Up until last season, every big game hunt I ventured on, was with my dad. After-all, he is the reason I got into hunting in the first place.
When it came time to head up into the hills to try and fill my mule deer buck tag, my dad and I had a great plan put together for the week. A great plan that - halfway through- got thrown out the window.
My dad was called back to the city for some urgent work matters. He wasn't going to be able to finish the second half of the week with me. At first I assumed my hunt was over, but after some encouragement from my dad, I decided to stay and continue the hunt on my own. I knew the areas to go to - we had been watching some rut activity nearby, and I had everything I needed to continue solo.
For two whole days, there wasn't anything notable to report. On the third day, I stalked a giant buck, but blew my chances when he caught wind of me and sprinted off before I could get in range.
Day four I saw absolutely nothing. I was frustrated and discouraged, and I genuinely didn't think I could be successful without my dad there. My thoughts were negative and the self-pity was disgusting. I decided to sleep-in that morning, and while still in the comfort of my sleeping bag, I saw a group of does head up a ridge close by. Seeing the animals and knowing they were heading to a meadow near me, I was suddenly reenergized.
I waited until the late afternoon and made my way to a spot under a tree where I could keep an eye on the does and the valley below them. I backed up against a pine tree, my shooting stick and rifle in between my legs on the ground in front of me. And I sat there. And sat there. And sat there. After some time, the does slowly worked their way across the opening and off into the trees on the far side. I kept scanning the area for more movement, for signs of a buck coming to chase the gals. Sunset was in progress, and there wasn't much shooting light left. I again returned to my negative thoughts and sighed loudly. As I pushed my hands into the ground in an effort to get up, movement from the left corner of my eye stopped me.
At the bottom of the valley, a single deer had emerged from some trees and was moving. I froze and kept my gaze focused on the deer. It was walking up the valley - towards the does that had slipped into the trees - towards me. I was stone still. The deer continued it's walk closer. After squinting, my increased heartbeat confirmed it was a buck. I waited. He came closer and I was able to count the points. Closer still and knew I wanted to take a shot. He was within a hundred yards and he paused to glance behind him - I instinctively moved my shooting stick upright between my knees.
The buck resumed his journey forward. Within 80 yards and he again paused to look at the trees behind him. In a graceful motion, I lifted my rifle into the "Y" of the shooting stick and pressed my cheek to the stock. I told myself to be patient. The deer resumed him forward motion and would soon be directly in front of me - broadside, walking up to the trees.
As he walked towards the center of my sights, I quickly clicked my safety and drew in a deep breath. As I exhaled, I cleared my throat slightly and the buck froze. I squeezed the trigger of my rifle, but I don't recall any noise or any recoil. There was a small wisp of smoke that rose from the end of the barrel. The adrenaline in my body made me feel light.
The buck was standing still before I shot, but glancing above my scope I didn't see anything. I blinked. Did I just imagine that whole scene? I tried to standup in a haste, but a light headed feeling made me grasp onto a nearby tree branch. Remembering to take a deep breath, I scanned the ground where the buck had stood. A few feet from where I last saw it, the buck was on its side in the tall grass, completely still. I waited.
After what felt like an eternity, I walked slowly to the deer, holding my rifle and praying it was a good, clean shot. When I was standing over him, I could see the exit would and what appeared to have been a pale pink tissue peaking out from the wound. A lung shot, through and through. It was a clean kill.
I knelt down beside him and grasped his antlers. I blinked repeatedly, checking that I wasn't hallucinating. I touched his large ears and closed his eyelids. I thanked him. I told him how much it meant to me. I ensured him I would cherish him forever. I wouldn't waste him, and I would forever be grateful. I touched the cold ground next to him and thanked mother nature. I was still in shock, still elated, and I felt so much gratitude. I wasn't crying, but I had tears - so much emotion - and a memory I'll never forget.