On November 30, 2021, I harvested my first deer. Over the last few decades, I have successfully hunted many kinds small game, like squirrel, dove, grouse and turkey, under the tutelage of my friend Bill Booth. He has taught me about guns, calibers, ballistics, shooting, hunting, fishing, wild life and game habitat. I have also hunted deer about 20 times, but I never saw a deer in the woods when I had a gun in my hands.
Last Fall I made a connection with another friend, Hank Forester, son of famous man-about-town Chuck Forester. Hank is a professional deer property manager and hunting guide. He works for a company called Field to Fork, which is associated with the National Deer Association. Both organizations promote managing land and deer for hunting; ethical hunting practices, hunter education, rifle training, processing the meat and making delicious meals. He invited me to hunt deer on some land he manages. Unlike most of my Blue Ridge Outings articles, this one does not show the geographical location, to protect the privacy of the land owner, except to say it is in Wilkes County, NC.
I was using a new gun to me, a Browning semi-automatic rifle. This gun is high quality but heavy weight with stiff spring controlled mechanisms, which were difficult for me to operate. A few weeks before this hunt I took the rifle to the Duncan Gun Shop outdoor range at Windy Gap and shot terribly. Eight of eight shots did not even hit the two foot square paper target. I told Hank that I am not competent to shoot a deer and could not hunt with him. He advised me not to over think the situation, relax, have confidence and practice some more. I called Bill for advice, which I tried to put into practice. A few days before the hunt I went back to the range. The second time I put eight of eight shots within two inches of the target center.
I have no illusions that I am a great hunter or great rifle shooter. Many factors went into making this hunt and shot easier than typical circumstances. Trail cameras linked to Hank’s smart phone are located throughout the property so he can track the deer’s’ where-abouts. Multiple hunting stands are already placed on the property in strategic locations. Some places have corn distributed in sight of the stands, to attract the deer, and to hold the deer in place for a shot. Tree limbs are cut to make shooting lanes.
I shared the two person stand with Hank high in a tree. The stand has a bar in front of the seat to keep the hunters from falling out. The bar was at the right height so that when I rested the fore end of my rifle on the rail, my scope lined up with the deer trail.
Query: Hank, did you set this rail height on purpose?
We started our hunt in late afternoon and only had to wait about two hours for some action. There was no rain, snow, ice or wind. It was moderately cold, about 32 degrees, which is not bad. Through-out the hunt, Hank whispered advice to me, which was welcome.
He heard and then saw a deer before I perceived either. He notified me when and where to watch for it to appear on the trail. I had a hard time finding the deer in the scope. When I could see the buck, I really bore down and concentrated physically and mentally so as not to choke and blow the shot. The deer came in sight at about 50 yards but walked in and out behind a several trees for couple minutes, which intermittently blocked my view of its chest. I took a shot when I was not fully relaxed and in control. The bullet nicked a tree branch and missed cleanly.
The deer spooked, but only for a minute. Extremely luckily for me, it came back in sight. For the next several minutes it kept walking very slowly in and out behind the trees. I followed it with my scope and I kept the cross hairs squarely on its chest. As time went on, instead of getting more tense, I got more relaxed and grew more confident in my shot. Finally, I got a good sight picture of its whole chest. I felt comfortable that I could send the shot there. Without waiting for Hank’s final okay, I pulled the trigger.
The shot was superb. We found later that the bullet pierced its heart. The buck sprang straight up in the air, flipped over, landed on its back, kicked a few times and was still. So, we did not have to look for a blood trail or track a wounded deer in the dark.
It was a small buck, but both horns were broken off, maybe from fighting, so I could not tell the size. Hank did most of the work to clean and gut the deer, but I helped and tried to learn how to do it myself the next time. When we cleaned the deer’s insides, we found the chest cavity above the diaphragm was a big pool of liquid blood from all the heart damage. The hunting knife with a gutting blade which I have carried for 30 years was too dull to cut. Hank provided a razor blade knife which worked better. At his suggestion, I have order a knife with replaceable razor blades for myself.
Hank used his ATV to haul the deer back to civilization; and then used his truck to haul the carcass to the meat processor. Again at his suggestion, I ordered a metal shelf basket which attaches to my Jeep trailer hitch to haul future carcasses myself.
There is a new legal procedure. It used to be that a successful hunter had to tear off a paper tag from his big game permit and attach it to the carcass. Now, the hunter has to call a telephone number on the permit, give some information and get back over the phone a registration number. This number must be written on the permit and shown to any inquiring game warden and the meat processor.
Hank had connections with several deer meet processors. When we were done it was after dark and after business hours. But he used his cell phone and found a processor open. We went to The Meat Sweats located on NC Highway 115 South. Their contact information is (336) 466-2159 and 9853 Statesville Road, North Wilkesboro. The cost was $110 for converting all the meat to plastic shrink wrapped packages a week later. For future reference, they are soon moving to 1608 West D Street, North Wilkesboro.
A few years ago, I had considered giving up on deer hunting, partly due to the negative economics. Many hunters spend tens of thousands of dollars to buy or lease land, get a truck, a nice rifle with an expensive scope, use an ATV, buy heavy winter clothes and boots and a hunting knife. They get back a couple hundred dollars worth of meat.
This hunt was a better deal for me. I already owned and used for other sports everything that I took with me. All I bought was two bullets for $4 and got back the lean, healthy meat.
I have decided that deer hunting has re-ignited my interest in outdoor consumptive sports. To all my readers, please join me in finding some times and places where we can go hunting and fishing.
For other beginning hunters, you can access the National Deer Association at 800-209-3337; www.deerassociation.com ; www.youtube.com/deerassociation ; www.deerassociation.com/ebook ; and www.deerassociation.com/deer-hunting-101/ .