullets are not cheap.

Now I was faced with camping in the north woods, in early November by myself, meanwhile trying to hunt land that I hadn't scouted at all save for Google maps. I called a friend's father who has a cabin up in Superior National Forest. He was planning on staying at the cabin that weekend, but invited me to stay with him.

The Friday afternoon before the opener I was able to scout a little and I found a place with no other hunters, and some deer sign. Saturday morning at 6:30 am I set out. Not far from the cabin I passed an old gravel pit and my head lights flashed on a doe near the road. I drove on twenty minutes to the spot I had picked the day before. In total darkness with a headlamp on I stumbled into the woods and I sat on a fallen tree for three hours. I didn't see a deer but I heard gunshots far off in the distance.

That afternoon I scouted the aforementioned gravel pit which sat on the northern edge of a large expanse of forest. I found several rubs and a scrape with fresh scat in it. There were many well-worn trails and quite a bit of deer sign.

At about 4:30 PM I was set up on a small hill downwind from the gravel pit in bright sunshine and a stiff breeze. To my left fifty yards was the scrape. Down a small hill there was a watering hole in front of me a little to my left with plenty of tracks around it. I had only been there a half hour when a deer slowly appeared out of a small clump of trees thirty yards in front of me. The deer was just sniffing at the ground and slowly walking. I watched it for a while as it was head-on and I was waiting for a broadside shot. I slowly drew the hammer back on the rifle. The deer didn't hear me. It didn't know I was there! I waited maybe a half a minute and the deer turned broadside, looking to my left. I raised my gun and as I aimed at the deer's armpit, just as it began to walk quickly down the hill towards the watering hole. A few more yards and it was gone. I swept my gun with the deer and fired. I don't remember hearing the shot. The deer dropped on the spot and kicked a couple times.

I sat there. My hands were shaking a little bit. I couldn't fucking believe it. I shot a fucking deer. I was both thrilled and shocked; it was violent.

I had driven four hours to get there, I was wearing blaze orange, sitting in the woods with a loaded gun on my lap-fully hoping to kill a deer-and when it actually happened I couldn't believe it. I unloaded my gun and waited maybe three minutes before approaching it. It was a buck. I approached from behind and touched his eye with the muzzle of my gun. He was dead. I didn't understand why it didn't run at all.

I sat quietly for a few minutes and just observed the deer. I couldn't wait to try my hand at field dressing. After a couple photos I started dressing the deer. It went about as well as it could have. I saved the heart and the shockingly large liver. I couldn't believe how heavy the deer was. The deer's insides were very hot. No Youtube video can prepare you for that. Only when I reached up in its chest did I confirm that I hit about eight inches high and nipped its spine.

I dragged him back to the car and brought him back to the cabin. When I saw my friend I gave him a hug. It felt like I had accomplished something and he was the first person I got to share it with. It was also a little emotional. I had just killed a large animal that in many ways was more incredible than myself.

On the phone later that evening my wife was yelling "I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU SHOT A DEER!" and I had to admit I felt the same way. She said she really didn't expect me to get one. Neither did I.

The buck hung from a tree for two nights then on Monday I was able to bring the deer back and, with the guidance of Brian, butcher it myself.

We've had a few meals of venison already and the whole family has enjoyed it.

I am grateful that I was allowed to harvest such an amazing animal for my family.