First deer Capturing and preserving the moment
Sept. 14, 2001
It was my eleventh straight deer season, and I had never killed a deer. "Not a very good deer hunter," you might be thinking. Probably true, but also a very unlucky one. Deer hunting in those days consisted of either working big hounds through thickets or waiting somewhere in the woods out ahead of those hounds for emerging deer. I didn't own hounds so I was among those who waited for deer to flee the dogs and come by my stand. The few deer we jumped always went by someone else's stand, a stand being simply a place in the woods that looked like where a deer might run or where someone else said a deer might run.
Deer were as scarce as gold nuggets in the East Mississippi flatwoods, thus the seasons were just a few days in length. We stood or sat for hours on the long, wet, freezing days of December, clothed in cotton and thin leather boots. Our stands were always at least a half mile ahead of where the dogs were cast, and smart bucks are born knowing how to squat or double back and let the dogs chase the does past the standers. Only bucks were legal.
So in all those eleven years, I got just one long shot at a smallish spike buck that must have become disoriented and loped by my stand as I stood shivering, hands locked onto my double 12 gauge. I was confident of the shot because I had poured the shot from some of the new Federal "Magnum" paper duck shells and replaced it with a dozen number one buckshot. This was before the short magnum buckshot shells of later years came along. I had made myself "magnum" buckshot shells before the manufacturers thought of doing so, though my crude experimentation was likely dangerous.
I made a good shot as evidenced by pieces of rib bones lying on the ground among spatters of blood where the little buck had passed by. But our best hound on a leash failed to catch up with him by 10 p.m. after a mile of tracking.
So here I was on December 31, 1962, sitting on the ground against a big oak tree in Wahalak Creek swamp hoping for my first deer. But today I was armed with my new Model 99 Savage in .308 caliber topped with a Weaver K-2 1/2 scope. Though I had never seen a hunter in the Kemper County woods with a scoped rifle (I had seen only 2 others with rifles) Jack O'Connor said one could hit running deer with a rifle fitted with a low power scope and I believed him. O'Connor, the shooting editor of Outdoor Life magazine, was raised in Arizona and lived in Idaho and probably had never shot at a deer in briar thickets and the vine-covered loblolly pines and sweet gums like we had in Kemper County. But his words were gospel in those days.
At 10 a.m. along came a big buck, fairly flying ahead of the hounds. It was the most difficult shot for a rifle with a scope, the buck streaking past at just 15 yards. The crosshairs swung ahead of him like a shotgun bead ahead of a quail and I let fly 2 Peters HV 180 grain round nose soft points, one into the heart and the second, before he could fall, just behind the first one. The deer had intended to jump a 3 strand barbed wire fence beside me, but he died before his momentum faded and took the old fence down as he crashed through it while falling, snapping the top strand that curled up and nearly hit me in the face. Talk about drama! I had hunted hard for 11 years, and when the drought finally was broken, it happened with wall to wall drama.
As fate would have it, my father was with me that cold day. Standing within earshot nearby in the swamp, he came running when I fired. He had hunted with me those 11 years, and I now realize he ached for me to bag a deer like he and others in our club had done. As I kneeled beside the big buck, he hugged me for so long that I had to tell him the deer needed field dressing before he finally let me out of his arms. Then I saw the tears in his eyes. For some reason I shed no tears. I somehow knew that when I got my chance with that rifle, I would make the shot.
I carried a camera in my pack, ready for the day when I finally got my buck. Daddy snapped the picture through tear-blurred eyes. I suppose I have looked at that photo at least once every year since.
I have told my "first deer" story to make an important point. Take a small camera along on your deer hunts, especially if you or your youngster has never bagged a deer. And take pictures right there in the woods lots of pictures.Snap the whole roll, shooting at different angles. At least one of the pictures will bring you special pleasure like mine that was taken 39 years ago.