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Hunting carries a weight of responsibility

The deer wasn’t a trophy, but he sure was proud of it. My oldest son killed his first deer of the season in the hardwoods behind our house a few weeks ago.

On a crisp Saturday morning, the doe walked down the hill toward our blind, paused briefly to enjoy a few acorns, then stopped 20 yards from us.

My 11-year-old whispered something about shooting the biggest one and I gave him the thumbs up to pull the trigger. It was a good shot.

This was not his first deer, but it would become the first deer he skinned himself. I imagine it will stick in his memory longer than his first kill.

We are not hard-core hunters, meaning we don’t have a skinning shed with a fancy electric lift to hoist our deer. We had a rope and a pulley and, with a little help, he made that work just fine.

I walked him though the process as best I could and handed him the knife. It didn’t go perfectly, but two hours later we had a cooler full of meat ready for the processor.

To date, he has been hunting a total of six times his entire life and has killed two deer. That’s a pretty good batting average.

It was not like that when I was his age. I remember a time when seeing a deer — any deer — was an event to behold. Maybe Southwest Mississippi has been blessed with deer for decades, but Central Mississippi has not been. Deer were scarce in our neck of the woods.

My sister and I (my hunting partner for several years when were were younger) have gone entire seasons without so much as seeing a single deer. There were countless alarm clocks set for 4:30 a.m. that resulted in cold fingers and toes but no deer.

And we were not alone. I don’t remember anyone seeing deer the way hunters see — and shoot — them today.

But I do remember a particular hunting trip with my sister. It is etched in my mind more permanently than my first deer kill — or my first buck. It’s the reason I no longer hunt myself.

One cold December afternoon, we found a spot at the back of our farm property, near a creek lined with hardwoods. The field below us was full of grass and was the perfect place to see a deer. And sure enough, just as the sun was setting through the oak limbs, a group of deer walked out.

From my perspective it looked like three small does. My sister put the scope on the biggest one and pulled the trigger. There was the crack of the rifle, a bit of a commotion in the field and then all was quiet. As we approached the animal, I immediately realized something wasn’t right.

For starters, the deer was not dead but it was unable to get up. I then realized that it was a young doe and was not the largest of the group. The larger doe, the mother I presume, was standing 10 yards away and refused to leave.

I told my sister to put the animal down, and that’s when she realized she had somehow lost the rest of her .243 ammo as she made her way through the field. It was dark. It was cold. The small deer was making a God-awful crying sound and the large doe was still there watching. It was terrible.

I sent her back to our grandparent’s house nearby to get another gun while I did my best to put this deer out of its misery with my bare hands. It was not an easy task.

I will spare you the details, but it took all I had to help this poor animal die as quickly as possible. I was covered in blood, hair and sweat, and the larger doe was still standing there watching. We both learned valuable lessons that evening.

That was the last time I went hunting until my son got old enough to shoot. I have told him that story, not to embarrass my sister, but to teach him a lesson. When you pull the trigger, you are responsible for that animal’s life and death. Sometimes, it’s a clean shot and a quick kill. Sometimes it is not.

Thankfully, he’s a better shot than my sister — and a better shot than I ever was. He has pulled the trigger on our .30-30 exactly two times in the woods. Both times resulted in meat in the freezer. You can’t ask for more than that. But just in case, we always pack plenty of ammo and an appreciation of those lessons I learned on a cold December evening years ago.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.