Last season, as we try to do every year, editors and staff at Game & Fish magazines went on a deer-hunting trip to spend time together and chronicle our experiences. In this article, Max Brainerd shares the story of his first hunt.
By Max Brainerd
In between focusing my eyes on the trees silhouetted in the early-morning darkness and my mind as it registered the occasional noises of wildlife around me, I was preparing for my first deer hunt and what I thought was going to be a long day of quiet waiting.
Set up in my blind, all essentials within an arm's reach, I was ready at a moment's notice to draw my rifle on a potential trophy.
"Woe is the deer that wanders into my scope this day," I thought.
With adrenaline going, I was ready to take my place at the top of the food chain. As the sun cast its first morning glow over the dense woods, shots started to echo through the trees, and the presence of a new predator laid heavy over the forest.
Deer Camp was in session.
I had been here, in this exact position, several weeks before on a scouting trip with my co-workers. They showed me what to look for when tracking deer, and how to find good areas to stage blinds and tree stands.
It was an incredible feeling to be tracking an animal, knowing that long before this day our ancestors were doing the same thing but, unlike us, their survival was hinged on securing the kill. As we scouted it seemed like every riverbed we had stepped into had a couple different tracks.
I was excited that day as I plotted my plan for securing a kill. I was determined to impress these master hunters, who were so generously teaching me the way, and as soon as I was presented with the opportunity, I promised myself I would take it.
Darkness slowly crept out of the forest, and sounds were finally identifiable. The morning was calm and I watched leaves slowly rain down upon everything, falling with the grace of parachutes.
The sun rose higher above me. The breeze picked up and started knocking what seemed like endless acorns out of the huge oaks around me.
As this buffet fell from the sky, squirrels started making their rounds. The wildlife was well fed this summer. I could hear fat squirrels scampering through the thick bed of leaves collecting their food while plump songbirds perched and sang on branches and flew between trees.
The day progressed and I kept a running list in my head of noises that I knew weren't being made by deer.
Since this was my first time hunting I was worried I wouldn't be able to keep myself occupied while waiting for a chance at a shot.
My worries faded away, however, as more of the forest woke up. I was soon enthralled by the plethora of living things going about their daily routines regardless of my presence.
The forest was alive, and it was awe-inspiring.
That morning I had hiked out into the pitch black woods in hopes of a hunt, something many human beings have done before me, but I instead was given an opportunity to appreciate the relationship all living things have with each other.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about Nature: "To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again."
While sitting in my blind that day I got an insight into the beauty of nature, and I began to understand the sportsman's symbiotic relationship with it.
Every moment I was experiencing was its own — it had never happened before and it would never happen again. It was one of the most relaxing feelings I have ever felt in all of my times outdoors. It felt natural to sit back and commune with all that was happening in the busy forest around me.
Then I heard it — an unusually loud scurrying through the leaves coming from a little ways off in the distance. I quietly and calmly leaned forward to peek out of my blind.
I was greeted by the sight of a young buck, lightly treading along the river's edge just down the hill in front of me. I tapped my hunting buddy and whispered "deer" as I picked up my rifle and started to position it against my shoulder.
I could see it down my scope, I could hear my heartbeat as I tried to get a control on my breathing for a steady shot.
Everything my co-workers had taught me and the lessons I took for my hunting license were all rushing back to me.
As it trotted along it must have smelt or sensed that something was off: He didn't stop but once in between two trees, his hindquarters turned to me.
"Do I go for it?" I thought. "Should I go for the 'Texas Heart Shot' as my buddies described it."
I chuckled at the thought of that being the first shot I ever take while deer hunting, and I decided against it. I kept my scope on him as he continued along his path until he was out of sight.
My heart was still thumping and adrenaline was coursing through me. It was a singular kind of excitement.
I was disappointed I wasn't able to make the shot, but I was proud of myself for what I thought was a good hunting decision. I opted to take my commune with nature as a trophy instead. I thought of Emerson's words; a simple morning trot for the buck was a one-of-a-kind and insightful experience for me.
This Deer Camp with my coworkers was my first hunting experience and I look forward to my next opportunity. This one taught me the beauty, the importance of hunting, and the insight being a sportsman has to offer.