The First Deer
In October 1990, I was invited by my longtime friend, hunter and businessman Shawn DeJean, to accompany him, his brother Kyle and their families on a hunt for whitetail deer on Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana. It took me less than two seconds to say yes and an excitement filled 36 hours to get ready for the trip. At that time, I was brand-new to deer hunting. I weighed a shade under 200 pounds, was 29 years old and, in spite of my cerebral palsy, I could climb into a deer stand after ascending a conventional ladder.
My chosen armament for the safari was a Remington Model 700 in .243 Winchester that had belonged to my father. I had been to the range with it on several occasions. Topped with a Weaver K4 scope and stoked with Remington’s 100-grain Core-Lokt bullets, I could consistently achieve 1", three shot groups at 100 yards, due to its negligible recoil. I no longer own this rifle, having since sold it to longtime hunting buddy Robert Carr, who is now deceased. Bob put a much sharper Nikon 3-9x50mm Pro-Staff scope on it. Today, I can only hope that this rifle has found its way into the hands of a hunter that appreciates it as much as Bob and I did.
Anyway, back to the story. I remember gradually falling asleep in my bunk at the lodge the night before the hunt with visions of monster bucks haunting my dreams. Very early the next morning, fortified by a cupcake and a bottle of orange juice, we all piled into the hunting vehicles about 4:30 AM. A half hour later, Shawn was nervously supervising my slow and somewhat precarious climb into a well-worn, 12-foot box stand that was equipped with one rolling chair, some sliding fiberglass windows and a sleepy nest of yellow jackets, which I kept a weather eye on for the entire duration of the hunt. The stand overlooked a large corn feeder situated some 80 yards away on a small shooting lane that tapered off into a dense wood line on two sides. (Baiting deer is legal in Louisiana.) In order to feed, a deer would have to cross to the feeder and exit back into the forest on the opposite side.
Although the weather was not unseasonably cool that day, my status as a newbie to deer hunting told on me. In my excitement, I had not put on enough layers of clothes to keep the early-morning chill at bay. Consequently, by 7:30 AM, I had seen no deer and my teeth were chattering like runaway maracas at a Latino festival. I could hear the distant rumble of cars on the highway and I silently assured myself that no deer in its right mind would show itself at this late hour. Fifteen minutes later, as I had begun to cuss my own incompetence at letting some of the best parts of me freeze off, the brown-and-white wraith of a deer appeared from nowhere at the edge of the woods.
That it was a small deer was evident and from all appearances, my quarry seemed to be a young doe. I briefly considered passing on it, but I had been carefully instructed the night before that I could take whatever sex deer I saw the next morning, buck or doe. In those days, I had not yet killed any big game and I was pretty bloodthirsty. Since the either sex rule applied at the time, I carefully snicked off the Remington's two-position safety and waited for the deer to close the distance to the feeder. Visions of ultra-succulent venison backstraps began to dance in my head. The deer ate contentedly, being totally unaware of my presence.
Suddenly, the situation began to unravel. Again, my inexperience betrayed me, for my gun barrel bumped slightly against the window of the stand as I was taking a deep breath. My quarry became nervous at once and poised to spring into the woods. For the merest instant, the deer gave me the broadside shot for which I had been told to wait. Centering the Weaver’s duplex crosshairs on the deer’s shoulder, I pressed the trigger.
The .243 cracked and the deer fell like a stone at the foot of the feeder. Initially, jubilation engulfed me and I had to forcibly restrain myself from yelling at the top of my lungs. To have done so would have busted the hunt for my friends and I was but a rookie, as well as a guest of the plantation. Instead, I sat quietly for what seemed to be an eternity, petting the .243 and casting covetous glances at the deer on the ground, noting how the sunlight reflecting off of its soft coat caused different degrees of shading to appear.
Finally, about 10:30 am, Shawn and his son H. B. showed up. After unloading my gun and setting it in a corner of the stand, I began the long, slow and slightly stiff backwards journey down the ladder and out of the box. H. B. waited for me about halfway down, all the while entreating me to take my time. That was a bit hard for me to do, as I had my first "big game" animal on the ground!
We crossed quickly to the deer and my heart sank. To begin with, it soon became apparent that my shot had hit the deer a bit far back of the shoulder and high, severing the spinal cord. Although the animal had not suffered, the fact remained that I had not placed my shot where I had wanted. Also, running his hands expertly over the skull of the carcass, H. B. confirmed that I had not shot a young doe, but a button buck. The knobs of the antlers were not yet visible to the naked eye, so I had no way of knowing that the deer was not a doe. However, remorse took possession of me as quickly as my initial jubilation had earlier. Shooting an underage buck, although legal to do at the time, robbed several future does of the benefit of additional fawns. To me, the only thing that could have been worse would be to have shot a spotted fawn. I was almost inconsolable that morning, despite multiple assurances from my more experienced comrades that the backstraps of my deer would be tasty and that I would probably never shoot another buck as young as this one again.
By mid-afternoon I had a decision to make. I could either climb a stand and hunt once more, or remain at the lodge reading magazines. I had come to hunt, not to sit on the sidelines. Besides, I knew that I had something to prove that day. I had proven my ability to make a clean kill, but did I have the guts to overcome an unfortunate experience and show myself a true hunter? I gathered my gear and left with the hunting party.
The afternoon hunt was the complete antithesis of its morning counterpart. I saw only three small squirrels and one crow. I was also hunting out of a more substantial, but considerably higher, 25-foot stand. Just as the last tendrils of useful shooting light vanished, I saw a dark, big-bodied form exit the wood line and begin a lumbering, heavy stroll directly toward my position in the box stand. I could see no antlers, but I knew for certain that this was a huge buck, the monarch of the woods, a true king of his kind and a prize sought by every hunter. Mature bucks are, as a rule, much thicker in body than their female counterparts, which makes their gait heavier. The big deer continued walking with a heavy, splay-footed gait until he was directly below me. Then, filling his nostrils with air, the buck looked up at me and expelled oxygen loudly and shrilly from his nostrils. He was telling me that he knew I was there and that I wouldn’t be getting him today!
When Kyle came to retrieve me at about 8 PM, I recounted what had happened. He listened incredulously, putting the incident down in his mind to one young hunter’s extreme enthusiasm. I listened in silence and then asked to borrow his flashlight when my feet touched the ground. Shining the bright beam between the supports of the stand, a set of huge, distinct and well-formed buck tracks were present. Buck tracks can be distinguished from those made by does, because of their width across the center of the print. Kyle whistled softly under his breath and regarded me with a more intense gaze. “You’ll do,” he remarked. In the eyes of a man I respected, I was a hunter at last!
Copyright 2013 by Walton P. Sellers, III and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.