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My First Deer Hunt: Anything but Expected

I am a newbie hunter. While I've hunted multiple species, I've only ever harvested birds (turkeys and waterfowl). However, this year was the first time I went deer hunting. Needless to say, it wasn't anything I anticipated!

Before getting into my preparation, hunt, butchering, and advice, I want to say what my goal was: meat harvest. I only cared about filling the freezer. My fiancé and I only had ONE package of ground deer left! "I don't care if it is a buck or a doe. The first opportunity I have to kill a deer, I'm taking it," I had said. My tag was for either sex whitetail or antlered mule deer.

In my mind, I had a long list of items I wanted to accomplish to prepare for my hunt. First on my list was going to the range. Because this was my first deer, and big game hunt, I had never shot a rifle. I got comfortable shooting it and at different distances.

I also wanted to scout the location I was preparing to hunt. The location is about an hour and a half from the house and is on public ground. My fiancé and I heavily hunted this property during spring turkey season. During that time, we saw a handful of deer and tons of sign. Unfortunately, due to hectic schedules, we were unable to scout. I remained hopeful for the hunt because we knew deer were on the property.

Opening weekend was November 11. I anticipated hunting this weekend but had to be out of town for work. Now I was down to one weekend, one time at the range and no time spent scouting. Then the last Saturday of the season, November 18, we left the house late and got to the property at shooting hours.

The location of where we wanted to hunt typically takes 30 to 40 minutes to walk. It is near the Sandhills of Nebraska. The walk in is easy but, it is at the far corner of the property and past some hills. Since it was shooting hours when we arrived, it took us about an hour to get to where we wanted to be set up. We did not want to bump any deer walking in. We were setup for an hour in the location we thought we wanted to be. There was no sign of deer moving.

My fiancé and I decided to move further down the valley and closer to the property line. This was absolutely the right move. We saw a doe up on a hill. On the way up the opposing hill (remember we were in a valley), we lost sight of her. We then bumped two deer that took off in the opposite direction of us and the doe.

Through the trees, my fiancé spotted a whitetail buck. We didn't know at the time but he was chasing a doe. We ran up and down multiple finger 'hills' of this canyon trying to keep up with him. He always stayed in the valley, until he didn't. I was set up in an opening waiting for him to appear. Instead, he came up the hill, stopped six yards from us, and just stared at us. He was a beautiful 10 point, five by five.

We were never able to catch up to him after he walked around us and back down the hill. If I was set up towards his direction, I could have taken him. Regardless, it was amazing being so close to him without him spooking. He continued to chase the doe he was after.

At this point, I needed a breather. We started towards the direction the buck ran in hopes of seeing more deer. And we did. Against the tree line was a broadside, whitetail doe. I set up my shot from 115 yards. I was shaking from all the running and it was windy. She stood perfectly still as I took my shot and she dropped.

We made a trip back to the truck to get the game cart, walked back in, gutted her and then hiked out. A biologist friend, ager her at one and a half years old. Upon returning home, with the help of my fiancé, we butchered and packaged her.

This was my first big game harvest. It was a little harder on me than I anticipated. Like most, I hate to see anything suffer. The doe didn't die immediately, but it was quick. It was harder for me to see that compared to what I am used to. I am grateful for the doe to be able to fill the freezer. It hasn't stopped me from wanting to deer hunt and plan on going again next year. It was just different from what I had experienced before.

My advice to hunters going through the same thing:

  1. Be prepared. Put in the hours. Be ready for any circumstance. This ranges from physically to mentally. I spent time at the range and knew the hunting location before going (I didn't quite know where the deer would be, but I had spent a great deal of time here). Be open to the idea that you might take the kill a little hard and that's okay!

  2. Be grateful. Obviously to your kill, but it's not just about that. We are lucky to have the opportunity to hunt and fish. I hunt on public ground, which is unique to America. Take in the splendor of nature and the outdoors. Regardless of the outcome, it's all about the experience.

  3. Be confident. Only take a shot with absolute certainty. Trust your gut. Be where you think you should set up. Know your abilities and trust yourself. Remember, you prepared for this and the unexpected.

Jesse Harding is a Huntress View Team Member from Nebraska. Follow her on Instagram at @jessenharding.

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