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It was only two years ago in September that I went on my first hunt. I had never considered hunting until the year before, at 35 years of age. I didn’t know another hunter, other than the guy who took me on my first hunt; my wife’s cousin, Jeff. I will always have him to thank for something that became one of my biggest passions in life. I am an avid angler, but hunting was not something on my radar. It was not a tradition that got passed down in my family, as is so common in the hunting community.
I took the first year to do as much research as I could. Both my oldest son Andrew and I took our hunter safety course and began a new tradition to pass down. Beyond that, this was a challenge we knew really nothing about. Fast forward to mid-2019, our buddies Chris, Paul and Jeff’s brother-in-law Nelson, had also shown interest in hunting and took their safety class. We were all eager to get out there and get it.
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We went from zero to sixty in a few months. Everything from clothing, rifles, backpacks, binos, and anything else. YouTube told us what we needed in order to stalk and take a buck. Things got expensive quickly.
We were lucky enough to have a head start. Jeff had been deer hunting in California zone D8 for almost ten years but had not been successful. However, he knew the zone well and had a few ideas of how to approach the area to give us the best chance at success. With all of us rookies, I don’t think any of us, other than Jeff, realized that this success was so far and few between. We were so sure the odds were in our favor.
We soon learned by day four, after only seeing one doe and one buck that it was even harder than we thought. Not to mention the bear that turned out to be a burnt log we watched for over an hour because Chris had a tag for a black bear. During those four days, we went on some great hikes, ate and drank well, and saw countryside that most will never see. We also learned how drastically the weather can change and that even in California, your pots of water can freeze in the middle of the night. I also quickly learned that sometimes, despite what the wife says, you don’t have all the gear you may need.
On day five, we woke a little later than the previous mornings. We all felt a little bit deflated and discouraged. All of us planned while eating breakfast to make one last attempt at getting a buck. We opted to leave our packs at the truck, and split up. Jeff and I went one way, Andrew and Chris another way, and Nelson went solo. Paul stayed at camp that day. A few miles in, I heard a couple of shots. Jeff and I looked at each other and wondered if they were messing with us. We start to pick up the pace and head back to the trucks to get closer to where the shots came from.
We were a few yards from the trucks when the walkie-talkie crackled to life. Jeff and I looked at each other in disbelief. We could have sworn we heard Chris say he shot a deer! Chris also needed more ammo. With a new burst of adrenaline, we rushed to the direction they had gone and directed Andrew back towards the trucks to help us find Chris. We found Andrew and got a hold of Nelson who was already on his way to Chris’s location. Once we found Chris below the line of sight of the deer, which was directly across the canyon at about 375 yards, or so, Chris said five words you don’t want to say in California when hunting. “I thinks it’s a doe”! All of us quickly and quietly got into position with scopes and binos to assess the damage. To our surprise, and his relief, we realized he had shot a buck, We were even more surprised that another buck was standing next to the deer Chris had just shot. If that’s not beginner’s luck, then I don’t know what is.
With one deer shot and bleeding out we all agreed the other buck was definitely Jeff’s. He got into position, took aim, and made a shot. The deer took off down the hill in our direction and appeared to lay under a burnt stump to pass. I pulled out my binos and saw for myself that it was down and not moving. Inexperienced and overzealous, I cheered out that he was down and by the time I had my binoculars back to my face, the dead buck came to life and had taken off running. Chris took another shot at his deer to finish it, and Chris and I began tracking the blood trail. Jeff, Nelson and Andrew were on the hunt for Jeff’s deer. Chris and I had a different set of problems after tracking blood in circles for close to an hour.
As we took relief in the recovery of the deer, we both had the realization that we had not grabbed our packs. We had none of the expensive gear we had researched and purchased to process and pack out this deer. Luckily for us, I had a Spyderco folding pocket knife and a video from YouTube of Meat Eater’s Steve Rinella, field-dressing a deer. We quickly got to work. For two guys with no knowledge of removing the insides of animals, I’d say we did okay. We removed an extra shirt to wrap the heart and did our best to carry this buck a few miles. After a few ridges and a wrong turn, we got the deer to what we believe was pretty close to the trucks. At this point, we were exhausted. Since we forgot our packs, we had no food or water.
Jeff, Nelson, and Andrew were a few hundred yards behind us, so I decided to pull out the walkie-talkie and give Paul a chirp at camp. Chris and I felt so lucky when Paul answered back, “how’s it going out there?”. We happened to have stopped at the same spot we were at on opening day. We told Paul to drive there with some water as quickly as he could, and to grab our backpacks. Twenty minutes later, Paul responded that he was in the area and couldn’t see us. At this point, some crows had started circling us. I asked Paul if he could see the crows in the sky and he replied that he could. ”Great that’s us, head that way”.
A few minutes later, Paul crested the hill with a pack of supplies and water. We were hydrated and got to work quartering the deer and packing it up. The rest of the guys were not far behind, we did our best to get them cut up and on ice. We got our tags signed off and got off the mountain so full of pride that we got it done our very first time. Jeff had cut the antlers to do a mount, and by accident left them at camp. He didn’t realize it until he was unpacking the next day. Luckily for him, Paul and I went back to the camp on the last weekend of hunting season to try and get it done. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful, but we did come back to a dirty camp and Jeff’s trophy.