The snow had finally started to stick on the ground in the northern Adirondacks the day I shot my very first deer. My father-in-law told me to walk approximately a quarter of a mile down the trail to where it starts to slope downhill and to tuck myself off the trail. He would try to drive deer to me from the marsh. I have a terrible sense of distance so at what seemed to be a quarter of a mile and the slightest downhill I started to step off the trail. There was a good sized rock just off the trail that I tried to get to approach, but as I stepped off the trail the fresh snow barely muffled the loud, echoing crunch of the leaves beneath it. My foot sank up to my knees making the loudest crackling snaps from the frozen leaves. As I was thinking how loud I was being, I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked up to see two deer, one with antlers, one without.
They froze, I froze.
Three thoughts sped through my mind, Whoa. Antlers. I can shoot. Then a pause, “was I really going to do this?”
I took the Hunters Safety course when I was twelve years old. I went into the woods a couple of times with my dad, but it took me twenty-one more years before I finally felt ready to harvest a deer. Was I actually going to kill this beautiful animal standing before me? Yes, I was. Everything my dad had taught me ran through my head; wait until they’re broadside; aim for the rear of the shoulder, middle of the chest; just squeeze the trigger; listen for the deer after you shoot; you won’t notice your ears ringing. In what felt like forever, but probably less than 30 seconds after stepping off the trail into the noisy brush I raised my dad’s gun to my shoulder and took aim. Attempting to slow my breathing was nearly impossible and expletives ran through my head as I put my finger on the trigger and squeezed. The first thing I noticed after I pulled the trigger was my ringing ears.
My dad said one of two things would happen once you’ve shot a deer; 1 – you’ll shoot and the deer will run and fall somewhere else or 2 – you’ll shoot and the deer will just run away. He didn’t mention a third option; you’ll shoot and the deer will just drop.
The deer fell to the ground. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the female run off. The buck was trying to get back up and it was one of the hardest things to watch. I attempted to take a second shot but I was shaking so hard that I completely missed. I’m not too proud to admit that watching him on the ground trying to get back up made me tear up. I walked over to him and laid my hand on his back and waited for him to stop moving. I’ve already been lectured and now realize in hindsight it was not the smartest move to stand next to a dying animal that has antlers and hooves, but I knew I had to be there when he finally died. I knew he was gone when the hair on his legs slowly relaxed.
I stood up, shocked, solemn and proud at what I had just done. After I cleared my head I counted the antlers; eight! My first deer was a beautiful eight point buck. My dad and father-in-law were going to be so proud! I couldn’t wait for my father-in-law to get there. I stood around waiting for him to show up thinking he must have heard the shots, he should be right here. At about the same moment I heard a branch snap. I called out my father-in-law’s name, turning toward the noise expecting to see him only to see another buck staring back at me. I couldn’t believe it. I had just shot a nice eight-point buck and here was a second one literally walking over to me. We eyed each other for a few seconds before he eventually ran off, but I was floored by my experience.
When my father-in-law finally found me he used a few choice works, smiled, handed me his phone and said, “Call your Dad.” We quickly field dressed the deer so my father-in-law could follow the trail of the second deer, but he searched without luck.
The snow on the ground made the drag easier, which was helpful since the deer weighed more than I did. Back in town my buck weighed in at 167lbs. I think everyone was surprised that this big buck was shot by a “girl”. I eventually took it back to my parents’ house where my dad helped me skin it, my mom helped me butcher it and my kids helped me eat it. Now the deer hangs on my wall, beautifully mounted for all to see (and for me to brag about).I’m excited to head out into the woods again this year. I know that I will probably never have a story that quite compares to this one but I’m just happy to be able to get back out there and hopefully enjoy another one of Mother Nature’s free-range, hormone-free, organic bucks.
written by: Steph Hample
Steph Hample was a biologist at the Wild Center for eight years. She is currently the Events Coordinator for the Town of Long Lake planning activities year-round for the communities of Long Lake and Raquette Lake. When she’s not busy researching trivia questions she’s out conquering ambitious hikes around the Adirondacks and spending time with her two children and loving pets.