Hunting and shooting are closely related to the adventure and success of hunting. Deer hunting is a lifelong journey for many sportsmen, a journey of excitement and adventure that cannot be replaced, yet I almost stopped hunting for all time.
For about 20 years after the returning from military duty during the Vietnam conflict, I gave up hunting. The reason was simple, I went hunting twice after getting back and I was shot at twice! Both times by elderly gentlemen who loved to hunt. It turned out, both admitted being color blind (I was wearing hunter orange!) and both thought my face was the white tail of a deer running or walking away from them. I navigated my shaky finger to the safety on my shotgun, clicked it off and returned a shot fired into the air. I waved, hollered and went to talk with them, that’s how I discovered the details, praying and asking for thanks from the Almighty that I was still alive.
While I’m usually a semi-cool cucumber during stressful times, to say that I was shaken up would be an understatement. Those that know me might be surprised to learn that I was trembling and scared. I went hunting to share in that special Shangri-La of sunrise at daybreak, hunting for big game, savoring the heritage that we find in the woods on opening day. I was filled with anticipation and the hope of bringing home some protein-filled, fat-free venison to share with my bride and new baby girl.
That day changed my outdoor life in the hunting woods. I came to feel there was a traffic jam of hunters in the number of woods that were too few for public use and I wanted to be there for my family into future years. Old men with loose fingers and poor eyesight was my excuse for seeking the safety of virtual survival by not hunting. In hindsight, maybe I was hasty, maybe I was short-sighted, and maybe it was too soon to succumb to all possibilities to avoid risk.
It was nearly 25 years later that I met up with an old friend from high school and he asked, “Do you hunt or fish?” I explained that I loved to fish, tournaments too, but I shared the hunting story about why I no longer hunted. He got out his wallet and started flipping through pictures of his friends at deer camp, offering me a safe hunting spot to return to hunting big game with a firearm at a deer camp in Belfast. The year was 1988.
The memory of my last two deer hunting experiences were still like yesterday, fresh in mind. The owner of the cabin had 70 acres of posted land and explained that everyone knew where everyone else was on opening morning. He was convincing and I bought the story. He gave me his personal hunting stand to sit in and with a gentle grin he said, “The deer usually walk out over there and all you gotta do is aim and squeeze the trigger son.”
Easy for him to say, I thought, what about if someone is behind the deer I’m shooting at? I was concerned for another hunter now, reflecting on my harrowing personal experience two decades prior. That morning I allowed seven deer to cross that trail where I was told they would be, I could not shoot. I was that worried about someone else being back there.
After sharing the story and getting chewed out big time by everyone else at deer camp, especially the elderly owner, I went back the next morning with renewed enthusiasm and a feeling of safety for all. At 7:30 a.m. that next day, I killed a big doe, filling the freezer with venison for the first time since before Vietnam. It was a happy day, the guys at camp all kidding me even more about not doing this for the previous 25 years. Since then, I am humbled to share that I have been blessed to take more than 40 deer, no monster trophy deer, but we love venison! We don’t eat much beef.
I learned to love hunting from a deer camp that year and while I am more of an archery hunter that firearm hunter, I still hunt in the same deer camp today with many of the same friends, new friends too, though some have since passed on.
Each time you hunt, please look beyond your target before you squeeze the trigger. Good luck out there!