Friday, December 28, 2012

Another first.

He killed his first deer on December 24, 2012. He made a perfect shot on the doe and it expired less than a minute later. I made a quick calculation and determined that his current hunting efficiency is 1 deer per 16 hours hunted, or .0625 DPH. Pictured below is the bag that contained disposable Buck Bagger(tm) gloves I purchased in 1993 at Fay’s Drugs in Ithaca before my first deer hunt.  I dutifully carried this package along with me on every deer hunt since then, knowing that one day I would excitedly tear it open to field dress my first deer. Nearly twenty years later I handed the bag to my son, and he broke the seal.
Still usable after two decades in the bag.

Christmas Eve 2012 was his third trip to a beautiful hundred acre private property where we have permission to hunt. It’s a one hour drive from D.C., and sits on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge within Fauquier County, Virginia.  It's a very rugged, boulder-strewn parcel. Monster oak and cherry trees attest to an absence of timbering for close to a century. But there are patches of thick cover and a goodly amount of wild grape.

A location I scouted last season has cover and food, and ample bed, rub, and scrape sign. Before the season started Anna - a FWS colleague and hunter - said that she purchased a double-wide ladder stand, and we should find a good spot for it take turns in it.  She knew that Richard (another colleague and hunter) and I were planning on taking our kids out, so correctly guessed that the double stand would be greatly appreciated. The spot I had scouted made sense for the stand, and as part of our pre-season scouting trip we carted the stand to the spot and spent much of the day setting it up.

Assembling the stand.
Anna hunted with us for opening day and the second day we hunted. She saw deer from the stand on the second day, so my excitement about hunting there was increasing. On the previous two hunts, my son had demonstrated a patience and care in still-hunting that was quite impressive, but I looked forward to being in the stand on Christmas Eve to set him up with some better odds.

He has been excited about hunting, setting his own alarm clock for 4:40am on hunt mornings and had, without complaint, gotten out of bed and geared up with nary a reminder or word of “encouragement” needed from me. Considering what it typically takes to get him out of bed on other weekend mornings, this is impressive. Early morning Christmas Eve, we loaded up the car and rolled down the street to pick up Richard, then moved outward to the Beltway, then west on Route 66. Just about one hour later, we pulled onto the property.
We pulled the rest of our clothing and gear together at the car then we and I took off straight to the stand. Richard took another path and would hunt some separate, but also promising, cover. We walked part way around the ridge topped by the stand, then angled up. It was a cool morning with no wind and a clear sky, but we anticipated a storm moving in later in the day, possibly bringing in snow. We arrived at the stand without incident and I started pulling our safety harnesses on. I talked about how I felt the morning would go. His feelings were much more on point as he froze, looked past me, and whispered, “Deer.” I looked up saw a doe 50 yards distant moving along our ridge. She hadn’t seen or scented us but I think she had heard something, just not enough to really alarm her. He slowly took a knee, chambered a round, and brought the rifle up (Weatherby Vanguard Compact chambered in .243 loaded with Barnes TTSX copper rounds). Her path curled around from our left to right, getting slightly more distant as she moved along the arc. She was far enough into the trees that no clear shot was offered and she eventually walked downslope and out of sight, he was following her in the scope the entire way. It was his first decent view of a deer while hunting, and we were both very excited.
I told him we should get into the stand quickly in case she came back. I finished getting our harnesses on, climbed up, strapped in, and turned around to pull up the rifle. Only then did I realize that I had neglected to grab the loose end of the pull rope I had attached to the rifle he was holding, waiting for me to pull it up. I unstrapped, took two steps back down when I heard him whisper, again, “Deer.” Once more I follow his gaze and I see the doe right back where we first saw her (she had circled right back), but this time moving directly towards us, behind the stand. Still on the ground, he had taken a knee, rechambered a round and shouldered the rifle. Keeping my eyes on the doe, I slowly stepped back up the stand and positioned my body behind the trunk. At 30 yards the doe made a left turn, offering a perfect broadside shot. She moved slowly, without any awareness of us. I heard him whisper up to me, “Can I take the shot?” I whispered back, “If you’re comfortable, take it.” He whispered his question again, I whispered back the same response. My eyes were on the doe and I thought that the shot opportunity seemed perfect. I glanced down and wondered why he hadn’t taken the shot. He was still in his kneeling position, rifle up, looking through the scope. I look back towards the doe, and he fires.
I know immediately his shot placement was perfect. The doe rocked back at the shot, hobbled less than 15 yards, collapses and is quiet and still within a minute. I called down to that the deer was down for good, but to be ready with a follow-up shot if needed. I also let him know that we would be staying put for 10 minutes, just to be sure. We spent the next minutes talking about the events, and I find out that he never heard me respond to his questions on whether to take the shot. The decision to shoot was truly and exclusively his own.  He looked around at his feet, bent down and picked up a small object he held up to me with a smile on his face. He put the spent brass into his zippered pocket and closed it up.
We walked over to the deer and saw that the entry point was exactly where we had talked about over the past weeks, just behind the shoulder, just short of halfway up the body. Richard joined us a few minutes later, having heard the shot and wanting to find out if the son had accomplished what the father had not. We dressed out the deer together, with my son pulling on the Buck Baggers to remove the entrails. He asked me if he could have the hide tanned for a blanket. I told him of course, and after we finished field-dressing I carried the deer over my shoulders and out of the woods.

Jim will be happy to know that the tragic pleasures of the hunt were experienced on that day. My son is looking forward to cooking up venison for family and friends, and keeping warm under his deer hide.

He looks forward to getting out again, and I look forward to joining him.


Jim Tantillo said...

boy that kid of yours is looking awfully grown up.

KGT (aka Cagey) said...

So... the story please? I assume congrats to Jonah... but perhaps there is more to this tale?

Anonymous said...

hmmm... looks like a well-placed lung shot. That pretty deer is going to be beautiful meat. Good going, Jonah. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Great write-up Josh. Obviously Jonah prepared and was prepared well -- can't ask for better than Jonah calling his own shot, making a good call and a nice shot. Good on ya both!

KGT (aka Cagey) said...

HOOAH!!! Initiative carries the day. Can't kill em if you don't shoot. AWEsome write-up and GREAT JOB JONAH!!

Dr. Dirt said...

Great story Josh! You must be very proud of Jonah. Can't wait for Clayton to get to that point!