As I sit here, the sweat rolls down my back on this sunny, mid-August day. The heat index is 105 degrees. The birds are chirping and cotton clouds are slowly drifting over the soybean fields. My mind is wandering and I’m thinking about the opening day of hunting season being only a few months away. That thought alone offers a cooling, but exhilarating effect on my psyche.
I never had this feeling before until 3 years ago when I first started hunting. It really began, though, when I was a young 8-year-old girl. I grew up in a hunting family in Connecticut. My father is an avid hunter, and he would take my brothers and other family and friends to our cabin in New Hampshire for a week to hunt. I stayed home with my mom as it wasn’t proper back then for young girls to go hunting.
I would be excited for my brothers whenever they would go hunting, but deep down I would long to join them. Every night I’d wait anxiously for the phone to ring. Did you see one? Get one? How big? Those would be some of the 20 questions that I’d drill them with during the short time that I’d get to speak to my dad while he was away hunting. I’d wait anxiously for their arrival home only to barrel out of the door to see the deer they had gotten. This went on for years until I moved to Indiana, got married and had three kids of my own.
Shortly after we got married, my husband decided to take up hunting, and during the season I became known as the stereotypical “hunter’s widow.” I hardly saw hide or hair of my husband during the hunting season, and my son, Adam, when he reached the age of 9, began going with my husband, too. As a mom, it was exciting to receive the phone calls from Adam as he talked about his hunt, and now that he was going along with my husband, both of my boys would disappear during the hunting season.
In 2004, my daughter, Leanna, also decided that she wanted to hunt and at that point, I decided that if you can’t beat them, you better well join them. So nerves and all, Leanna and I took our state’s hunter education course and passed. I was still unsure if I could shoot a deer but after passing my hunter education test, I quickly felt the joy of becoming “one of them.” Now I would know how hunters felt every year, as up until that point, I had only heard the stories and seen the emotions and photos.
My First Hunt
I made sure that I had everything I needed for my first hunt, including a good luck charm photo of my brother, Sean, a Marine who died in 1996 in a vehicle accident, and per my dad, toilet paper because, apparently, you never know when Mother Nature might call. As a mom, it’s hard to go out hunting by yourself so I took my youngest son, Joey, with me. My daughter, Leanna, went with my husband and my oldest son, Adam, hunted on his own.
Heading out the first morning, I was nervous about finding my treestand, but I quickly found it and Joey and I climbed in. Once in the treestand, as we listened and watched, Joey and I both realized just how busy Mother Nature is in the morning. As the sun began to rise on that beautiful, crisp morning, shots began to ring out. They sounded like fireworks, and my heart quickly began to beat faster. Then suddenly, a deer ran out into the field in front of us. We simply watched it because the shot was too far and as we watched the doe, she disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared.
A few minutes after the doe left the field, my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of sticks breaking. The sound continued to get closer and closer and then we looked up to see a 6-point buck standing in the field.
“Mom, shoot it!” Joey’s excitement was evident, but I had to quiet him as I planned my next step. As I watched the buck, I raised my muzzleloader and was amazed that I wasn’t shaking with excitement. I had heard of that “buck fever” that all the men talk about just before you shoot, but as I sat and watched the buck, I was completely calm. I found myself asking God to be my eyes and hands and that my shot be true.
My heart was now racing as I put the crosshairs of my scope on the buck. My thoughts now are, “Could I?” Could I really shoot this deer? I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger of my muzzleloader. I never heard the bang; I only saw the flame and the smoke billowing out of the end of the barrel. Immediately after the shot, I began shaking so badly with excitement that my son had to tell me to stop or we were going to fall out of the treestand!
After the shot, the buck kicked and ran up behind my stand and I thought to myself, “I got him! Oh my God, I got him!” Joey gave me a big kiss and a hug, and the radio immediately started chattering from the rest of the family. They wanted to know if I’d gotten one and that they were on their way to my stand. All choked up with emotion, I called my parents in Connecticut on my cell phone and left a message saying that I had just shot a deer.
Joey and I looked for my deer as the rest of the family quickly arrived and joined in. We looked and looked, only to follow the blood trail for hours and hours. I never imagined not being able to find the deer. I was so sure that he would be there, a short distance from where I’d shot him. My first hunting mistake resulted in my first hunting lesson learned: Wait to start looking at least a half-hour after the shot. Second lesson: Reload in case you have to shoot again. We never did find him that evening, and I replayed the shot over and over in my head all night. So this is what it’s like to be a hunter. If this is what it’s like, then I’m not so sure that I’m cut out for this. I not only lost my first deer, but a buck nonetheless!
I didn’t sleep at all that night. I took the next day off from work to look for my buck. My friend, Margaret, tagged along to help me look, but the only thing we found was my slug in a mound of dirt where the buck had stood. It was peeled back like it had hit something, and I thought to myself, “How can that be? I know I hit him. I could see the hole in his hide!” We never found him that morning, and I prayed that he wouldn’t suffer and at the same time, I asked for forgiveness for the bad shot I had apparently made. To this day, I still carry that slug with me as a reminder of how important shot placement is in hunting. I can definitely relate now to the similar stories of lost animals that I’ve heard from fellow hunters over the years.
One day last fall, I had just finished my first day of teaching at the local middle school as an instructional assistant helping students with learning disabilities. The day started off with introductions. I told the class that I was married, had three kids, many pets, and was a published poet and that I loved to hunt. Silence fell over the room of seventh graders. “What did you say?” they asked. I told them again that I loved to hunt and that my whole family hunted. The once-silent room quickly turned to a loud roar of questions, right and left. After answering everything they asked, I encouraged the kids in my class to try hunting. I told them that hunting wasn’t just about getting a deer—it was also about the beauty of nature, spending time with family and about getting an opportunity for relaxation from the hectic lifestyles that we live. I also told the students where and when the next hunter education course was going to be because my son, Joey, was going to take the course. Six of my students and Joey all took the course last fall, and passed.
As the hunting season got closer, the kids in my class only wanted to talk about hunting with me and not school. They would show me big buck pictures and then ask questions. I just kept reminding them that it was school work first, and deer second. That rule was quite a motivator for them.
I was excited when I found out my parents were coming for Thanksgiving last year. They were coming not only for dinner, but my dad was also coming to hunt with his grandkids and me for the first time ever. My dreams were coming true after 30-plus years: I was finally going to hunt with my dad. I would drive to work in the mornings and get teary-eyed just thinking about my dad and I hunting together and how awesome it would be. My parents live in Connecticut and my family and I live in Indiana so we don’t see each other often, and I knew this was going to be a special experience. Little did I know exactly how special.
When my parents finally arrived at our home, there was no time to spare in getting my dad his hunting license. When we got to the store, I took it upon myself to let everyone in the hunting department know that the two people with me were my parents from Connecticut and that I was going to hunt with my dad for the first time in my life.You would have thought that I was a giddy teenager. I was so excited, and received many well wishes of good luck from everyone around us.
The next day I showed my parents the property we’d be hunting. We saw some deer, but no shots were taken. The next day was Thanksgiving, and again, we went out hunting but no shots were taken. I even hunted with my mom whom I never imagined would be interested in doing anything related to hunting. We had so much fun and shared many laughs. We never really spent a lot of time together when I was growing up just hanging out with each other, so this time together was really nice.
The day after Thanksgiving, my son, Adam, went out on his own. Dad and I headed out to our usual spots to hunt, and I prayed over and over to God that he please let my dad and I get a deer. I know I was getting to the point of begging, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I’d waited all my life for this opportunity and I just wanted it to be perfect.
Sitting in my treestand overwhelmed with the excitement of hunting with my dad, I looked to the back of the corn field. There, where the golden sun and crystal blue sky met the field, was a deer. Never in my 3 whole years of hunting had I ever seen a deer come from that direction. I did a double take, and couldn’t believe my eyes. There was nothing but blue sky and the shiny, golden antlers of a huge buck walking toward me! I raised my muzzleloader and put the scope on him. I’ve never had the shakes before shooting, but I was shaking really badly this time with each step the buck took.
I readied myself as I placed my scope’s crosshairs on his shoulder, and when he gets within 100 yards of my treestand, I take a deep breath and fire. I hit him but he jumps, turns and takes off running down the end of the field. I watch him and reload my muzzleloader. On my radio I immediately hear my dad asking if I got one. Then the rest of the family began chiming in from up at the house? I told my dad that I had hit a buck, but he ran off. I told him that I was so mad at myself because I believed he got away. I thought to myself that I should have taken more time before shooting.
My Dad radioed me again and said that he was coming over to help me look for the buck and I told him that I was sorry for losing this deer even before we had a chance to look for a blood trail. He simply said, “Honey, it’s OK. I’ll be right there.” I went to the area where the buck was standing when I shot and met my dad and my son, Adam. I retold the whole story to both of them and my dad gave me a big kiss and a hug, which was something I really needed at that point because I was pretty bummed out. We begin to look around for blood, but there was no sign. Farther and farther out we fanned, but still no sign. After quite a while of not finding any sign of a hit, I came to the realization that I had lost another deer.
Before heading back to the house for the night, I decided that I wanted to show my dad another part of the property and as we walked down the field, we continued to look for blood. As we walked, I could see that the ground was raised up a little off in the distance. This wasn’t unusual as the corn field had small hills, but for some reason, this caught my eye so I drew my son’s and my dad’s attention to it and as we continued to walk, my dad says, “Sharon, I think I see an ear.” My heart started racing and I began smacking my dad on the arm, saying “Don’t do this to me. That’s not my deer, it can’t be.” My dad cuts me off in mid-denial and says, “I see an antler!” At this point, my denial quickly turned to extreme excitement and as we got even closer, I could see that it was true.
“Oh my God, I got him! I really got him!” I was absolutely hysterical when I realized I had gotten this deer and my dad looked at me and said, “Congratulations, honey.” My son, Adam, quickly said, “Way to go mom!” All I could do was grab my dad, squeeze him so tight, and cry hysterically.
As I write this and think of that moment when we found my deer, my eyes still swell with tears. My dad just kept saying that I should be happy and not crying, but he and my son quickly got tears in their eyes from seeing their mom and daughter overwhelmed with emotion. I looked into my dad’s eyes and chokingly tried to tell him that I was happy and that he didn’t understand what this moment meant to me. I had waited 30-plus years to hunt with my dad and that moment meant the world to me.
There’s now not a day that goes by that I don’t find myself thinking about hunting with my dad. This year my parents are coming again for Thanksgiving, and I know it’s not because of my cooking. They’re coming to hunt deer, and to me, that’s the ultimate.
In closing, I want to let the other moms out there know that you, too, can hunt and some of the best quality time you’ll ever have as a family are the times that you spend hunting with your husband and children. It’s never to late to start hunting and one day you, too, can have the Ultimate Hunt.
Editor’s Note: The author’s father suddenly and unexpectedly passed away on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2007. If you’d like to pass along your condolences, you can do so here.