Velvet Mornings (a VERY long read)

Nimrod777

Nimrod777

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Ran across this account in my old files today. It's a story documenting my daughter's first deer, on a youth hunt in 2005. TNDeer was an integral part of that outing. The details are still as vibrant in my mind as if it were yesterday, and the mount from that hunt is visible from where I sit now. Hope you get a taste of what we experienced:

There are a few things in a deer hunter’s life that can set one morning apart from a thousand others
-- a squirrel who decides to share a tree stand, a close encounter with a particularly elusive deer, a spectacular sunrise over a mountainside’s edge. But one thing might outweigh them all in the balances: sharing the hunt with a special friend. And when that friend is your own daughter, well, there simply is no comparison.
Lydia, my 13-year-old daughter, announced out of the blue that she needed to take a hunter safety course, I was a bit surprised, but Lydia studied the TWRA’s course at home on our computer, with zeal, I might add. One evening she met me with the report of covering the deer field dressing material, complete with photos. This is the end of the hunting interest, I thought, but she exclaimed, “It was cool!” Cool? I don’t recall ever feeling quite that way about it. I smiled and nodded in what I hoped was an encouraging and wise fatherly way, wondering if I might train her to gut all my deer on a regular basis. She passed her test with flying colors soon thereafter.
We set our sights on the 2005 deer season, and when applications for quota hunts arrived, I quickly marked our choices for WMA youth hunts in our area. Eight long weeks later, a pale green envelope lay waiting in our mailbox. I would be escorting my little girl to the Hiwassee Refuge, and the date of the hunt was only two weeks away!
Friends gave us tips, offered mosquito-resistant gear, loaned us a scoped 20 gauge, showed us maps and aerial photos, even helped scout a few areas. All in all, some two dozen people turned me into as much of an expert as they could. It may take a village to raise a child, but to put one on a deer apparently involves a statewide effort! In spite of the help, I was still worried that dear old Dad would be able to offer only a long, hot day of boredom to a now 14-year-old girl.
The morning of the hunt found a velvet shroud of fog covering the cool river with a gray blanket. We grabbed our gear and eased along under a clear sky already showing the promise of sun. “WHUMP” came a heavy thud in the dark. Puzzled, I glanced at Lydia, who returned the questioning look. “WHUMP”. Again, we exchanged glances. 20 yards further along, a third “WHUMP”, but this time I was able to spot the white banner of a bounding deer flash off into the thinning darkness. We had been so close that each jump sounded like a sledgehammer smacking the damp earth. I grinned. Perhaps not so boring a day after all.
We quickly established a ground stand between a food plot and a patch of trees. Barely into shooting light I spotted a spike buck 60 yards out across the clearing, but before Lydia could find him in her scope, he was gone. No shot, but the jolt of adrenaline had us both wide-awake. As we continued to watch, I had the nagging feeling that my choice of position had limited our visibility of the area between the finger of woods and the field on our left, which was blocked by the high grass wall. I stood and crept forward just a bit, reaching the end of our wall of grass and peering beyond, and then froze as I saw a doe browsing the edge of the trees 30 yards away. I motioned Lydia forward, but as she came up behind me, the doe sensed something awry, and while we stood frozen, she disappeared in two graceful leaps. More grins.
Earlier I had discussed with Lydia the possibility that when the moment came, she might decide she didn’t want to shoot a deer after all. “Well,” I whispered, “does this seem too ‘Disney’ for you?” With a knowing smile she shook her head, “Not at all. I want to get a deer!” That’s my girl. So we settled back in to wait. The fast action slowed as the sun sloughed off the morning’s velvet and began a slow simmer. A wise course of action when taking a young hunter to the woods is to equip them with something they can enjoy during the hard hours. The experienced hunter can call back on previous experiences to keep them alert and watchful, but the novice may feel that the wait is pointless after the morning’s flurry wanes. Lydia broke out a book and an MP3 player, entrusting the watch to me.
After a long dry spell, I slowly stood to go peek around the end of our grass wall again. As I eased forward, I saw a pair of spike antlers on the other side of the grass a mere five yards away paralleling my progress. I instantly dropped back into my seat and turned whispering “Deer!” Lydia began putting her gear away, but not fast enough for me. “Right NEXT to me!” I said with all the intensity I could put into my voice. Realizing what I meant, she looked up and past me, and I saw her eyes widen. I breathed, “you see him?” With eyes like hubcaps, she gave a slight nod. “He see you?” A slight shake, but then big eyes grew slightly larger, and an almost imperceptible nod. The clock stopped. Glaciers moved. The world hung in balance. Then the inevitable explosion of hooves slashing through the field. “Omigosh, he was right NEXT to you!” Lydia breathily exclaimed, giggling. I couldn’t help but view my own impatient action with disdain, but we had certainly shared a rare moment.
We resumed our roles of daughter and guide, and not long after I thought I spotted a slight movement 70 yards in front of us where the corn met the jungle of high grass. The binoculars revealed a doe back in the shadows slowly browsing. Lydia struggled to find the deer in her low-power scope, but distance and dense vegetation made it difficult. As the deer stepped into the next row of corn, a stalk behind her twitched, and a second deer’s head appeared. Lydia whispered, “I see it!”, but these deer were going nowhere in a hurry, so I told her to take her time. Lyd had proven her abilities at the target range, rifling a second shot through the same hole as her first at 60 yards, but now there was no bench, and now, of course, there was an intense fluttering of the heart!
We silently watched as the deer revealed occasional glimpses through the foliage. Then one of the deer moved into a shaft of sunlight, revealing nearly-faded spots. Uh-oh, I thought… this will be a deal breaker. I certainly had no problem harvesting a young deer on a youth hunt in an area of exceptionally high population density, but I was not the designated shooter. “That deer still has fading spots on her side,” I whispered, but then to my amazement I heard, “Can I shoot it?” Slightly stunned, I said, “Sure, the meat will be tender. Go right ahead if you have a shot.” As a buddy has said of yearlings, I thought to myself, pick a spot. The foremost deer stepped between two rows, offering a broadside shot, and I waited for thunder. The shotgun roared, and through the glasses I saw the deer bolt, but had it not been just a millisecond slow?
“What do you think? Did you hit it?” I asked. “I think so!” Lydia said, breathless with exhilaration. It was torture to wait even 15 minutes, but we did, then hurried to the spot to look for evidence of a hit. Sure enough, there was a bit of blood, but as I cast about, it seemed far too little for comfort. There between the grass and corn I came to realize that the “impenetrable” acres of thick swamp grass actually hid a network of low pathways that deer used on a regular basis, allowing them to stay in cool shade during the heat of the day, and to step directly into the corn for feeding. The trail I was on was sparse at best, and at one point I was puzzled to find a tiny chip of bone in white tissue on a leaf about 2’ from the ground. In a matter of minutes the trail simply ran out. Time and again I would go back to last blood, struggling to determine which way the deer traveled. Time and again I found nothing. How could I disappoint my little girl? I mentally raced through scenarios, trying to determine what might have happened. My best guess was that the shot had been pulled just a bit and had hit far forward in the shoulder, perhaps just grazing the front of the chest. After an hour of intense scrutiny, lack of sign and option ended my search. Disappointed, Lydia was still ready to hunt. By now the sun was high overhead, and temperatures were rapidly approaching the day’s high of 85 degrees. We decided to relocate to the shade of the trees. We moved to another location, but spying a hunter’s blind, backed out quietly, ending up beneath a broad tree that offered much more in the way of shade than visibility. We shared our lunch, she read, I watched, and then dozed. The day was much too hot, I mused, to be deer season.
By 3 PM I felt it was time for Lydia and I to move back to our original stand near the cornfields in hopes of intercepting a deer coming out of the woods or tall grass on the way to feed. The sun was maintaining the day’s 85-degree heat so we set our chairs on the eastward side of the same finger of trees that we had watched earlier in the day. The vantage point wasn’t ideal, but it was mercifully shady, and with a good 5-hour wait until sundown, mercy was high on our priority list. The hours ticked by uneventfully, but not quietly. Weekend boaters were buzzing past on the river. Some had apparently stopped on an island or sandbar, and for most of an hour we were treated to rock music played overly loud. It wasn’t too bad until one of the young men, apparently in an alcohol-enhanced state, felt the need to share the responsibility of providing vocals. At the top of his lungs, if not well beyond, he helped the Beastie Boys in their “fight… for your right… to PAHHHHHHHHRTY!” Lydia turned with disgust and whispered, “Can the deer hear that?” I assured her that they most likely did every weekend.
By 4:30 we were 12 hours into our day, and it was taking its toll on my daughter. She slumped in her chair, awkwardly twisted to lay her head on the back, sleeping soundly. My first inclination was to wake her, as we were approaching one of the most opportunity rich times of the day, but discretion told me to let her sleep. It was important that she not be miserable in this hunt, and I could certainly serve as our eyes. 45 minutes later she awoke, having missed nothing and thereby vindicating my decision. The day ground on, and the only excitement we had was through the binoculars. I had been looking into the trees nearby and spotted what looked like a green fruit of some kind in the branches. As I focused the lenses on the fruit, I was shocked to see the tail of a large snake slither past it, but it disappeared into the foliage before Lydia could get a look.
I was antsy for action. From our location it was growing difficult to maintain a watch on the juncture of cornfield and grass field, as it was west of us and the descending sun was blazing more and more directly into our eyes. There was no better spot, however, and I was eyeing the tree on the horizon that would block the sun enough for us to change positions. About 6:30 I caught the flash of a small deer rocketing out of the corn, banking sharply at the clearing, and diving into the treeline some 30 yards to our left, there and gone in 3 seconds. I resolved then to cross the clearing and actually set up in the corn, a rather unorthodox stand for a ground hunt, but one which would allow us to watch both the edge between the grass and corn, and to keep an eye on the tip of the woodline. We would be more exposed, and any shot opportunity would require movement that might well be spotted by the target, but I felt it worth the risk. It was a decision I would not regret.
We backed our chairs against a fairly solid row of stalks, with several rows of stunted growth in front of us. Now the woodline tip was directly in front of us with 70 yards of overgrown grass between, and the grass field met our corn field 50 yards to the right. Our anticipation rose with the first shot of the evening ringing out in the distance. I whispered, “Every minute now our chance of seeing a deer will get better, so watch carefully.” She nodded, eyeing the area with renewed attention. More distant shots, more anticipation, and suddenly the head and ears of a yearling bounding out of the trees and across the clearing. 40 yards out it abruptly braked and looked directly at our frozen forms, ears like satellite dishes turned our way. Sidemouthed, I breathed, “click off the safety”, and Lydia fingered the shotgun lying across her lap.
The deer was small. No, the deer was tiny, but it was also opportunity, and I had hunted enough to know that you don’t turn opportunity lightly away on a hunt like this. “If it looks away, raise your gun for the shot.” Dusk was upon us, but it might have been high noon judging from the gunfighter’s staredown in progress. Then the yearling jerked its head towards the tall grass field, and the shotgun came up. Just as I expected a crashing thunder, I saw horns climb up out of the trees. “Wait!” I whispered, “buck coming!” The spike was much bigger than the yearling, which sprinted off into the field to our right. He trotted towards us, grinding to a halt in the exact spot the yearling had just vacated, even assuming the same watchful stare directly at us, alert, but not yet alarmed.
“Take the shot if you have it, but squeeeeeeeze the trigger, don’t pull it” I cautioned. Again, just as I expected the shotgun’s roar, a second buck materialized from the trees, this time a six-pointer.
“Wait!!” Now a mental battle raced against opportunity: She has a nice spike in her scope, which can, at any second, vanish. There is an even bigger buck coming, but if that spike bolts, so might the six, and then we would have… more mental calculations… zilch! I might have risked it, but in the fading day, I could not let my daughter do so. “Take the shot,” I told her, and two seconds later, pin hit primer, and with ringing ears I watched deer scatter, including the spike buck. Both bucks jetted back the way they had come, into the trees, and after a crash of branches and snapping brush, all was silent.
“What do you think? How do you feel about the shot?” I asked Lydia.
“I was shaking,” she admitted, “but the crosshairs never left his chest! I think I hit him!” Her face showed all the amazed excitement of a new deer hunter, and I had to smile. Heck, it showed the exact same excitement as I felt, and I was anything but new. The crashing of branches I had heard could well have been the sound of a downed deer, but anxiety over the morning’s pulled shot and impossible trail haunted me. I cautioned my daughter to stay alert, as she was allowed two deer, and the day was not quite over, but every fiber of my being needed me in that field to look for evidence of a hit. With daylight fading quickly, I had her make sure her safety was on, and left her in position to go cast for sign. In the knee-high grass it was difficult to tell just where the buck had been, but as I walked over to look, two does had been standing in the corn to my right and had taken off, so I came back to give the hunt a little more time. Far down the finger of woods we saw another deer enter the trees, but it never traveled up to our clearing. With perhaps five minutes of shooting light left, I suggested we try to trail the deer. If there was a blood trail and it was sparse, I’d need all the light I could get.
My anxiety increased as I searched for hair or blood in the area I thought the deer had been. Nothing. I began to slowly spiral out, and then I saw it-- a small red drop on a blade of tall grass. “Here,” I called, and as Lydia came over, to my amazement I saw not one drop, but dozens. This was not the pinprick trail I had struggled with that morning. This, this was a can shaken and popped open! “Wow,” she said, taking it in. In another ten yards, a similar broad scattering of sign. The trail skipped a few spots, apparently where the deer had leaped, but for the most part was wide and obvious. My spirits began to shoot skyward. The trail led us out of the grass in down into the wooded hollow. Almost rushing along now, I discretely scanned ahead, hoping upon hope to spot a large brown form lying in the grass. The blood continued, looking like a red paint roller had taken a swipe. I wondered if this was too much for my little girl to stomach. “Take a picture of the blood, Daddy!” my daughter said, pointing at the flattened grass. Guess not, I thought with a bemused smile.
Then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted legs and hooves stretched out prone behind a clump of brush 5 yards to my left, and thrill raced through me. “Step over this way, Lyd, you don’t want to mess up the trail,” I said, smiling to myself, and as she stepped over the tall grass, she found her first deer, exclaiming, “There he is!” I showed her how to carefully approach a downed animal, prodding with the barrel of the shotgun to avoid injury from a not-as-down-as-you-think animal, and when there was no reaction, we knew her deer was well in hand. Then to add to my thrill, disentangling the buck’s head from the grass I realized that the 10-inch spikes were in full velvet! Only such an early season opportunity could have ended this way, but I hadn’t even dreamed it. “Congratulations,” I told her. “Your first deer is a trophy I’ve never been able to take myself. I think you’d better call Mom.”
As she dialed and began a rapid-fire account of the evening’s events to her mother, I began to take stock of the work ahead, and the late hour. Mostly, though, I mused that while velvet mornings were beautiful things, velvet evenings were beyond compare.
 
Snake

Snake

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Man that was a great story , I was totally immersed in it just as I was there . Great memories for sure . I can remember my son's first as well as my grandson's first . Thanks for sharing Keith .
 
M

muddyboots

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Awesome man. I can relate as I have 2 girls. The youngest doesn’t want to hunt but that’s ok the older one does. I know her first deer -3point- me and her mother almost had a heart attack while all this was going on. Your right u can’t explain that feeling to anyone. Good stuff.
 
MUP

MUP

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Super post Keith! Loved every second of it, felt like I was right there as well! And I too can relate, as last year was my daughter's first deer, and this year was her first buck! It just doesn't get any better!! :super:
 
woodyard

woodyard

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Great story. That story will stick with you. I can still picture my son's first hunt and his first deer in my mind and that was a long time ago. Good times!
 
Nimrod777

Nimrod777

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muddyboots":1v1phfqu said:
Awesome man. I can relate as I have 2 girls. The youngest doesn’t want to hunt but that’s ok the older one does. I know her first deer -3point- me and her mother almost had a heart attack while all this was going on. Your right u can’t explain that feeling to anyone. Good stuff.

My son had lost interest in hunting until the day he heard his younger sister was taking the hunter safety exam. She ended up getting the first deer between them, and later on they sat together for his first deer and her second deer. I should write that story up sometime with them; I was in another stand a quarter mile away.
 
P

Paul Burns

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Wow what a good read. You should change your name, Nimrod no more---how about Hemingway or Zane (as in Grey). Congrats on a great story and I did really enjoy it and thought back many years to my son and our young man hunts.
Thanks for making this cold snowy ice filled day warn and hot.
 
Nimrod777

Nimrod777

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I need to add that our hunting spot back in '05 was shared to us by one Richard Simms, who had been there in previous years. It remains one of the most exciting hunting days of my life. Perhaps the most amazing moment was standing up and taking a few steps forward before realizing that a buck was within 10' of me to my left walking the same direction, with nothing between us but a thicket of high grass. Simply unreal!
 
ImThere

ImThere

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I wish I could write like some Ohio guys what a great story. I could picture it all like I was with you. Exciting times make great memories congrats buddy


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