Killing For Sport
Killing For Sport
I shiver in the cold, damp pre-dawn darkness, my pants wet from the waist high weeds as I push my way along the edge of the field. The soft hooting of an owl startles me and the hair on the back of my neck bristles as the eerie sound echos hauntingly through the trees.
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Holding my old 30-30 rifle up above the grass so it wouldn’t get wet I walk along trying to move as silently as possible. Everything is dripping wet and the air is damp with moisture from the night’s rain. Thick fog hangs low over the woods and pasture.
I breathe a sigh of relief as I finally reach my destination, the back corner of our property, right on the edge of the woods, overlooking an overgrown pasture. We don’t manage the pasture too well so everything is overgrown with head high weeds and briars interspersed with deer and horse trails.
Pausing at the base of a tree I look up the tree trunk, the limbs faintly silhouetted in the night sky. I sling the rifle on my shoulder, grab the large spikes in my hands that I had pounded into the tree back in the summer and climb until I reach my perch on a tree limb. About 20 feet up in the air I have a precarious little homemade wooden tree stand strapped to the trunk of the tree to sit on. I sit down and put a rope around my waist and around the tree trunk for safety, place the gun over my knees and scrunch myself down into my jacket trying to stay warm.
The early pre-dawn always seems very cold. The homemade cotton clothing I wear is not designed for such cold wet weather but that’s all I have so that’s what I use. The early mornings on a tree stand in late November are a cold miserable shiverfest. I anxiously wait for the first rays of sun to start peeping over the horizon with its promise of warmth.
I am 15 years old and my family is living in central North Carolina. This is the first year that I’m deer hunting, I had worked and scrimped and saved up enough money to buy an old 30-30 Winchester lever action rifle, my first real gun! I practiced with it and felt confident of making a good shot within about 75 yards or so. Now the deer season is open and I have high hopes to get my first deer, this is the third day of the season and I had hunted diligently but had seen nothing so far. But I was persistent and not ready to give up too easily.
I didn’t really realize it at the time but I was overlooking a bedding area so it was a good morning stand for me to sneak in in the pre-dawn when the deer were out in the woods and the fields eating and by the time they moved back do the thick bedding area I was safely ensconced up in my tree. I didn’t really understand that at the time but I did discover that I would sometimes see deer in the morning but never in the afternoon. I didn’t realize that when I climbed the tree in the afternoons the deer were already there and I would scare them away as I walked in but here I was anxiously waiting.
The grey morning takes awhile to get daylight because of the rain and fog and my hopes of seeing warming rays of sunshine are disappointed but eventually the darkness turned into gray and I can see a little further and make out the shapes of the low trees and bushes and briars out in front of me. I strain my eyes anxious to see any sign of movement which would indicate the presence of a deer moving through the area but nothing showed. I squirm in my seat and shiver trying to stay warm in my damp clothing.
Suddenly without warning there’s a deer right under my tree! I don’t hear it because of how silently it moves in the wet grass. Just like deer can be sometimes, you don’t see or hear anything and suddenly there they are right in front of you!
In the same instant I could see his little spike horns. The horns are important because no matter how little they are if it has horns it’s a legal deer! The deer is very close perhaps 20-30 feet away from the bottom of the tree. I slowly softly lift my rifle, my thumb tightens on the hammer and pull it down,”click” the little bucks head lifts up at the sound and his ears swivel around. I quickly aim and squeeze the trigger. The gun roars and the deer jumps high in the air and I watch in dismay as he bounds swiftly away his large whitetail waving goodbye. In a sudden panic I work the lever, raise the gun again and desperately fire at the fast disappearing brown figure. And then it’s over, just like that! The whole thing from seeing the deer to firing the shots to the deer disappearing was only a matter of seconds.
I lay the gun down across my knees again shaking uncontrollably. I grip the gun tightly to keep from dropping it. I breathe deeply trying to calm myself. I look out across the tall weeds and briars in a vain hope of seeing the buck but there is nothing. I feel a mixture of excitement, dismay and horror because I know the buck is gone for good. Deer were scarce at that time and I know if I miss this opportunity it may be my only chance for the year.
Finally I steady myself, swing the little rifle back on my shoulder and force my trembling hands, arms and legs to slowly climb down the tree. The area where the deer had disappeared is filled with head high weeds and briars making it impossible to see anything or even walk through except for the trails that are cut through it.
Nowadays when I shoot a deer the first thing I do is walk over to where is the deer was standing when I shot and look for any signs of blood, hair or anything that would indicate if I hit him and if so what type of blood is it so I have an idea where I hit and how far he might run but I didn’t know any of that at that time.
I excitedly push my way around through the briars until I finally figure out that I should try to walk in the general area that I saw the deer last. I push my way through the thick growth fear and despair sinking through me as again and again I replay the scene in my mind sighting down the barrel, squeezing the trigger, the deer bounding away, frantically shooting after it. Suddenly there it is! It’s white gray form lying buried in the wet weeds. I stopped and looked, suddenly a desperate fear came over me, what if it didn’t have horns, what if the horns were a mirage and I had accidentally shot a doe making it an illegal deer! My body throbbed with conflicting emotions of ecstasy and fear. I push my way quickly forward, and look at its head, relief surges through me as I see the little spike horns protruding from his head, thank goodness I’m not a criminal! I pause now trembling from head to toe from a combination of cold and excitement. I move slowly forward and look down at my buck, my first deer.
I lay my rifle gently across the small buck’s body, and then I stand back and look at the thick grey whitish fur covered with beaded raindrops, at the wound the bullet had made, the thin stream of dark red blood running down from the bullet hole in his chest. I lay my fingers on his chest under the hole and watch silently as the warm red blood trickles over my fingers. I gaze at his head, the small horns tangled in the wet grass, at the eyes slowly glazing over in death.
My nostrils fill with the strong stench of the hormonal rutting buck.
Awe and wonder overwhelms and just sit there in the wet grass looking at my deer. This is not the first animal that I’ve killed, we’re country folk and live close to the land. I’ve killed lots of chickens, and various small animals such as squirrels and rabbits but this is my first major kill and its a momentous moment. Just a few minutes before this buck had been a wild animal, running wild and free in the forest bounding across the meadows and I, a 15 year old boy have mastered it and brought it down just as countless others had done in the thousands of years before me. I am now a part of the food chain, part of nature’s eco-system, killing other creatures so that I can survive. I am no longer a wannabe, an inexperienced kid, I am now a true hunter, and I exercise dominion over the creatures of the forest, the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. At that moment I have come of age, I have been born a hunter, my destiny, my journey as a predator, killing the weaker to survive has begun. Today I am the strong one, today I am the master, someday the tables will turn and I will be the weaker, mastered by one stronger than I and I will succumb to a strength greater than I so the circle of life will be complete but that day is far in the future, that day is not today.
I have killed this deer for sport but I know that its meat is welcome to my family, so I have killed not only for sport but also for food. During that momentous morning, I became a hunter and something was born inside of me that would never go away, a spirit and urging to go outside in the wild. In the years to come from my home in the Carolinas to the western states to the far north I would pursue the creatures of the earth. I would pursue them for sport…..and for food. Many would criticize that hobby of mine and few would understand the urgings of the spirit that would compel me each year to head out to the forest connecting with the rhythms of nature and losing if only for a short time the emasculation of domesticated man and the wretched compulsions of modern civilization.
The moments pass as I admire the warm steaming body of the small buck laying in the wet grass. Even though I’ve never killed a deer before I know what to do. I pull out my knife, another thing like my gun that I had worked and saved for, a Schrade hunting knife with the scrimshaw handle with the little etching of the deer on it. That Schrade hunting knife that I’ve carried ever since, that 32 years later this past hunting season I again pulled out of my pocket to field dress the buck that I arrowed in southern Ohio, I felt like a real Hunter when I carried it. I’ve never watched anyone field dress a deer or watched YouTube videos but I knew just what to do. I had carefully read instructional articles in the outdoor magazines we had. I took my knife in hand rolled the deer on its back and ran the sharp blade down its stomach, the contents of the stomach opened up and the intestines rolled out and the acrid smell of the stomach contents overwhelmed my nostrils. I lay my knife in the grass, pushed up my sleeves and reach my hands into the belly of the buck and pulled out the intestines, “there’s the liver” I said to myself, I remembered the words of my mom, “be sure to keep the heart and liver if you get a deer” she told me.
I take my knife and carefully remove the liver and lay it on the grass beside me, “where is the heart?” I wondered, then I realize I need to puncture the tough diaphragm in the chest cavity. I take my knife and cut the membrane into the brisket and watch as the dark red blood pours out into the stomach cavity and over my hands and arms. I reach into the dark cavity and felt for the warm heart, feeling it’s shape in my hand. I take my other hand carefully with the knife and sever the heart from the arteries, I pull out the heart in my hand and look at it, just a few minutes before that heart had been pumping vital life blood through the body of the deer, literally the engine of the deer as it bounded across fields but now it was mine. I lay the heart carefully besides the liver. The next thing my probing hand finds is the bright pink lungs, I look at it carefully, the lower lobe of the lung had the telltale sign of the bullet wound, that’s what had killed the deer. The bullet had just hit the edge of the lung, I had almost made a bad shot but that was irrelevant now, the shot had found its mark and now he was mine.
I rise from my task and lay my knife down beside the heart and liver. I stand over the deer, my hands and arms up to my elbows covered in blood, blood on my pants and on my jacket. I revel in the moment, this was life!
I look up from the deer, the sun is rising and the fog is disappearing. I survey the scene, the dead buck, the rifle laying in the grass, the knife, the heart and the liver. My hands, my arms, my clothes covered with blood…..my first deer it is a good day.
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