Katie’s First Hunt
The alarm clock jolted me out of an amazing dream of huge whitetail deer grazing in front of me when it decided to scream ‘wake-up’ at 4:45 on the morning of opening deer hunting. The evening before had been quite normal, a nice meal and then an endless supply of stories that detailed the highlights from hunts of previous years. Of course, no one headed to sleep at a reasonable time, but rather stayed huddled around the table as the beer induced stories continued to flow freely. It was a pretty typical gathering of die-hard hunters preparing for the opener of deer hunting, except this time we were welcoming a brand new hunter.
Earlier in the fall, my fifteen year old daughter, Katie, told me she would really like to try deer hunting. (The same Katie, when she was 12 years old, kicked and whined when I made her take a firearms safety class.) So in addition to hunting on 90 acres of prime Wisconsin wilderness, I would be taking my daughter out for her first hunt.
Well, a couple of cups of coffee and some toast and it was time get the blaze orange on and head out into the darkness. The weather had turned cold and there was a nice dusting of snow covering the ground, so we bundled up especially warm to make Katie’s first time hunting an enjoyable experience. The stand I had decided to use was a half mile of easy walking from the cabin, but that was still enough to get us really warm underneath all the layer of clothing. I knew from experience that this body heat was really something to savor, because it wouldn’t last.
The morning hunt ended up being uneventful, although I do think we saw a deer in the distance. So we headed back to the cabin and all the way back I tried to assure Katie that these things happen and you can’t just expect to walk into the woods and shoot a deer. I’m not sure if she was downtrodden where she needed the pep talk, but as her dad, I knew I needed it. While the manufacturer labeled the tree stand we were in a two-man stand, they obviously did not two full grown people, with layers and layers of winter clothing, in the stand. Comfort was minimal, but dad could persevere if she could.
We made it back to the cabin for brunch time and I had expectations of spending a good three or four hours in the stand in the afternoon, but Katie’s expectations did not quite meet mine. Being the good father, I acquiesced, and we set out for a two hour evening hunt after she had showered. (Why you need to shower during deer hunting is well beyond my comprehension.)
On our walk to the stand, Katie was excited and made sure to let me know how proud she was; she showered with the unscented soap that was in the shower and felt like a true deer hunter. I have concluded that Katie, though not intentionally, was able to remain downwind of me the entire walk out to the stand. As we approached the stand, I realized that during our time inside, the wind had changed, so that would be against our backs when we got in the stand and our scent would be traveling directly away from us, to one of the best spotting locations from this stand.
Katie climbed into the stand and I hooked up each rifle to the haul line as she pulled them into the stand. I climbed the ladder and hadn’t even got seated when I noticed a peculiar, flowery smell. As I sat down next to my daughter, that smell was much more pronounced, causing me to inquire to her. While she had, in fact, showered and soaped up her body with the unscented soap, she took much more care by shampooing and conditioning her hair with products she had brought from home. Now that flowery smell would be contaminating the area in front of our stand, and no deer in the country was going to not smell it.
Of course, I was wrong. After some time in the stand, we saw a doe and two fawns coming down a hill into a small opening. They would be coming into view in a shooting lane in about 25 yards and I told Katie to get her rifle ready, but to only shoot at the big deer. They approached the shooting lane with a bit of hesitancy and a dead tree blocked my view of the doe, so when Katie asked if she should shoot, I replied no. She waited and the three deer veered away from the trail they were on, so that no shot was ever made. We had experienced the pre-shooting excitement, but nothing more came of it that evening, leaving us to return to the cabin after dark with nothing.
As we were winding down in the late evening inside the cabin, we all were sitting around the kitchen table when I was recapping the events to everyone. At the point where I had told Katie that she couldn’t shoot yet, she interrupted the story and added her own bit of information. It appears that while I did not have a good view of the doe in the shooting lane because of the dead tree, her view of the doe was outstanding and could have been a great shot. She also never said anything in the stand because she didn’t want to upset me by “talking too much.”
The rest of the hunt was unproductive, but the biggest lesson learned was a twelve inch dead tree can create quite an obstacle in a shooting lane, especially when two people are looking at the same thing from two different angles. Katie has not joined in another hunt with me, but that dead tree is no longer in the shooting lane.