The day did not start out in a manner suggesting good fortune. Mudge is about 2.5 hours south of me, and I had a morning appointment here in Easton (massage, monthly) to dispatch before making the trip. Knowing that I would emerge from the morning's appointment smelling like I just walked out of the Mustang Ranch, I programmed a quick trip home for a shower. This I did, packing up the things I needed for the night and a small token of esteem for the Mudge's. Ten miles down the road, The Kitten called to tell me that I had left the token and my bag sitting in the kitchen, so I turned around to begin the journey again.
Additionally, I had not eaten and I needed gas, so on the second time around, I figured I'd hit the WaWa in Cambridge, fuel up and grab a soft pretzel. Brother Tom introduced me to the Wawa soft pretzel, and I must admit, they are
I eventually arrived at Mudge's place and we shot the breeze for a while before heading a mile or so down the road to his hunting grounds. Before walking down the paths to our stands, Mudge suggested that we "sight in" my field piece with a few rounds. This year I switched from buckshot to a slug round, and I wanted to get an idea of how decent a shot I was. Now, I am no Fred Sheehy, but I have always been a decent shot. We confirmed this with three rounds, two from about 30 yards and one from about 80 yards, all of which were decently aimed.
It was 3:15 or so before we got up into our stands, so there wasn't a whole lot of daylight left. This was ok, because while it wasn't terribly cold, I had my real foul weather stuff packed away for the
|The Sight Line|
My stand sits about 12 feet above a wide path or road that Mudge cut with his back hoe. Because I am right handed, the barrel points in the direction indicated in the photo above. Realistically, my arc of fire is about 270 Relative to about 020 relative to my position along the path, but there are very dense woods in all but the clear bit you see above. There are a few open patches in that 110 degrees other than the path, but not very many. The road continues to the right, but the machinations involved in switching my position and the gun barrel to shoot to the right would alert only the deafest of deer. So in reality, if I were to shoot at the deer, it would be in the road clearing out to 90 or 100 yards.
So I sat down in my stand and began the patient wait. As I said, the wind was steady, so there was a good bit of wind generated noise. I don't hear well as it is, and I take my hearing aids out when I hunt. The hat in the picture above, when down over my ears really muffled a lot of sound, so I had to roll it up to uncover my pitiful ear-holes. This made hearing easier, but added to the slight discomfort caused by the cold.
Keep in mind, I am pretty damn sure that the ONLY way that I would get a good shot at a deer is down this road, but that didn't keep me from looking as far as 090 relative, where I could not possibly get a shot, but where a clueless deer might be walking down the path toward me. This eventuality is very unlikely, but it gets boring looking straight down one direction, so I occasionally rotated my head and body to the right to see what would be down there.
The sun began to fade, and I estimated that I had about five more minutes before I'd climb down and head back to Mudge's truck--which was off to the right, and in which direction I was shifted when I made this calculation. And that's when I heard it--rustling in the woods close-by, on my port quarter. I began the slow, quiet shift around, one made necessary by my unnecessarily having shifted to the right, and of course, alerted the deer that had come up behind me not more than 15 yards away in the thick woods. Had I not been lollygagging to starboard, the deer would have walked from left to right across the road very close to me and would have been an easy shot. As I turned, it heard me and bounded back into the woods. But....sixty yards or so down the path stood a pretty doe, right in the middle of the road. I now was shifted to port, and in good position. She didn't appear to be in a hurry, so I leveled the Benelli and sighted her in....the little red/orange bead at the end of the barrel was now very difficult to see in the fading light, but just enough of it was visible to give me the confidence to take the shot. Flashing through my mind were the same thoughts as last year. How would I react if I pull the trigger and it actually hits the deer? I've never shot and killed a deer. I wondered if there would be remorse.
I squeezed the trigger, the gun responded, and the doe dropped where she stood, motionless. I sat and contemplated her for a second, committing the exact spot where she was to memory in case she got up and moved. Having figured out that I did not have remorse, I realized that if she got up and walked away, injured, there would be little time and daylight left to find her. Then I would be very remorseful. But she was not moving. She wasn't going anywhere.
I slowly got myself together for the climb down the stand. I knew that by now, Mudge would be leaving his stand to see what happened (it turns out that he was climbing down when he heard my shot). I quickly policed my restraint strap and the lifting line and made the stand ready for the morning's hunt, and then I began the walk to my first deer. Honestly, I felt good about it. I realize many would not agree, and some would find borderline mental illness in feeling this way, but I felt good. I was patient. I was accurate. I had done what I set out to do.
|My first deer--100lb doe|
Mudge suggested we go get his truck and drive her out--I offered to stay with her, and he answered plainly "she's not going anywhere". So we headed off, drove slowly back and put her in the bed of the truck to take her back to Mudge's field cleaning station. I won't go into the details of the cleaning, but I will extend serious gratitude to Mudge for not only doing it, but for carefully explaining each step along the way. There is an art to getting a deer ready for taking to processing, and while it was a cold night (making haste unnecessary), getting it done quickly and efficiently takes great skill. Once she was dressed, we headed back to Mudge's to clean up for dinner, drove ourselves and the deer to nearby Exmore to the processing facility, and then met Mrs. Mudge for dinner at a local restaurant.
I chose a gumbo for dinner, perhaps an unwise decision, as I am sure its gaseous by-products had something to do with nary the sight nor sound of a deer coming near me the next morning. But an evening of great conversation with the Mudge's followed by warm slumber made the next morning's shutout well worthwhile.
Below is a shot of Mudge and Oscar, saying goodbye as I backed out for the drive home. I had done what I set out to do--and that was renew my friendship with a truly great fellow and his wife. That I had shot my first deer was simply icing on the cake.
|Mudge and Oscar|