October 23, 2012

Meat in the Freezer

This year Kris drew a multi-season deer tag for Washington.  This means that he was able to hunt the archery season, muzzle loader season, and rifle season with the appropriate weapon.  Without this tag, you have to choose one.  After drawing the tag, Kris went out and bought a rifle so he would be prepared in the very likely event that he didn't shoot a deer with an arrow during bow season.

A short while and a little research later, Kris realized he had an opportunity to hunt blacktail deer on his aunt-in-law's (Ann's) property on Whidbey Island.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that hunting with rifles is not permitted on the island, so Kris had to purchase a shotgun.  Shotguns are allowed as the bullets (slugs) they shoot travel much shorter distances than those from rifles.  With the proper gun acquired, Kris was ready to take advantage of this opportunity.

Regulations on the island allowed Kris to shoot "any deer".  As he had never killed a big game animal before, he had no intentions of being picky.  The first deer to get within about 100 yards of him was going to get a shot fired in its general direction, possibly getting hit depending on how well Kris sighted in his shotgun and was able to control his excitement.

About 15 minutes before daylight last Saturday, Kris and I made our way to the top (second) story of Ann's barn.  We removed the screens from a couple windows and situated ourselves so that we could each look out windows facing in opposite directions.  About 10 minutes after it started to get light, I saw a rabbit on my side, so I told Kris to come over and practice sighting his rifle on fur.  He did this, and a short while later the rabbit bounded out of view.  When Kris returned to his post at the window opposite the bunny, he immediately noticed a deer standing in the yard below him, oblivious to our presence.

He became so excited that speech became difficult and his coherency diminished.  I heard him utter, "There's a deer over here," so I walked over to see what was causing his altered mental state.  When I looked out the window in the early morning light, I remember thinking, "That's a pretty big doe for an island blacktail . . . wait . . . it has antlers . . . it's a buck!"  At this point I became about half as excited as Kris, which is really freaking excited.  However, I was able to overcome this and talk Kris through the next few steps, pretending to be calm the entire time.  It seemed we had plenty of time, so I told Kris to range the deer.  He did this and ranged him at about 75 yards.  I knew his first two reticle points in his scope were for 50 and 100 yards, so I calmly advised him to get a good rest and hold the area between those two dots right behind the buck's front shoulder.  Of course, Kris knew all this but his excitement was getting the better of him at this point and I think a calm, methodical voice helped him out.

Meanwhile, the buck was standing broadside in the middle of the yard like he was posing for a photo shoot for several minutes.  He wasn't feeding, wasn't bedding down, just standing there waiting to get shot.  At one point, Kris knocked something over in the barn, and the buck looked up and seemed nervous for a few seconds before going back to standing broadside.  After I moved a chair out of the way, Kris got a good rest on the window sill and mentioned how nervous and shaky he was. I calmly advised he take a few deep breaths, make sure his safety was off, take his time as the buck wasn't going anywhere any time soon,  get a steady hold, and ease the trigger.

Ten seconds later, "BOOM!"  Simultaneously, the deer reared up on it's back legs and bounded into a ravine and out of site.  I could tell by the way the buck jumped that he had been hit solidly, but I didn't know exactly where.  Two seconds after shooting, Kris burst into exuberance: shouting, hugging me, shouting some more.  At this point, we both felt like all the hunting days we put in over the past two years was finally going to result in some treats for the freezer.  While it only took about 25 minutes of "hunting" to put a bullet in this buck, we'd collectively hunted hard for about 40 days over the past two years with nothing tangible to show for it.

After waiting for a couple minutes, we decided to go down and see where the buck had gone, hoping that he hadn't run onto someone else's property to die.  As soon as we got to the edge of the ravine, Kris spotted the buck not 20 yards from where it stood when he shot it.  Now it was really starting to register with me that while Kris would have been more than happy with a doe, he had just killed a big-bodied forked horn!  And a pretty nice one by island standards.

We took several pictures before dragging the buck to a convenient processing location at the edge of the yard.  Since it was only about 7:45 am, we took our time, harvesting as much meat off of the deer as possible.  We then had to pack the meat about 130 yards to the driveway.  Later that evening, Ava and Mel joined us on the island and we all had a terrific, local, fresh, organic, free-range meal.

After the excitement wore off, I realized that this was the first time that I had been the most experienced hunter in a group when an animal was harvested.  When other, more experienced people are involved, it's easier to be successful but harder to feel much ownership in that success.  In this instance, Kris and I more or less had to work together to figure things out, making his/our success immensely more rewarding.

I occasionally lose sight of the fact that Kris shot this buck, mistakenly thinking I had a bigger role in it than I did.  I am responsible for getting Kris into hunting less than two years ago, and I like to think that my calm coaching in the heat of the moment was also very helpful, but Kris did the rest himself.  I am very happy I was able to accompany him on this successful outing and I hope to accomplish something very similar with my bow in December.

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