Sarah’s First Deer

In May of last year I was packing up my dorm room for the last time, getting ready to graduate college, and wondering how my summer internship would go–and where I was going to find work afterwards. I probably would have called sitting in a treestand, shivering my butt off and training a shotgun at a deer with a camera in my face a very unlikely possibility.

I grew up in suburban Connecticut with no idea what hunting was really like. All I had to go off was Disney and television stereotypes. If you are unaware of the power Disney movies can have to mold young minds, let me inform you–it can be disastrous. I was raised on these movies, like so many other girls. They not only made me believe I would, one day, get a fairy-tale ending , but even worse, that hunters killed animals and that made them all evil.

I started working at Outdoor Life back in August. The atmosphere here is unlike any other. Who else can say that they often hear turkey calls at work, or that their coworker was sharpening his knives at his desk again, in a non-threatening fashion, of course.

The majority of my coworkers are avid outdoorsmen, and coming into this job fresh out of college with no previous knowledge of hunting or fishing (unless you count a stick, string and some gum fishing) definitely made me feel like an outsider. I listened to people’s stories. The joy they got from the outdoors was palpable, and I wanted in.

So, when I informed my friends and family that I would be going on a deer hunt at Craig and Neil Dougherty’s property upstate with some guys from work (Michael Shea, our video editor, and Alex Robinson, our web content editor) this past December, the common responses were:

“You won’t be able to do it.”
“You would kill Bambi! You’ll be a Bambi killer…”
“You are so going to cry.”

One way to get me to do something: tell me I can’t do it. I had no idea how I was going to react when the time came, but come hell or high water, I was going to try.

We walked up to the stand at 2:30 p.m. From far away, the treestand didn’t look too bad, but when I got up close and saw how the wind shook it and that the ladder was pretty rickety, I started having second thoughts. I’m not afraid of heights, but I am really bad with ladders. After a less-than-graceful ascent, Mike set up the video camera and Alex took his tree climber and picked a tree in a location that let him serve as my backup in case I really messed up.

When I was in the stand, I just sat and listened. The wind whipped tears out of my eyes, and my nose ran like crazy. The treestand was swaying with the tree to which it was attached as the sun crept across the sky, the only indicator that time was running out. Usually, my mind runs wild with thoughts and daydreams, but out there–everything fell silent. Like a puzzle, the pieces all fit. That’s when the deer, a doe and her fawn, cautiously slipped into sight.

From afar they were magnificent moving targets that took my breath away, and made me a little bit crazy. The desire to shoot the deer was slightly overwhelming, but not unwelcome. I made my first shot, and thought I’d missed. I took another shot at what I thought was the same deer and it went down with a kick and a flick of its tail about 100 yards away. The sun quickly faded into the hills as we walked toward the place where we thought they’d been hit.

It was dark at this point and we needed flashlights. Neil Dougherty joined Mike, Alex, and I in our search. We walked up on the doe first. On her feet, she had seemed snooty, arrogant even–you could see it in her walk. On the cold, snowy ground all her personality was gone. She was empty.

The other guys, who are unfazed at this point by a dead deer, handled her in such an easy, nonchalant way–or so it seemed to me. I kneeled down next to her and pet her swollen belly. Probably a stupid thing to do because she was dead, but it was the only thing I could think to do to say, “thank you” while in the presence of all these stoic outdoorsmen.

The urge to cry was overpowering, but I wouldn’t let myself–not in front of my coworkers at least.

If that wasn’t hard enough, we soon found the second deer and I realized it was a fawn. When I saw how much smaller it was compared to its mother, I thought I must be an idiot to not be able to tell through the scope that this wasn’t the one to shoot. If I had known it was only a yearling, I wouldn’t have taken the shot. The lump that sometimes creeps up your throat and grips your tongue and tonsils with an iron fist slid up mine, threatening to choke me or force me to cry; but I held back.

When we dragged them in, I tried not to look at them. I watched how easy it was for the guys to haul them and hoist them up. Every stick and rock we swept the doe over added another knot to my stomach on our way to the shed and out of the biting cold.

Apparently, when someone has grown up hunting, they think differently than a non-hunter. They know that Mother Nature can be cruel and has a will of her own. They know that we are just a small part of the big picture, and that it’s natural to do our part. Animals die, and that’s OK. Fawns die, and that’s OK, too.

As a non-hunter who has just started hunting, I’m still grappling with the guilt I feel about the fact that I “killed Bambi” even though I know that the meat is not going to waste, and that I was helping manage a property that was overpopulated with deer.

I feel like I’m finally starting to see things, as they really are. It’s going to take some time before I come to terms with killing a yearling; and I will probably always feel sad when I see a dead animal, but that’s OK. It will take a while before I feel comfortable calling myself a hunter, but one thing I know for sure is that even if I feel sad; I don’t want to go back.