Harvesting my first White-tailed deer12-05-2013 | Matthew Podolsky
There are lots of stereotypes about hunting. Many folks think that any redneck with a gun can go out and shoot a deer, as if all it takes to harvest an animal is the right tools and a willingness to pull the trigger. If this were the case, I would have shot a deer long ago. This is not to say that I’m particularly anxious about killing an animal, but that I long to be an active participant in the ecosystems that surround me.
I’ve now spent the past two Thanksgivings with my girlfriend Miranda’s family in St. Maries, ID, waking up long before dawn and heading out into the beautiful and diverse evergreen forests of Northern Idaho in search of White-tailed deer. Although I didn’t harvest a deer during last year’s hunt, I learned a lot about big game hunting, and this year I felt much more prepared.
We spent our first morning sighting in the rifle that I was using; Miranda’s dad’s 7mm Remington loaded with Barnes triple-shock bullets (non-lead of course). The days were short with the sun staying low in the sky, but we were out from sun-up to sundown searching for deer.
Day two of the hunt and all three of us; Miranda’s dad Rick, her brother Brian, and myself, still had tags to fill. We spotted a moose on the drive out with just hint of sunlight coming through the trees. The three of us split up and I spent the morning walking slowly along the forest edge, stopping to scan my surroundings at every corner. Although I didn’t spot any deer, I did come across a herd of elk, and was proud that I was able to get within 100 yards without them taking any notice of my presence.
We returned to Miranda’s dad’s house for lunch and Brian and I decided to explore the woods back behind the property. After 10 minutes of walking we spotted a doe. She was over 300 yards away so we made our way across the draw to get a better angle on her. As we came around a bend tracking this deer, we spotted another doe. She was a bit closer – about 260 yards – so I set up for a shot. As I positioned myself along the bank two more does popped out from the surrounding brush. One of the three was in perfect position for a shot – I took aim just above and behind the front leg, and fired my shot.
I had no idea whether or not I hit her since she bolted into a clump of trees and out of view immediately. Brian, who had been watching the animal through his binos, knew that I’d hit her. He told me that the “thwak” of the bullet, and the way the doe looked as she ran off indicated that the shot had been true. We waited for a few minutes to see if she’d reappear, and when we saw nothing we began our bushwhack down into the draw to search for the body.
My doe was curled up at the bottom of a wash at the base of the draw. Although it was difficult to tell as we approached, she was most certainly dead. We pulled her out of the wash and examined the body. I’d hit her almost exactly where I’d been aiming; the bullet had passed through her lungs and out the other side.
Now began my lesson in gutting a deer. Every hunter has a slightly different technique, and Brian takes pride in his strategy, which he claims to be the fastest and most efficient method. Although it may seem odd to some, I enjoyed this part of the process immensely. I was full of pride after just harvesting my first big game animal, and now I was getting a quick anatomy lesson while preparing this animal for human consumption.
Pulling the gut pile out filled me with satisfaction. Back in my days working as a California condor field biologist I hauled innumerable gut piles out from the field. This was always done in an attempt to remove harmful lead fragments and prevent the poisoning of condors and other scavengers, but this gut pile was clean thanks to my solid copper bullet. This would be a lead-free food source for the local Bald eagles, ravens and coyotes.
I processed this deer myself, with the generous help of Miranda’s family, and am happy to say that I now have a freezer full of venison. It feels good knowing that my new family has a clean and healthy source of animal protein that should last us through to next year’s hunting season. Above all else however, it feels good knowing that I am an active participant in my environment. I am happy to share this top predator niche with the wolves and mountain lions that we are so lucky to have present in our Idaho ecosystems.