I’ve always been a bird hunter—waterfowl and upland have been my preference, and that’s because of the dog. If I can’t take my dog, my desire to hunt decreases significantly. In the last few years, I’ve hunted for turkeys in the Spring—both halfheartedly and unsuccessfully—only because there’s nothing else to hunt that time of year.
But our family land in Central Minnesota is prime deer territory. In fact, there are so many whitetails that they’ve devastated the crop of white and red pines that my family has planted. My brother and cousins took up deer hunting a couple years ago, so I thought it was about time that I gave it a try.
Along with that brother, my other brother flew in from Oregon and we drove up to the cabin. Since we arrived after dark, we could not even scout where the tree stands were. But I’d asked a guy who bow hunts our land where was my best chance to bag an eating doe, and he told me in a ladder stand near a corn field.
(N.b., I wasn’t trying to bag a buck. Honestly, I wanted a deer for eating, to put meat on the table—preferably an 18-month-old doe.)
We found the stand in question about half an hour before sunrise. I climbed, sat, and waited. My uncle’s 1891 Mauser Argentine sat on my lap, unshot, for an hour. I climbed back down and went to get coffee at the cabin and reconnoiter with my brothers. We decided to try another tack. I drove around to another part of our land, on the south side of a creek. The deer like a western plot of land because it’s bounded on one side by the lake and on the other by a stream, and there are really only a couple places that deer—and their predators—can cross that stream.
I climbed a ladder stand, and my brothers went walking north of my. Within minutes, three does came barreling down a bluff on the other side of the creek, but then they had to slow in order to cross the water single-file. The first, a large momma, kept moving, prancing right under my stand. The others, however, stopped in a willow thicket just on my side of the creek. Presumably, they felt safe, having crossed the stream and entered the bushes. I drew a bead on the chest of the front doe, which was directly facing me. I calmed my breathing, clicked off the safety, and slowly pulled the trigger.
Having never shot a deer before, I didn’t know what to expect. At first I thought I’d missed, since the doe started running. But within 35 yards, it ran into one tree, then another, then it fell dead in a pool of blood. The other doe calmly walked away. It would have been an easy shot for another hunter.
I called my brothers on the phone, and they drove around to my spot. A neighbor came over, too. All experienced hunters, they walked me through the process of field dressing the animal. They we hauled it out of the woods on the back of a 4-wheeler and lofted it on top of my car for the mile-long drive back to our cabin. There we hung it, and I learned how to butcher the animal—I was committed to doing this myself: if I’m going to harvest an animal, I’m going to butcher it. No outside processor for me.
I shot the deer at 10am. By 1pm, the entire animal was broken down, butchered, and vacuum-sealed. It was time for a beer, and we grilled a backstrap:
Sure, I missed having the dog on a hunt, but deer hunting is a totally different deal than bird hunting. I’ll be back in that stand next year.