I didn't hunt much this year before the last two weeks but did take a few days off recently to get out in the woods. Saw some bucks chasing does in Rappahannock County, but I never got a shot opportunity. I did, however, shoot an eight point a little over a week ago at one of my go-to spots near Leesburg. I was reminded that day, again on Friday and a third time today, of what deer hunting means to me.
When I started this blog over 10 years ago I was relatively new to deer hunting. Back then, I chronicled virtually every hunt, and you could bet that whenever I shot one you'd see a picture of me with it in a blog post with a title that began: Whitetail Down.
I still send my friends who hunt pictures of deer I kill, but I don't post them anymore. People in my area see dead deer on the roadside every day, and if they want to see mine they'll let me know.
I have three kids, all boys, and all of them have killed deer. Jake, my oldest, shot a doe at age 10 and then a good eight-point that same year. Nick, who will turn 15 in December, shot a spike at age 9. Brett, my youngest, killed a doe two years ago at age eight and another one last year at age nine.
Brett loves deer hunting. He sits like a statue and knows what he's doing. But Brett's in a cast after surgery and a foot injury that has dogged him for months, and he can't hunt right now. Nick shot that one deer and felt bad about it. He doesn't want to hunt anymore, and I totally respect that. Jake, now almost 17, says occasionally that he wants to get back into hunting but doesn't have time for it right now. I respect that too, and when he's ready to get back out in the woods I'll be ready to take him.
We're all in different places when it comes to hunting, but when I brought that deer home on November 11 everybody came back together. Jake pulled in with a couple friends and took a picture of me with the deer. Brett hobbled out in his crutches. Even Nick, who may never hunt again, asked:
"Can I see it?"
On Wednesday, I travelled to one of my hunt club's properties in Rappahannock County, VA. It was great to be away from the constant roar of Northern Virginia traffic and to experience the quiet and stillness that deer hunting should be. I read several chapters of Danielle Nadler's book Without a Trace and passed on a doe and a spike.
I hunted near Leesburg on Thursday with no success and returned to Rappahannock on Friday. My plan was to hunt in the morning and then return to Leesburg and get some stuff done. I saw bucks chasing does and came close to shooting one of the does before I saw antlers bobbing up and down in the tall grass behind her. Both deer turned away from me, however, and I lost my chance to take a shot.
On the way back to my truck I spotted an orange hat. It turned out to be a guy named Keith, a club member I've known for a couple years but had never really talked to before Friday. We talked over lunch, the same conversations that every deer hunter has, and I decided getting "stuff done" could wait and to stay for the afternoon hunt.
If you're a hunter, you know what we talked about:
"Nobody's killed anything here. The trail cams had all kinds of bucks then they just went dead."
"I got this buck on my trail cam at 1:00 today, right before I got to my stand."
"I'm just hunting for meat. You can't eat antlers."
"Did you see anything?"
"Hell no, you?"
"I just do this to get out of the house."
"I wish Brett was here with me."
Of course, these conversations were much longer, but since about 75% of the words we used were profanity I was able to clean them up and shorten them a lot here.
The important take away was that Keith is an old school good guy. He's a fire marshal in Fairfax County and has been around the block more than a few times. Men don't hunt side-by-side for the most part, but the conversations we have before and after are another reason I love deer hunting.
Finally, today I reached the best thing about deer hunting. We "process" most of the deer we kill ourselves and grill it, fry it or make it into jerky. But I take one deer a year to my buddy Mark at Mark's Butcher Shop and get everything except the tenderloin ground up as venison burger.
I cooked up a pound of the burger today. Brett just likes it plain. He was down with a cold and ate a bowl of plain deer burger sitting on the couch.
The rest of it I made up into this chili con queso concoction I do, AKA deerburger dip. Jake and I ate that for lunch with tortilla chips.
Nick took a pass on it, but I still hope he comes back.
So that's a snapshot of what deer hunting means to me, but there's so much more to it. So many more people who bring me back to it, year after year:
- My uncles Jim and Tom who taught me to hunt:
- My cousin Tom who has grown into a father and a great man, but who I still think of as Daniel Boone in soccer cleats;
- Mike, AKA, the Captain, my best hunting friend, who I hope to hunt with more soon;
- Rex, my buddy from Mississippi; I've never hunted with him but someday I will;
- My father-in-law Mike. He's not into hunting but has been kind enough to let me hunt his property for over 10 years now;
- My dad; another non-hunter whose property I hunted in the early days;
- Linda; my stepmother and the only parent I have left. I'm hoping Brett kills his first buck at your place.
"Be good and you will be lonesome,
Be lonesome and you will be free,
Live a lie, and you will live to regret it,
That's what living is to me,
That's what living is to me." - Jimmy Buffett