At age 30, I became a hunter.

Posted on October 10, 2011


Had a big day yesterday, so this post is a bit late.

If this is totally tl;dr for you…I’ll cut to the chase: I killed a 2×3 blacktail buck

From 2011_10_11

Now, for people with more than a five second attention span…

While I enjoyed pheasant hunting, and they are delicious little buggers, my main justification for the travelling to Oregon for a rifle class was the opportunity to take my first deer. Hunting a deer is a very practical application of many useful skills. The deer is a smart creature; hunting it requires fieldcraft, marksmanship, and patience. Humans have killed or driven away most of the deer’s natural predators in many parts of the country, so humans are their most important predator. Another cause of their biological success story is their wary nature. Most hikers can hike 10 miles without seeing a single deer. Fifty deer may have either heard or smelt the hikers and bolted to safety. The deer’s keen hearing and sense of smell are their biggest natural defenses. Depending on the season, weather, age, sex, and other factors, their behavior can vary dramatically. This is why no two deer hunts are exactly the same.

The Big K Ranch is a 2500-acre operating ranch. It has a hundred head of cattle, orchards, forests, hills, clover, water, etc. In short, it’s virtually a playground for deer. That was clear the first night when I nearly hit a few does on the drive in. Deer hunting on the property can be done many ways. Several unwary blacktails have made their way to the dinner table by failing to appreciate the danger of a pickup truck 125 yards away slowing to a halt. Others have been taken from 10 yards following a fateful meeting on a trail. Still others have crossed into the sights of an archer sitting silently in a tree stand.

Right at daybreak, my guide, Gary, and I hopped into a pick-up truck to get a lay of the land. We spotted 12 does and several bucks, including a nice forked young buck (meaning a buck with antlers that split giving them two tines on each side). Looking for a bit more of a challenge, as well as a bit more for the dinner table, we decided to pass on him. Then we hunted many of the trails criss-crossing the property. Typically we’d quietly stalk until we found a good vantage point, glass, go back to stalking, glass.

This are some pretty typical photos of Gary in action:

From 2011_10_11
From 2011_10_11
From 2011_10_11

Oh, Raptors, the place is practically infested with them. Bald Eagles basically drove the Kesterson’s out of the lamb business. They simply lost too many lambs to eagles to remain profitable. I’ve seen and heard several now. Very cool.

On opposite bank of the Umpqua river, Gary spotted an osprey nest while glassing. Since Gary had already showed me so many things, I was happy when I got to show him something new. The eyecups on his 10x binoculars were basically the same diameter as the telescopic portion of my Canon S95, so we could take some super-zoom shots. With the 10x bino and my camera’s 3.8x we had an effective 38x lens. Here’s the osprey nest:

From 2011_10_11

We covered several miles in this way. Gary understands that I’m not just out here to “shoot a big buck.” He made a special effort to point out little things about deer hoof prints (the angle and depth of hoof prints as an indication of the size of the deer) and deer scat (fresh deer scat is very soft).

On one of our hunts, we found huge piles of bear shit and paw prints.

His print:

From 2011_10_11

This bear walked down to an apple tree, ate a lot of apples, then had to use the can, answering the age old question, “Does a bear shit in the woods?”:

From 2011_10_11

Gary got very excited as he’s got a bear tag, and this one is at least a 400-pounder. I was pretty excited for him. I named the bear “Romper Stomper.” When it became evident that we might run into a black bear on the trail, for which he had a tag and I didn’t, we returned to the KD range to zero the Weatherby in 270 Winchester:

From 2011_10_11

At that point, the 270 became my tool of choice, and the 300 WM became his.

We continued our hunt during daylight hours when the name of the game was splitting up and trying to disturb a bedded down buck into crossing into my field of fire. On one of those hunts I saw a cool woolly bear caterpiller ( Pyrrharctia isabella) aka Fuzzy Wuzzy:

From 2011_10_11

Towards the mid-afternoon we traveled over closer to the pear orchards where we spotted a herd of Roosevelt Elk:

From 2011_10_11

Eventually, they noticed us and decided to bug out:

From 2011_10_11

Next to the eventually conclusion of this blog entry, Gary’s proudest moment of the day was when he spotted what he thought were shed blacktail antlers from 310 yards away through the binoculars. He handed me the binos and all I saw was a white, “U” shape (the top two tines). We decided to go over there and low-and-behold, an excellent 3-point shed antler:

From 2011_10_11
From 2011_10_11

Gary also caught a fleeting glimpse of a big blacktail buck that was on a different area of the ranch, but he was very far out and there only for a few seconds.

We returned to the lodge for a bit to wait for the sun to begin to set, as that would begin the second major active phase for bucks. As the sun began to set, we started to hunt an area of the ranch where blacktails were wont to travel. We soon came upon 4 bucks on a steep hillside. Gary quickly glassed while I readied the Weatherby. Like an amateur, I’d forgotten to reset the scope down from 14x, so merely finding the right buck took me a few precious seconds. Despite that mistake, I soon had a round chambered, the safety off, and my crosshairs planted on the high shoulder of a beautiful healthy blacktail buck.

Following my decade of shooting experience, expert ranking in High Power, 3-days of long range precision training, would I blow a 77-yard shot with an accurate scoped rifle?

As I slowly increased the pressure on the trigger, I knew that my position was good and the deer was motionless: the shot had to be good. The gun’s discharge surprised me. It was my first ever shot without ear protection. My muscle memory kicked in and I immediately worked the bolt in case an immediate follow-up shot was needed. I looked upward and the deer started to roll and tumble part way down the hill into some heavy cover. We begin to approach the hillside to see the buck’s status.

At this point, “Buck Fever” bears a mention. Many novice and experienced hunters discuss “buck fever”, the rush of adrenalin they get when they have the sights on a big mammal. The adrenalin produces tremors, heart pounding, and botched shots. I didn’t feel anything except my breath, the rifle, and the trigger press. After the gun discharged, and I saw the buck fall, then my heart started to race. It was an almost euphoric feeling. I was happy that my aim was true, and most importantly of all: I didn’t gut shot or otherwise maim the creature.

Gary had me stand down at the base of the hill, rifle covering the brush, while he scaled the blackberry bramble covered hillside. As he closed, it was pretty clear that I delivered a high-shoulder spine shot that instantly paralyzed him behind the mid-torso. Gary offered to deliver the coup de grâce but I felt it was my duty. After scrambling to get purchase on an 8-foot vertical rise with only dead roots and blackberry brambles, Gary gave me a hand until I could grab something solid. The deer was nearly motionless but the rising and falling of the lungs told me it was still alive. Following Gary’s advice, I closed to within 5 feet and delivered final blow to the neck. Severing the carotid artery ended his suffering almost instantly.

Immediately following:

From 2011_10_11

After getting my buck down to the road, we took our “I got my first buck” photo:

From 2011_10_11

Since we didn’t need to track it for a long time, the weather was cool, and the shot was clean, we opted to haul the entire carcass to the shop to get the grisly business of turning my buck (which I named Six) into meat.

This was a pretty important day for me. At the age of 30, I completed a rite of passage which most rural Oregonians complete by age 15. Although I am very happy to have killed my first deer, I’m also cognizant of the fact that I ended the life of another living creature. Some might call this act senseless. To the contrary, I think this act was incredibly deliberate. I think this was the thoughtful act of someone trying to feed himself in a healthy and sustainable fashion. Humans perform optimally as omnivores, big game mammals are an excellent part of a well-rounded diet. That youngish buck was one of millions living near populated areas in North America. To let it grow old, weak, and fodder for the cougars just seems like a total waste. Instead, it will feed me, Gary, Leah, Quentin, Kathie, and my friends back in Manhattan. I’m very thankful that I got this opportunity. I want to thank the Thunder Beast Arms for hosting the rifle class that brought me to Oregon. I want to thank the Big K for hosting the rifle class and providing me with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I want to thank Gary Williamson for being an incredibly friendly and knowledgeable guide on my first deer hunt.

This was my first deer hunt. This will be the first of many I hope. I hope to put the skills I learned, and skills I’ll acquire in the future, to good use on the East Coast.


PS (I’m bummed we didn’t get a chance at Romper Stomper, as I hear a good black bear steak is tough to beat).

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Posted in: Hunting