By Christie Moe, Apparel Associate
Bass Pro Shops Altoona
As someone who loves to write and tell stories, the hardest part for me has always been where to begin. Many experiences and influences in my life led to my decision to hunt this past fall. My family has always been an active, outdoor- loving family. I was six when I first went camping and canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. I grew up doing a lot of camping, hiking, canoeing, and fishing. For me, that was just what you did in the summer.
I never really got interested in hunting, even after my mom married my step-father, who is an avid outdoorsman and hunter. I started archery when I was a senior in high school, but never even considered going out hunting with my step-dad. At the time, my mom likely wouldn't have allowed it, since I’m her baby girl. She had a difficult enough time with it this season, even though I’m 23 years old and have been married for over a year. However, between my step-father’s excitement to finally have a hunting buddy (neither of my step-brothers have ever taken an interest), and my own determination to go, my mom reluctantly held back her objections.
I spent weeks preparing for the start of bow season. I practiced as often as I could, focusing on improving my ability to hold my bow drawn for an extended period and keep it steady, and spent countless hours completing the online hunter’s safety course. I bought and borrowed all the accessories I thought I would need (my being hired at Bass Pro Shops in late October was no coincidence!). My mom would say I enjoyed the shopping as much as the hunt and that wouldn't be untrue...I love to shop. I enjoy looking good, even if there’s no one but the squirrels and the birds to see me. My husband, a U.S. Navy sailor deployed in the Atlantic, emailed me more than once about what all I could possibly have spent so much on at Bass Pro. I easily won him over with the promise of deer jerky and by saving extra money the next month.
When I decided I wanted to go hunting, I daydreamed a lot about the deer I would get; my heart was set on getting a buck. After all, I needed a trophy to mount on my wall and a pair of antlers seemed like a perfect crown for my achievement. A nice little six-point buck didn't seem like it could be too hard to get, and I was hunting with my step-father who gets at least one deer every bow season. Well, deer season has come and gone, and I don’t even have ground venison to show for all my efforts (sorry hubby, no jerky). The most important lesson I learned about hunting is that you can’t shoot what you don’t see and, after passing up more than one shot early on in the season, I didn't see much at all. I had never realized that just being in the right place at the right time is such a huge part of hunting. You can do all the recon you want with your trail cameras and looking for scrapes and prints; it doesn't guarantee that the deer will be there when you are.
One of the first things I learned was that I am not a quiet person. People who know me might scoff at that, since I’m more inclined to listen than to do most of the talking in a conversation. However, I fidget, stomp, squeak my chair, rustle around in my pack, sneeze, blow my nose, cough, and occasionally snore. These normally inconsequential and unnoticeable habits seem very loud when you are trying to be as quiet as possible and lie in wait for an animal with incredible hearing. I often wonder if the times that we didn't see any deer were because I wasn't quiet enough.
On one of my first times out I had a beautiful eight-point buck come walking across my sights. We were in my step-dad’s ground blind and conditions that day were fairly close to perfect. The sun was shining, it was cool, and the wind was blowing elsewhere, but not in the field's edge where we were crouched. The buck stopped about 25 yards away from us, quartering away from me. I drew my bow and took aim, barely able to keep from shaking with excitement. I kept him in my sights, as he took a few steps more, and gently pulled the trigger on my release. One of the difficulties I had with the release was my tendency to punch the trigger, but this time, my pull was smooth as silk. Everything about the shot felt perfect and right...for about a half of a heartbeat. Then my broadhead grazed one of the support poles on the blind, and my arrow went flying off into the weeds to the left. As I gazed in shocked dismay, my beautiful buck, that should have been ready to keel over, pranced away after a doe. Three hours later, after nothing else came by, my step-dad and I began our search for my arrow. After about a half an hour, we gave up and I was back to Bass Pro to have new arrows cut. The lesson I learned that trip was to be more aware of my surroundings. I should have realized that the support pole was in my way, but I had tunnel vision and only saw the deer.
During another trip, my step-dad and I had nestled our ground blind in amid some tall grass and a deadfall. We knew the area well and spotted tracks that were fairly fresh; we felt confident we would see something that evening. We saw nothing, but I hung in there even though it was a mere fourteen degrees out. Finally, in the last minutes of shooting time, we heard something. I prepared to draw my bow. Suddenly, we heard a buck behind us. Somehow, the buck managed to sneak around us and came upon our blind from behind. We managed to startle each other and the buck took off. We had placed our blind strategically, so that the deer would take the path in front of us. Lesson learned: Deer don’t always stick to the path. Sometimes, they are unpredictable.
I did the majority of my hunting from my step-dad’s ground blind, but there were a couple of occasions when we went out and did some stalking. Later on in the season, we were hunting down by the river. Being goose season, as well as bow season for deer, the spot we picked was not ideal. As the goose hunters got closer to us, we realized that we wouldn't see anything. The noise from the shotguns had likely scared off all the deer off. So we decided to leave the blind and stalk. I got to know the woods pretty well at that time. Thus, when hunting on my own one day, I thought little of going off and seeing if I could find some deer somewhere other than where I was at. I did just fine for the most part, but then, on my way back, I somehow got turned around. I was lost. The big mistake I had made, though, was that I had left my pack at the blind, including my emergency kit, hunter’s license, and ID. While nothing happened, and I managed to find my way back (slightly worse for wear and a little dehydrated), I did get a bit of a scare and learned a crucial lesson about not being stupid: never ever leave your emergency supplies.
My step-dad and I made a few hunting trips down to my uncle’s place near Indianola. My uncle has a decent amount of land to hunt on, and he and my cousin both managed to get large bucks early in the season. On our first trip down, I drank a decent amount of coffee, as traveling down there meant we had to get up an hour earlier than normal. Suffice it to say, the lesson I learned here was that a hunter never wants to drink too much coffee before going hunting, especially as it gets colder out.
The cold is one of the things I do not like about hunting. I might get bored while waiting, but I don’t mind being bored. I hate the cold though. During bow season, I easily went through two large packs of hand warmers and three large packs of toe warmers, not to mention a ton of the large 18-hour body warmers. I like things that keep me warm. My uncle, like most people who live out in the country, has a few outdoor cats. On one particular trip, one of the kittens followed us down to the food plot. My step-dad positioned himself at one end of the field with me at the opposite end. The little kitten was not inclined to leave us, and we weren't inclined to try and bring her all the way back up to the house, when she would likely just follow us back down again. To make a long story short, the kitten ended up in my coat. To keep her out of the way, I just quickly stuffed her inside and zipped it up. She ended up sitting right on top of my body warmers, and only poked her head out on occasion. She was more than content to stay in my coat and out of the way (for those wondering, no her incredibly loud purring didn't keep the deer away). I learned that sometimes sharing the experience with a friend makes the trip a lot more pleasant. Especially when you don’t get anything.
While I never did get a deer this season, I truly enjoyed the experience and learned a lot. I am continuing my outdoor adventures currently by hunting squirrel and rabbit with pellet gun. I haven’t got anything yet, but hopefully my next hunt will be more successful than my last. The thing I've enjoyed most about hunting is having some bonding time with my step-dad. The whole experience has made me appreciate the outdoors and his knowledge of it even more.