It was the moment I had dreamed about over the course of four hunting seasons.
Monday, at 2:47 p.m., a deer, its nose to the ground, walked slowly out of the trees and into the clearing 90-100 yards away. I hadn’t been in the tree stand five minutes.
My heart pounded as I raised the rifle and peered through the scope. At first, I didn’t see antlers and my any-deer permit wasn’t valid in Zone 26.
All of a sudden, my Extreme Dimensions electronic call fell off the seat and clanked off the metal ladder. My excitement turned to dread as I realized I was exposed.
The deer’s head shot up, its ears and eyes fixed in my direction. Its antlers were now clearly visible.
Knowing my window to shoot was slamming shut, I trained the scope on the buck and squeezed the trigger. I don’t even remember aiming.
I didn’t see the deer go down, so I quickly jacked another shell into the chamber of my bolt-action Savage .30-06. I feared, given my lack of experience, I might have missed.
Then, I detected subtle movement in the waist-high grass. A moment later, nothing.
In spite of the mistake, it appeared I had gotten lucky.
Help along the way
I owe my exciting experience to the many friends, co-workers and other hunters who have been kind enough to impart the wisdom of the woods on a novice, middle-aged hunter.
For me, deer hunting has at times been a shared experience with friends, while at other times it has been a lonely quest. Again this year, with the luxury of a piece of land to hunt in Kenduskeag thanks to Bhraun and Leanne Parks, I had gone off to do my own thing.
I bought my first tree stand, picked a spot, put the stand up myself (with considerable difficulty) and hunted there several days, including a couple of six-hour stints, over the first two weeks of the season.
In doing so, I had left behind the person who had first inspired me to become a hunter, BDN outdoor columnist John Holyoke, and hunting/fishing buddies Chris and Bill Lander. We had hunted together several times the previous three years, without any of us firing a shot.
This fall, armed with an any-deer permit for Zone 17, I traded the great camaraderie for what I perceived as a better opportunity for success.
I saw one deer (or at least its hind end) this year prior to Tuesday. I had stood up in the tree stand to stretch and was facing away from the spot where it emerged. It bounded away as I picked up the rifle and turned around.
I figured I had blown my one chance for the season.
Time right for a change
Monday, on the way home from Kenduskeag, I had called University of Maine baseball coach Steve Trimper, himself an avid hunter. Having made the offer previously, he again welcomed me to join him and some friends the next day for a hunt on the outskirts of Orono.
Since discovering our mutual passion for hunting last year, he has unselfishly been on a mission to help me get my first deer. He has done the same with several other friends and acquaintances.
We hunted for six-plus hours Tuesday morning and only one of us got a look at a deer.
When we regrouped before lunch, Trimper suggested that in the afternoon I head down to a stand that offered a good view of an open area where deer sometimes cross. With the rut in full swing, the odds likely would be even better.
I went home and cooked dinner for my wife Annia who, I must confess, has patiently allowed me to pursue my newest hobby (OK, obsession) with only occasional, good-natured ribbing at my expense.
On the way back to Orono, I recalled something my hunting mentor and co-worker, Terry Farren, has told me since I decided to start hunting.
“It’s raw determination,” he often said of shooting a deer.
I returned a bit before 2 p.m., got geared up, and began the ¾-mile walk to the stand. With temperatures in the low 50s, I was overdressed and quickly began to perspire.
Along the way, I spotted hunter orange behind a tree. I whistled to announce my presence and talked with a hunter named Arthur, whose vantage point was some 300-400 yards away from where I would be sitting.
I cut into the woods so as not to disturb his field of view and walked 200 yards before water and a tangle of trees forced me back into the clearing. I waved to him and disappeared around the corner to walk the last 150 years to the tree stand.
I had sent a text to Trimper so he could alert a fellow hunter, who was expected to be in the vicinity, that there was someone else in the area.
He wanted details, so we talked briefly on the cell as I stood at the foot of the stand. When we finished, I walked across the clearing 30 yards or so to put out some scent wicks.
I returned, climbed into the stand, reloaded and prepared, quite honestly, to start getting cold after the hot trek.
Shock and awe
After I shot, I called Trimper, who was returning from work. Ecstatic at my news, he offered to drive his four-wheeler down to help me get the deer out — assuming it was there.
I waited 20 minutes, to make sure the deer wasn’t going to find his “second wind,” then climbed down, collected the scent wicks and walked slowly, excitedly, toward the spot where I presumed the deer lay.
I was overcome with a feeling as much of disbelief as of satisfaction as I discovered the handsome, 150-pound buck. The 9-pointer had, to my amazement, fallen where it stood.
I was still in shock when Trimper arrived and began hooting and hollering upon seeing the deer. We exchanged a celebratory handshake and hug before examining the buck.
Like the coach he is, Trimper was thrilled at seeing his game plan work to perfection. He offered to field-dress the animal and did so with ease.
We loaded it on the ATV and took it back to the truck. From there, I hooked up with Holyoke, who accompanied me for the tagging/weighing portion of the program. For the record, he also lent me five bucks so I could do so.
After a quick trip to Farren’s house, where he extracted the tenderloins, John and I managed, with considerable effort, to hoist the deer into a maple tree in my backyard.
The long, thrilling day was finally over.
Carrying on the tradition
Hunting can be torture. You can sit in a tree stand or ground blind for hours on end, in a seemingly good deer area, endure cold, wind, rain and snow, and see or hear nothing but red squirrels, woodpeckers, crows and, most frustrating of all, other hunters’ gunshots.
Or, a deer can walk out within 100 yards only minutes after you walk not so stealthily through the woods, have a cell phone conversation standing in front of the tree stand, then sit in the stand and barely have time to get situated.
Hunting deer is many things — preparation, experience, science and luck — with a heaping helping of patience. It can be equally as frustrating as it is exhilarating.
I was blessed to have several friends who armed me with the knowledge, the real estate and the confidence to succeed.
As long as man has walked the earth, he has hunted animals for meat. Those of us who live in Maine are fortunate to be able to continue that age-old tradition.