I won a hunting trip. Holy cats… I was really going to go hunting.
I’d finished my Home Game Processing and Hunting Education courses at a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) “Becoming an Outdoors Woman” workshop, and my name was picked in a drawing. Here’s the scoop:
There are plenty of deer around most Central Texas neighborhoods, roaming around, eating the shrubbery. But obviously you can’t just shoot a deer in your neighborhood. Texas has deer leases – private property where the owner provides the opportunity to hunt on his land for a fee. The details of the leases range widely, details such as the number of days you can hunt, the type of hunting allowed, or the price, which can vary from dollars a day to thousands for a season.
On public land in Texas, TPWD offers a drawing system with the goal of controlling the deer population – this is the type of hunt that I won. The deer population can escalate quickly, so TPWD works to ensure that a certain number of deer are harvested to keep numbers under control, minimizing starvation, overcrowding and disease. For a hunter, winning one of these opportunities can feel like winning the lottery.
As a big winner, I found myself in the local sporting goods store, shopping for camouflage. I’d never purchased “camo” before, and here are a few things I learned:
- The selection of camo for women is limited, and would be an awesome market for any clothing company that offered stylish and comfortable options.
- Camo varies by the type of terrain in which you’ll be hunting, from desert to woodlands to winter.
- You can buy camo ANYTHING. Even onesies. Seriously.
- We stink. And there are detergents and sprays you can use to un-stink yourself for the critters. Apparently rolling in critter poo is no longer en vogue.
That was just the beginning of my education – I’d also never fired a gun. I signed up for a class at the local firing range, and a very pleasant good ol’ boy took me through the basics of loading, stance, aiming, pulling the trigger, and breathing. Then it was down to the range, where we set up the target and I took aim.
Have you ever been to a firing range? I hadn’t, and let me tell you – it was a trip. People were firing every kind of gun, from handguns to rifles. There was even some guy teaching his 9-year-old how to fire a gigantic rifle that sounded like a cannon and kicked like a mule. (I’ll refrain from sharing my thoughts on that.) I practiced loading and firing, and got a bit more confident with my weapon. I could actually hit the target most of the time, so I felt ready to go!
Hunt rules: take a doe, then you can take a buck of any legal size. Ever hopeful, I had a big cooler in my backseat, ready and waiting for the bonanza I anticipated. When we arrived at the hunt location on Friday, each lucky huntress was assigned to volunteer mentors from TPWD: a park ranger, several hunting instructors, and a game warden. We suited up in our camo gear, with bright orange vests and hats so we’d be visible to fellow hunters. (Deer don’t see color.) Our mentors took us out to our deer blinds – in this case, the blinds were little nylon tent-type structures (camouflage-colored, of course). We set up our chairs and got comfortable around 4:30 in the afternoon, and waited.
#1 Observation about deer hunting: it’s a waiting game.
Deer usually get up to feed around a half an hour before sunset and move along trails, looking for tasty bits to eat. We sat expectantly, watching the trees and grass blow in the wind. The weather was warm – which inhibits deer movement, so we waited, and waited, and waited. The sun was setting, and the light started to dissipate, with colors changing from green and yellow and orange to shades of gray.
#2 Observation about deer hunting: Everything looks like a deer in the twilight.
Every leaf moving on a tree could be a doe pushing her way through the brush. Everything is deer-colored. The movement of grass makes shapes that look like ears. So when I really did see a doe’s head poke through an opening between two trees, I had to blink a few times to really be sure that’s what I saw. My mentor, Eric the park ranger, whispered at me to stay really still, in hopes that the deer would move a bit closer to eat the corn we’d put on the path.
My heart was pounding. The gun weighed about five hundred pounds and felt like a cannon lying across my lap. I slowly, slowly tried to raise the gun so that I could aim, but my arms felt like rubber bands, and the nylon edge of the blind offered no support for the barrel. The doe looked right at us, and a crow in the tree above her cawed – a sound so loud it felt like a train whistle. She spooked, and started away from us, presenting her backside (not a good shot option). She looked back, made a whistling “phee, phee” sound, and bounded off, white tail flicking.
#3 Observation about deer hunting: If you miss your shot, you’re screwed.
In the blind we cursed our luck, and cursed the crow, and wondered why the heck she hadn’t come to eat the tasty corn we’d laid out…. And we didn’t see anything else, although we waited past dark.
The next morning we were back in the blind at 5:00 a.m., bleary eyed and hopeful. But the only thing we saw was a lovely sunrise – no sign of deer. There had been a full moon, and that causes the deer to be more nocturnal. With a bright moon, they eat all night change their normal patterns of movement. So our deer had obviously been partying under the full moon and were now sleeping in like hung-over twenty-somethings – unlike us.
Saturday afternoon we crept back into our blind at around 5:00, and got settled. It was about 80 degrees outside the blind, and probably closer to 100 degrees inside. We were sweating off our camo face paint, texting back and forth with the other blinds to see if anyone had spotted anything, and waiting for a cool breeze. Time stretched out endlessly. The sun slid behind the trees, dusk started to fall, and a huge 12 point buck poked his head out between some trees, looked in our general direction, and vanished. My park ranger mentor cursed under his breath, then said “Did you SEE THAT??? He was huge!!” Seconds later, another buck, almost as big, followed the first – and I couldn’t even get my gun up in the time it took them to walk by. See observation #3.
Sunday morning found us sneaking quietly back into our blind in the dark. This was the last chance – none of the hunters had shot anything, and most had only had quick sightings like mine. Dawn broke, the breeze picked up, and the birds chirped. A doe poked her head around a tree about 35 yards away and stared at us. I started to raise my gun, and she simply turned her back and walked away – leaving me with a pounding heart and no shot.
#4 Observation about deer hunting: The deer you see will not be in places where you can shoot at them.
Where did we see the most deer? On the side of the highway on the way to and from the park. In the camping area. Near the park gate. Bounding across the field where our truck was parked.
We all game away empty handed, but I did take something away from that hunt: the beauty of a sunrise, the joy of spotting a wild creature, and the thrill of the hunt. I think I’m hooked.