When I started working in the firearm industry three years ago, I had not yet developed a passion for hunting. I did not grow up in an avid hunting family. My dad was a hunter, but hunting was his vacation each fall with his buddies. I was raised around firearms, though, and like many kids growing up in Minnesota, I shot old cans off fence posts at my grandparents’ farm.
Years later I accepted a position at Savage Arms, and I knew I’d need to learn more about shooting than just plinking. It was time to take my shooting education to a new level. I was blessed to spend an amazing couple days at the range under the instruction of Patrick Kelley, a world-class shooter, patient teacher and member of Team Savage. He helped me become comfortable operating all types of firearms, mounting and using optics, and properly shooting from different positions. He also stressed the importance of regular practice; his skills were the direct result of it.
My chance to go hunting for the first time would come soon enough. Ten months into my tenure with Savage, the opportunity arose for me to go on a whitetail hunt in South Dakota. After passing the required hunter education course, I did what every soon-to-be hunter does these days—I hit the Internet for information about hunting in South Dakota and to find out what I needed to shop for! With my Savage 110 Storm, new gear and South Dakota tag in hand, and a good amount of practice under my belt, I was ready to hunt.
My first hunt, I was told, was not typical. Within just two hours, I saw and shot my first-ever deer, a beautiful 9-point buck. It happened fast, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t experience all the excitement that comes with the taking of an animal. The rush of adrenaline I felt when lining up the shot, the blur that occurred in my mind when I fired the rifle, and the emotions that flooded my thoughts as I walked up to the deer quickly made me understand why hunting becomes an addiction. I suddenly recognized why hunting, especially deer hunting, is an annual tradition that so many never miss.
Hunting was immediately a rush for me, and my interest went far beyond the act of shooting an animal. Learning about different game species and their habits was captivating. I wanted to gain more knowledge of all the details in order to become a better hunter, and fortunately I wouldn’t be doing it alone. I had some amazing people around me that first year, and they gave me the confidence to learn more, to search out my next hunt and to prepare for it.
More Lessons Learned
That hunt would take place one year later, back in South Dakota but for mule deer. Somehow I managed to shoot a buck early in the hunt again, but this time it was different. I had to deal with an issue almost every hunter experiences at some point. The buck took off after the shot, and we couldn’t find hair or blood. We were sure it was a good shot and a solid hit, but 45 minutes of looking revealed no signs. Daylight was gone, and we would not find my deer that night.
I lay awake the entire night feeling guilty that I had hurt an animal and could not find it. It was my responsibility to ensure it was dead, and I could not do that. So many scenarios ran through my head about what we may or may not find the next morning.
We were up before the sun and back in the hills, ready for whatever trek it would take to find my buck. My sense of guilt was indescribable as I worked to finish the hunt in an ethical manner. Four miles into our hike, we finally spotted him. Perched on a hillside, we waited. When he rose and began to walk with a limp that favored his left shoulder, there was no doubt we had found him. With one more shot, my second hunt was a success.
While both hunts resulted in bucks, the things I learned and the emotions I experienced during each were quite different. For someone who had never hunted, I was amazed at how quickly I became passionate about the animals, my hunting partners and this activity. In just two years I had experienced the highs and lows that come with this pastime, and I must admit I was not prepared for how suddenly my emotions would jump on a rollercoaster. I was hooked.
Because I have been afforded the opportunity to explore this passion, I now know the challenges it presents to others who are interested. How to get started in hunting … where to hunt … how to decide what gun is best … what gear is needed. Who is the best teacher? Where can a newbie find help? What is the best advice to follow?
These are the questions many people are afraid to ask, and providing answers so they don’t have to is at the heart of what many folks in the firearm industry are now trying to tackle. Savage and many other companies and organizations are working to break down barriers for those who want to explore and experience hunting for the first time, or who want to try a new pursuit in the field.
Sharing the Success
The 2019 deer season took me to south-central Iowa in search of the whitetails that I had heard grow quite large there. Due to Iowa’s centerfire regulations, my Model 110 Storm could not make the trip. I turned to the 110 Haymaker, chambered in .450 Bushmaster, to take advantage of the straight-wall cartridge opportunities that the state offers during the late firearm season (see sidebar).
My guide had instructed me to be prepared to shoot to 200 yards. Of course, he had been doing some scouting, and he confirmed that he had a few places picked out that should yield success.
An added bonus was the fact that a passionate outdoorswoman, Mackenzie, was joining me. Mackenzie is an accomplished waterfowl and upland hunter, but her limited deer-hunting experience thus far had been with a bow. She had so much passion for learning about the firearms and animals. Having her on the hunt to help with photos and social media (everyone does that from the field these days, right?), and simply to share the experience as a hunting partner and friend was great.
We arrived midday on a Friday, a day before the start of the second firearm season. When we scouted the property, we were amazed. In the first 10 minutes, we saw a 10-pointer, 20 does and “Al,” an albino 6-pointer. All of this was while we were still standing in the yard of the main house.
As we drove around, our guide showed us the different blinds we may try and discussed the reasons for placing them where they were located. The amount of work that had gone into making this a phenomenal hunting location was unbelievable. More than 20 years had been spent working the land, planting food plots, studying the deer and treating the area like the whitetail mecca it is.
With wild anticipation, we tried to get some sleep. The alarm went off, and we were fed and out the door by 5:30. Our first two sits were unimaginable. We saw more than 30 does each time and 10 to 15 bucks, most having 8 or 10 points. During the afternoon sit, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the buck that would become my target for the hunt. The beauty was a 7-pointer, and he had some of the longest tines I’d ever seen plus some unbalanced mass to his rack. He became our new goal for the hunt, although there were a number of other bucks that would have been a blessing to tag.
Day one went into the books with a multitude of sightings. As we were prepping for day two, we labeled day one as “Watching Day” and day two as “Shooting Day,” hoping we’d get a shot at the buck we wanted. Our second sunrise in the blind was followed by a morning that was slower than we’d hoped, although there was no shortage of deer to watch. Their activity was both educational and entertaining. Our window to the action was second to none. We saw bucks rutting, had does spying on us and enjoyed fawns playing around a pond. The morning was another fascinating sit, but no shots were fired.
Shortly after lunch snow started falling. We made the call to head to the stand at 1 o’clock, as our guide predicted the deer would come out earlier due to the weather. We should have known he would be right. As we walked to the stand, we found five does already in the field. We scared them away, but within 15 minutes the field was littered with a few bucks and more than 20 does and fawns.
We soon spotted a nice buck that we thought was a 10-pointer with a lot of mass. As we watched him, and waited for the 7-pointer from the afternoon before, I decided the 10-pointer was the one I wanted to shoot. (Sidenote: I am a firm believer that snacks in the blind bring you luck on a hunt. The day before, Hot Tamales did not do the trick so this evening we had switched to Twizzlers. Hence, I named this buck “Twizzler.”)
After watching the buck for 10 minutes or so, we ranged him at about 160 yards. When he was perfectly broadside to me, with his head down eating, I took my shot. The rapid breathing, racing heartbeat and overwhelming rush I felt was unlike anything I can describe outside of hunting.
This hunt was a team sport. My guide, Mackenzie and I were thrilled. After a short celebration and a few fist bumps, we went to admire the beautiful buck.
Walking up to that buck was exhilarating. He was majestic. I had seen so many deer on my first visit to the fields of Iowa, and he was the perfect one.
Every hunt is special, and this one was no exception. Each time I set foot in a blind, start a stalk or even engage in discussions with guides or other hunters, I learn something new. This is what fuels my desire to discover more, hunt more and encourage others to do the same. Hunting has become my passion, and I want others to have that experience.