My First Hunt and the Biggest Lesson

Each time I pull the trigger or release an arrow, I take a deep breath and can feel the oxygen flood my brain. The surge of oxygen allows for the release of adrenaline which has been diluting my concentration. Simultaneously a memory floods my brain—a memory of my first hunt and the lesson that I learned that day.  Those of us who are avid hunters will always remember our first hunt and usually the lesson that comes along with the experience. My lesson wasn’t about field dressing or tracking. It was much more than that.

I had been with my parents on their hunts before, I even helped with field dressing, tracking and spotting many animals with them.  Hunting was a way of life, it was in my blood, and I was fascinated by every aspect. You can imagine my eagerness when I turned 12 years old; I could hardly contain myself. I took hunter’s safety and aced it! Sighted in at the range and nailed it! Next step, find a deer. My dad and I hiked from our house up the road to an area we knew well, where it was a guarantee to see some critters. Sure enough, we came across a herd of whitetail grazing in a saddle along a ridge. Within that herd was a nice two by two whitetail buck. I grabbed my Ruger 243 bolt action rifle and placed it snug into my shoulder. I slowly placed my cheek down on the stalk and closed one eye. My heart raced so fast I could feel every beat  through my whole body. The cross hairs of the scope would find its mark, and in my excitement I would lose my correct placement. I adjusted back to the lungs when my dad whispered in my ear “take a deep breath and slowly squeeze the trigger.” Then suddenly it was over, I do not remember hearing the shot, where the deer went or even if I had hit him.

The buck went down 100 yards from where he was hit. As we watched his final breaths, I can remember feeling excited, proud and sad all at once. I never had that big of a connection with an animal before. My dad called my mother to bring the truck up the main forest service road. We field dressed the buck and dragged him down to the road to meet my mother. We loaded him into the back of the truck and when my dad’s cell phone rings. Our neighbor also had a successful hunt that morning and wanted our help to get his animal back to his place. Up the road we went and all I could think about was how that hunt made me feel.

Our neighbor had dragged his buck to the road and was waiting for us. As he slid his buck into the truck bed next to mine, my emotions changed. His mule deer buck was a trophy, beautiful colors, massive beams, 5 by 6 points and the sheer size was twice of mine. I suddenly felt inadequate. He congratulated me but he could tell how I felt, my silence and body language spoke volumes. After we dropped him off at his house and my mom and dad turned to me said, “Sarah, I am proud of you, there is nothing to be ashamed of.” I was not sure what to think at this point. Later on down the road my father turned to me again and asked me “why do we hunt?” After a moment of pondering, I mumbled: “to eat.”  He coaxed me to elaborate “and what part of the animal do we eat?” I responded again “the meat” He affirmed my response “correct you can’t eat the antlers can you?” No… Sudden realization flooded my brain!

Hunting has been a way of survival for humanity since the beginning of time. I took a life so that I could live so that I could provide for the family, not for a trophy on the wall. I have that thought  every single time I pursue an animal. This year, 11 years later, as I was out elk hunting with my dad, I was reminded again of this valuable lesson. We were chasing a herd, and the closest bull to me was a four by five at 350 yards. However, there was a beautiful six by six bull out at 600 + yards. We were running out of cover, and they were slowly moving away from us. The temptation to take the long shot was great, and it was the bigger bull! Then suddenly the memory of that first lesson I had learned all those years earlier filled my brain. I could feel the pressure of the moment and new that I needed to make a decision. Was risking the shot just to have a bigger bull and possibly injuring him just because I wanted him, okay?  Being short on time I changed targets, and was successful with my 4 by 5 bull. I feel proud of my decision that day. I think that as hunters it is our ethical responsibility to stay true to the hunt and why we hunt.

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