By: Bowtied Smilodon

As a hunter, there are countless memories that stay with you for life. Some of my best memories were imprinted while at the hunting cabin or in the deer stand. I am willing to bet, however, that one of the best memories every hunter has is the day they killed their first buck. The immediate adrenaline rush when you see it walking in and the reward earned from all of the time and effort you put in to make it happen are unmatched.

Thinking back to my youth, I had spent many seasons shadowing my father as he went out on deer hunts at our cabin. I remember being cold, tired, and sometimes bored, as we just sat there waiting for a deer to walk by. When we would finally see one, my heart would immediately race as my dad would take aim and shoot the deer. That rush would make all of the waiting worth it, and I thought there was no better feeling than that. That is until a cold November day when I was 15 years old.

On that day, I had about three years of solo sits under my belt, but never had an opportunity to take a shot at a deer. It was a Friday and I recall my dad taking me out of school the day before to head up to the cabin with my grandfather and brother in his blue Toyota Tacoma. We would meet a few other family members and friends up there to get one last bow hunt in before the rifle season opened. The next morning, like every other hunt, the alarms started going off at 4:30am and bags were being packed. I double checked that I had all of my gear as I headed out into the dark woods with my bow in hand and only the light from the moon and a small flashlight. As I settled into my stand, I sat still while the sun began to warm the frigid air and illuminate the quiet woods. As the woods came alive, I thought back to all of the time spent in the woods prepping for this season. The hundreds, no thousands, of arrows that I shot in my backyard. The trimming of branches near the stands on our property. The hours of scouting I had put in prior to the season opening. And of course, the time I had spent learning and hunting for years before. All I wanted was to shoot a deer with my bow, as I had seen my dad do many times before.

The morning passed without much action, aside from a few does that ran through the woods chased by a small fork horn and countless squirrels making a ruckus nearby. As I dug into my lunch, a freshly made PB&J sandwich with a bag of trail mix, I couldn’t help but notice the sun drifting behind the clouds and the temperature drop quickly. I added a few layers of clothing and pulled out a fresh hand warmer to hold onto. Within a few hours, snow began to fall and the wind picked up. I was getting cold and my patience were wearing thin. I soon began receiving texts on my flip phone that the others in the woods were calling it quits and heading back in. I thought about how cold and miserable I was, and it sure sounded good, but I was determined to shoot a deer.

In the waning hours of the final day of archery season, I began to feel the disappointment set in that yet another bow season had gone by and I didn’t have anything to show for it. Then, with less than 20 minutes of shooting light left, I heard noise behind me. As I turned my head slowly, I could see a big brown body walking directly towards me at about 60 yards. As I listened to the deer grunting, it popped its head out from behind a tree. Bone. I stood up and grabbed my bow, waiting for the opportunity to draw back. As I watched the deer approach, I assessed the rack on his head – 8 pointer. My heart was racing and I could feel my legs shaking. The adrenaline was pumping. At 30 yards, he gave me an opportunity to draw back. As I sat there in full draw for what seemed like forever, he walked into a perfect shooting lane at what I estimated to be 12 yards. I let out a “bah” and he stopped in his tracks perfectly broadside, vitals sitting perfectly between two trees. I took aim and held a deep breath as calming focus took over me, then pulled the trigger on my release. There was a loud thud and the deer took off with the arrow still in him.

A million thoughts ran through my head the instant the arrow left my bow. Maybe I hit him in the shoulder. How far did he run? Will I be able to find him? Within a few seconds, that calming focus wore off and I began shaking uncontrollably. I couldn’t escape the excitement. I took a few minutes to calm down and quietly began packing up my stuff. Still shaking, I climbed out of my stand carefully, but as fast as I could as the anticipation was killing me to investigate the place of impact. As I approached the area where the deer was hit, I stared down at the leaves looking for any sign of a hit. With the sun completely set, my flashlight guided the way as I followed the path I thought the deer had taken, still hoping to find blood.

I looked up to survey the area around me and scanned the woods with my flashlight. When I did that, I saw a reflection on the ground a few yards away. It was my arrow. And it was covered in blood. As to not spook the deer if it hadn’t yet died, I texted my dad that there was a hit and would give a few minutes before tracking. Within 5 minutes, all six people at the cabin were in the woods. We began tracking and my excitement grew as the blood trail became thicker. About 150 yards from where I shot the deer, we looked up and saw the deer piled up in some thick woods. 

At the time, putting my hands on the antlers of the first deer I harvested was the best feeling I had ever felt, and still may be top 3 behind the birth of my kids and marrying my wife. I high fived and hugged everyone as I thanked them for helping track it down. We took a few pictures and began the process of gutting, dragging, and hanging the deer. As we settled in the cabin for dinner, my dad handed me an ice cold beer – Coors of course – and with a smile said “cheers.” 

The whole experience still feels like it happened yesterday and whenever I look at the mount hanging on the wall in my bedroom, I think back to how special that day was, and how fortunate I am to have been able to experience it. 

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