My First Hunting Season in 10 Years.

If you told me a few years ago that I’d one day be almost elbow deep in a dead deer, I would have laughed. Never in my life did I imagine I’d be the kind of person to gut out a deer. In fact, the first time I saw it done I was close to vomiting. But the rule is, if you shoot one you have to gut it out, so I had to learn somehow.

My last hunting license was from 2009. I had never owned my own gun. The only camo I had came from the few times I sat with my husband when he was duck hunting. I’d never been in the woods by myself. Growing up I hunted a little bit with my dad and my sister, but nothing like the rest of my family. I was an indoor kid. The odd one out. The last time I hunted I had tripped in the woods with a loaded gun and was too scared to go out again so I gave up. Hunting season for me always meant finding something to do on Saturday’s while my husband was in the woods.

Last year, about the middle of the season, I started saying I wanted to shoot a deer. No one really thought I meant it and I didn’t blame them. Then this summer my husband said, “if you’re really going to hunt you need a gun.” I tried a couple different calibers to see what felt better to me, and I preferred the 7mm-08, so that’s what I found. I love my rifle so much, after spending a whole month with it by myself I got sort of attached. My gun is compact so everyone that holds it asks if it’s a kids gun because it basically is, but it’s just my size. I’m a left handed shot because of my eyesight but I hunt with a right handed gun. I can do the bolt faster that way.

The first Saturday of deer season I got into the woods as early as I could and sat in my stand. To be honest, I spent most of the time on my phone googling different things about deer hunting. I got down and walked around a little bit then climbed back up and sat until almost dark. My husband almost always leaves the woods with some daylight back in case we see something on the way out. He tagged out two weeks in (for the first time ever!) so the rest of the season I was on my own.

No one thought I would take it as seriously as I did. I went to the woods almost everyday after work for the whole month of November. It was all I thought about at work, what I did with any days off, and something I just loved doing. I sat in the woods with cold feet, freezing hands, stiff muscles, and everything in between. I put some serious miles on my boots. I spent so much time alone in the woods that I almost became addicted to the stillness. There is nothing like being in the Maine woods alone, listening to every sound and hoping you’ll hear the sound of a deer walking towards you. I didn’t just sit in my stand. I had a few places I would switch between.

My season ended without filling my tag, but I’m grateful it went the way it did. On the very first Saturday I jumped a doe, was able to pull up and get her in my scope briefly (I didn’t have a tag) but I got the experience of seeing a deer in the woods. It happened a few other times. One I was just a second too slow and missed my chance, one I didn’t have a good shot at so I chased him in circles for what seemed like hours, another I could only see legs before it ran off, and the last one was a good looking buck 10 minutes after shooting time on the last day of regular rifle season, walking out of the woods. Buck fever is real. Everytime I saw a glimpse of a deer or heard any animal that could have been one, my heart was in my throat and I started to shake. It’s the best feeling but also embarrassing. Although I know grown men who it happens to, too.

There’s a few things about hunting that I absolutely love. That make the long hours, cold extremities, and coming home without a deer still worth all the effort.

– The first is the traditions. There’s a familiar feeling during hunting season. Getting dressed to go out in my grandmothers living room where all the men have done the same thing for years makes me feel like I’m getting off to a good start. Coming back and eating whatever she threw on the stove, having the kids running around, etc. makes me feel like a kid again. Except now it’s my kiddo waiting with Grammy.

-The second is the sounds of the woods and the sights. I saw more of the inside of the Maine woods than ever in my life and even though it’s been months since I’ve been in there, I find myself looking out the window after a fresh snow just wishing I was in the woods. The chipmunks and squirrels, the birds, the little creatures running about that think they’re able to go unseen. The silence of the snow. I was in the woods during a heavy snowstorm, had gotten stuck in the ditch trying to get to my spot even, army crawled under trees and through snow to get to where I wanted to sit, and spent the time obviously looking for deer but also taking it all in. The woods is by far the most beautiful place to be. You hear and see things that no one else will ever hear or see in the same exact way as you.

-The last is the technique. I’m not the best, by any means. Practice makes perfect. But I have a lot of helpful people (mostly men but that’s who I know that hunts the way I do) who were there for support and tips without putting me down. There’s nothing like using the resources around you to look for sign and try to track a deer. I recognized buck scrapes and scat, found myself picking it up to see how old it might be (gross, but whatever). My brother taught me how to call properly, how often to use each one and how to make it sound. My husband taught me some of the best advice- that might sound silly but really helped. He said, “you have to look through the trees, not at them.” You know when you hold your hand spread out in front of your face you can either choose to look at your fingers or at the wall in the spaces between them? That’s what you have to do for deer. Look in the empty space for movement or any kind of sign of life, because their camouflage will always be better than yours. It’s something I do even now when I have the opportunity in the car, I look through the trees, not just at what’s in front of me.

I didn’t do muzzleloader, simply because I don’t know enough about it and I had put in so many hours I needed my season to be over and have my regular life resume. I wouldn’t get home until late and my body was tired. But I miss the sights; the chipmunks running by so close its like they don’t know you’re there, the sun starting to set over a completely red and orange leaf filled woods, fresh deer tracks in the snow. I miss the sounds; my grandmother telling me to be home by a certain time, the click of my gun when I load it, the birds announcing my presence to the rest of the woods. And I miss the routine; base layers, camo, orange, my bullets in the zip pocket of my hunting pants, bleat call in my right pocket and grunt call thrown over my shoulder. How I would walk down the hill to get to my stand and always went the same path spraying scent as I went along (I don’t miss the smell of that though). I miss being able to disconnect with the outside world and connect with the sounds and movements of my own body and trying to match them to the woods around me. And I think what I miss the most out of all of it is the anticipation. I don’t want any easy hunt, while the ultimate goal is always to fill the freezer and put food on the table, I want to work for it. When I pull the trigger and get my first deer I want it to be because I learned from mistakes, got better at it, had a little bit of luck, and worked hard for it. I’ll be back out again next season ready to get it done.

I meant to finish writing this and post it while it was fresh in my mind months ago, but it turns out having a couple months to reflect had finally given me the words I was looking for.

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