“Relax, take a deep breath, shoot when you’re ready,” I whispered as the buck neared the blind in a Botetourt County, Virginia, cornfield where Doak Harbison and I had set up.
Seconds later, the whitetail passed in front of the blind’s window, and Doak squeezed the trigger of his Thompson/Center Triumph®. At the shot, the buck kicked his hind legs and began a very short run.
“You got him, he’s going down – what a great shot!”, I yelled as the smoke from the muzzleloader cleared.
Doak, breathing for the first time since firing, displayed a huge smile while I pounded him on the back. Seconds later, we stood over a two-point, one-and-a-half-year-old buck – a trophy in both our minds as my fellow teacher at Lord Botetourt High School killed his first deer.
In the winter 2012 issue of Outdoor America, I wrote about mentoring Doak in deer hunting. One of the most important things I stress to novices, young and old, is that the quality of the outdoor experience is more important than the size of a buck’s antlers, the length of a gobbler’s beard, or the sheer weight of a mammoth black bear. That point needs emphasis early on. So much space in outdoor magazines is devoted to the single-minded pursuit of trophy mossyhorns that beginning hunters don’t understand that the taking of any deer or other game animal should be a source of pride. Bringing home food for the family should also always engender a sense of accomplishment for novices and veterans.
Indeed, Doak was a little concerned about killing such a small buck. I told him there was no need for him to feel that way. I explained that my first deer looked very similar in size and antler configuration to his and that I still remember the sense of wonder I felt as I stood over the animal.
After Doak checked in the deer, our conversation shifted to how the animal would be turned into venison – another important part of the hunt. I showed Doak how to field dress the deer and explained that, although my wife and I sometimes butcher my deer, more often we take them to a professional where the animal is turned into tenderloin, burger, steaks, and roasts.
On our way to my butcher, I told Doak that my wife and I would be glad to share some of our venison recipes. Earlier, I had cut out the deer’s heart, and after dropping the deer off at the butcher, I showed Doak how to prepare the heart for cooking in a crock pot. My friend was excited about eating part of his kill the very next day.
Doak had been worried that his family would not like venison, but it turned out that they loved it! They were so excited about how good the meat was that Doak wanted to get back in the field to harvest another deer.
I find that many landowners are quite willing to permit deer hunting, especially if we are tutoring novices or if the landowner is experiencing deer overpopulation or crop degradation problems. In fact, the landowner of the property Doak and I were hunting on had contacted me in May, asking if I would come over in the fall to pursue her deer.
I am absolutely sure that witnessing – and helping – my friend take his initial whitetail will be my biggest thrill of the year. League members can experience similar joy and create wonderful memories when they mentor new hunters.