"As a little girl, did you ever think you be hunting deer in a snow storm in Idaho?" the fella asked.
"Not even once," I replied.
I grew up in a medium sized city in Ohio with parents who are neither hunters nor fishers. Our idea of outdoors was the creek down the street from my house. I grew up on store bought meat, as most people do, and never knew there was another way. I always thought guns were cool, and when we visited my Virginia family I got my first taste of shooting. Still, I never saw myself owning a gun or hunting for my food.
When I moved to Virginia and spent more time with my family who are avid hunters, I started to think it might be something I'd be into. I had shot more guns and eaten venison by then, and I started to think why not. I had also met the fella, a born and bred Wisconsin country boy who grew up hunting. It sounded pretty cool. That summer, I took my hunter's safety course and got my license. I got a few strange looks since the only other girls there were with their dads or boyfriends. There I sat attentively listening to the rules, techniques, and history and trying to commit it all to memory.
I saw no deer during my first hunting excursion with my uncle. But he did give me my first gun as a graduation present.
|I was a tad excited.|
I didn't get to go the year after since we had just moved to Idaho and didn't want to buy non-resident (read: expensive) tags. I eagerly waited for this year so I could see if I had what it took to be a hunter. It can take a lot of time walking quietly in the cold before you get one and I'm not a huge fan of quiet or cold.
Here are 4 things I learned in my 4 days of hunting:
1. Watching hunters together is fascinating. It's like they have this connection between their brains that makes everyone know what the other is thinking without many words. As a novice, it's incredible to watch. I'd hear a few hushed whispers between the fella and the friend we went with and before I knew it, a plan was hatched and we were walking to the determined location that I wouldn't have been able to find with a detailed map. The directions sound something like this:
Hunter 1: Remember that stump we walked by yesterday where that branch was broken.
Hunter 2: Where we saw those tracks? Yep.
Hunter 1: Walk to that spot and then circle over the ridge and meet us on that knob where we glassed the field.
Hunter 2: Gotcha.
I stand there trying desperately to remember all the stumps that I've walked by and tracks I've seen. My eyes start to cross and when asked if I know where we're going I say, "Of course, lead the way."
2. Walking is usually very simple. Unless you're hunting. There are lots of things to think about while you walk. For instance:
-Don't drag your feet. Meaning pick up your foot and set it down softly yet deliberately in front of you. Sounds simple. Now add work boots, two layers of pants, 4 layers of shirts, a fleece, a jacket, gloves, and a gun you've never really handled.
-When you pick your feet up in the aforementioned way, your legs will get sore. Seriously, put on all that stuff and march around. It's quite a workout.
-Keep your head up while not dragging your feet and walking over rocky, unknown terrain.
-Look for deer. Look for deer while picking your feet up, wearing a million layers, and not making noise on crunchy leaves.
3. You and your gun will become one.
Weird right. But seriously, the first day I carried the gun, my arms hurt, my shoulders hurt, my hands hurt. It was weird. Following all of the above steps for walking (no pun intended! Wait. I intend that pun.) while carrying a loaded weapon (safety on of course) makes you really aware of your actions and how much you use your arms while walking in unfamiliar territory.
By today, before I did anything I thought, "Where should the gun be." Whether crossing through barbed wire (yes, I did get my pants caught once and almost fell on my face. Thank you for asking), tight-roping across a fallen tree to cross a creek, or climbing a hill, the first thought was always about where the gun should be.
***If you don't like hearing of animals killed for sustenance, STOP READING!
4. When the deer is in your sights you shake, badly. It's also hard to breathe.
I don't remember the last time I had a reaction like that. Maybe when I saw the helgramites. No, this was worse. The fella and I crept to the wooden fence between me and the deer, and I got set to shoot. I pulled the hammer back while watching the four does that were in the field in front of me. I got one in my sights and waited as she took a few steps away from the tree she had been standing behind. And then I started to shake. Oh, did I shake. The fella said the gun was rattling against the fence I was using for a rest, but I don't believe him! My breath was in short huffs. When I pulled the trigger, I saw a flash of light and barely heard the shot. I'll spare you the details of the rest, but I got my deer. One shot.
No, when I was a little girl I did not see myself doing this. I didn't see myself getting excited because now we have two deer in the freezer to get us through the winter and we don't have to buy meat on our meager grocery budget. I didn't see myself traipsing around Idaho woods and fields carrying a muzzle loader that I'm a pretty good shot with. I didn't see myself already thinking about next deer season and what I can do better. But I wouldn't have it any other way.