Without thinking, I found myself ducking to the ground and wondering where the unexpected shot had come from. After logging so much time in the woods, I have only had two instances of listening to the worrying whizsnap of a bullet passing through the branches overhead…but when you don’t know who is in the woods with you (or their safety record) it’s best to keep your head down.

Every animal in the woods was wondering the exact same thing, and there was an eerie silence that followed as I held my breath and scanned for any movement…

So after taking a few years off, I found myself back in the woods with my dad on opening day of deer season. It was our annual tradition growing up, and what could be a better bonding experience than pointlessly freezing your ass off together looking for an elusive animal?

I know, I know…what kind of hippie backpacker am I? How could such an advocate of living organic, peace, and vagabonding be willing to shoot Bambi?

Well, I can say with all sincerity that I would never point a loaded weapon at a baby deer. However, Bambi’s father or grandfather are fair game and the outcome might not make a good Disney flick. 🙂 Hunting is a very old tradition and is necessary to maintain a balance with wildlife. Plus, name anyone that lived more organic than the Native Americans…?

Sadly, most people think meat only comes from WalMart. Even from a young age, I was brainwashed that Elmer Fudd was the bad guy, dirty bastards killed Bambi’s parents, and after watching the movie Deliverance, it’s a miracle that I will even go into the woods at all.

Despite the reputation that Hollywood and rednecks have given to anyone that enjoys the sport of hunting, all hunters aren’t the same. We didn’t take a cooler of beer with us, my mom hasn’t been to prison, and no one farted or chewed tobacco. Better yet, no unsuspecting city folk had to squeal like a pig and neither of us even owns a pickup truck…real rednecks spit when they see our SUVs.

Earlier that morning, after I stayed up all night, Dad and I walked into the woods as dawn was just starting to spread gray all the way around the sky. We made plans for lunch, shouldered our rifles, and parted ways. I could feel my adrenaline starting to rise and it felt good to be alone, armed, and looking for adventure. This was my first time hunting on this particular place, so I didn’t have much of a plan….but I had the tools and the know-how.

I DID have my usual survival goodies which include a small pack with compass, rope, binos, etc. In my hands was my great grandfather’s .30 caliber (30-30) lever action rifle. The design is pretty old-school dating back to when it would have been pointed at Indians rather than animals. I wear my Kabar marine issue knife (so much better than the Army’s) on my hip and carry enough ammo to start a small war or at least scare the hell out of the locals. If someone gets any Deliverance ideas of their own they had better have eaten their Wheaties that morning. 🙂

The ground was soaked from rain the night before, making it easy to walk without making too much noise. It was only around 40 degrees but I was comfortable in my insulated hunting clothes. It was going to be a windy and cloudy day, but there was just enough blue sky and sunshine sneaking out from behind the clouds to make it not so gloomy.

Now around 7 a.m. I found myself holding my breath, and trying to figure out where the shot had come from. We were hunting on private land, so no one else was legally supposed to be there. The shot had come from about 20 meters behind me, close enough to rattle the teeth in my mouth, but I couldn’t see anyone in the thick underbrush. Whoever was out there was not wearing their hunter orange, which made them even more illegal — and worrisome.

I moved a safer distance up a hillside with thin, waste tall grass and took a seat to scan the surrounding hills. I pulled out my binoculars and watched 2 does in the distance walking around the edge of a treeline, flicking their tails nervously. Even at that range they knew something was up.


The breaking branch came from behind me, like always I was pointed in the wrong direction. I turned to see the largest buck I have ever seen in the wild staring at me from only 30 feet away. He was at full alert, so I knew I was in trouble.

He was as surprised to see me sitting there as I was him. I hopelessly spun around into firing position only to watch him stand on his hind legs like a horse, blow through his nostrils, and run all the way to the next county. His rack was like something you would see in a magazine — the largest I have seen in 15 years of hunting; deer like that are rare in this state!

I could have cried. Had those two does not been there I would have been looking in the right direction.

I resisted the urge to sling my rifle across the field like a frustrated golfer loosing his mind and stayed quiet. The buck was no doubt avoiding the hunter that had just shot too close to me, so I waited 15 minutes to see if anyone was in pursuit. When no one came, I did my best to track the deer up the hill through the tall grasses that were pushed down, but had no luck. I walked at the ready and my hands were shaking, knowing that he could stand up in the waving blond grass at any second.

Maybe if I had just been a little more Cherokee and a little less Irish, I could have put my head to the ground and pulled it off. Being more Irish, I had a better chance of locating a pint of Guinness in the woods than I did this deer.

As my nerves calmed down, my adrenaline was slowly replaced by anger, and I stalked into the woods looking for the genius that had missed or wounded this magnificent animal at the expense of shooting too close to me. The hard wind was ripping colored leaves from the trees with a vengeance, so it was impossible to tell who or what was moving. I spent over an hour looking, and even hunkered down for a Ranger pause to listen, but never found the guy. I made up my mind that if he shot again, I was going after him.

The rest of the day was uneventful, but the time sitting alone in silence to think was invaluable. We stay so busy, so plugged in and distracted…when was the last time you actually dedicated four hours to doing absolutely nothing but breathing and thinking? You would be surprised at what all you can find in your head!

Our first day ended with dad landing a big deer like he usually does and me just helping to drag it out at dark. I wasn’t sad that I didn’t kill anything, that isn’t really the point. In fact, I prefer shutter-time over trigger-time these days. We bounced across the field and back to the main road tired but feeling alive, smiling and reminiscing about hunts in the past. There is no better feeling than spending a day in the field with someone close and I don’t take a single one for granted, even if it means freezing, watching trophy deer run away, and ducking the occasional bullet. 🙂