October 31, 2015
This deer season would be Jessica’s first time she could hunt on her own license and tag. The past few years she was hunting on my tags as part of Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Mentored Youth Program. It’s a great way for kids 9-13 to try out hunting without having to go through Hunter Education first. It’s kinda like test driving a car, taking it out and kicking the tires to see if you like it enough to buy one. The next big deal is the Youth Sports Pac where kids under 18 years old can get a suite of tags and licenses that will cover them for just about all the major hunting and fishing activities in the state for $55.00. What does that include? A combination hunting/fishing/shellfish license, salmon/steelhead tag, upland gamebird and waterfowl stamp, cougar tag, bear tag, deer tag, elk tag, turkey tag and parking permit for ODFW wildlife areas. That is a super screaming deal!
You can imagine my disappointment when Jessica told me she wasn’t interested in deer hunting this year. She said, “Deer hunting is too boring.” Huh? Whaaat? I remember the past couple of years putting the sneak on some bucks with bow and arrow and coming up short but, I recall a very excited girl tip toeing and inching her way to a bedded buck. She was unsuccessful but, I saw the sparkle in the eye of an excited young hunter…so what happened, where did the spark go?
Jessica asked me not to buy any deer tag this year and I told her it already came as a package deal and was included in the Youth Sports Pac. So, would you like to try hunting with a rifle this year? She said she would like to try it. I told her it wouldn’t be as critical to get so close like an archery hunter needs to do. It didn’t seem to matter too much. There just was no excitement in her voice or body language. I was worried. Where did the spark go?
September rolled around and I began to gear up for the fall hunts that were going to be upon us soon. Jessica was enrolled as a new student attending Roseburg High School and as a freshman was experiencing a lot of new and exciting things. One of them was making the freshman volleyball team and being chosen as a co-team captain. I was happy for her and enjoyed watching her play with her teammates. The season started before Labor Day and ran through October 22nd. Deer season was winding down and there was only a couple of weeks left. Subtract the weekend sleepovers, football games, parties, homework assignments, etc. and that really squeezed the available days left to hunt down to a couple. Like the red and orange leaves diminishing on the hardwood trees outside, I felt the number of days left to hunt with Jessica slipping away too. Where did the spark go?
I found some YouTube videos over the past few years and I showed them to Jessica so she could see how excited some of these young hunters got when they went hunting. Maybe it would rekindle the spark and she would remember how excited she got when big game hunting with dad. The videos certainly had an effect on me. I felt a surge of emotions run through me. Watching those kids I recalled similar experiences of my own. Here are those videos below.
On Halloween day, there was a break in Jessica’s busy schedule and I headed out to find some deer in the local area. The weatherman called for a stormy rainy day and so far he was wrong. I checked the usual places and found an abundance of does, fawns and yearlings but, no bucks. I knew there was at least one large buck around as he’d left a number of his large tracks around. I think I caught a glimpse of him once on my trail camera but, I’ve never laid eyes on him during the day. He appears to lead a secret life making very limited appearances.
I visited several landowners who had given us permission to hunt in the past. They remembered Jessica clad in camo and tip- toeing around with her bow and arrows in search of a deer willing to come home with her in previous years. I told them this year I was looking to find a buck for her rifle deer tag. One landowner told me where I might find one in the back of a hazelnut orchard. The landowner was not very fond of the bucks as they liked using their antlers to joust with the young hazelnut trees, break small branches and strip bark which all results in damaged trees. I was thankful for the opportunity to help and hopefully find a buck for my reluctant hunter.
I headed toward the hazelnut orchard suggested by the landowner and saw something that warranted a closer look. I threw my Vortex binoculars up and eye-balled a white-faced deer bedded down at the far end of the orchard. I couldn’t believe it and Jessica probably wouldn’t either. So. I whipped out my cell phone and somehow managed to take a picture of the buck through my binoculars. I sent a text message picture to Jessica, “look who I found…”
I beat feet back to the house and took some deep breaths before turning the door knob. “Jessica, did you get my text message?” She was starting to sweep the kitchen and told me she saw the picture. Hmmm…. not very interested in this whole deer hunting thing. It was killing me. She disappeared into her bedroom and I asked Jeanine if it would be okay to sweep the floor later as there was a gift under a tree waiting for us,… maybe, hopefully.
Jessica emerged from her room looking for her hunting clothes to wear and we eventually got her squared away with clothes, current hunting license and deer tag. This time we had to have an orange cap since she was rifle hunting and not bowhunting. We headed out the door and went straight to the backyard where I had her dry fire Jacob’s .260 Remington on a pair of shooting sticks several times while aiming at a 3D archery deer target. It was a last minute reminder about shot placement, steadiness, breathing, and trigger squeeze.
We got in my Toyota T-100 truck and started to back out of the garage but, something felt strange. I got out and saw that my passenger rear tire was flat and the rim was on the ground. Are you kidding me..arghh!… Plan B or was it Plan K by now- we’ll take the old Toyota beater, a 1990 Corolla AWD station wagon. We had no time to waste because we already wasted plenty of it already.
With my heart pounding and butterflies doing a number on my stomach, we arrived at the hazelnut orchard and made our way to the back of the orchard where we found Mr. Buck still there. We closed the distance to 89 yards and set up the shooting sticks. Jessica chambered a round in the Ruger rifle and dialed the Burris scope to its maximum 9 power. It seems the edge of the storm was about to arrive as strong gusty winds blew leaves off the hazelnut trees and obstructed the view of Mr. Buck. I told Jessica to wait until the wind stopped blowing in hopes that things would settle down, our nerves included. Jessica was breathing hard and she was experiencing buck fever. I stepped back to video the shot, took my eyes off her and watched Mr. Buck. I was excited, nervous, anxious and had a hard time keeping my own composure as the seconds seemed like hours.
The wind subsided and the swirling rusty leaves slowly settled to the ground. I could see the rifle barrel settling in the corner of my viewfinder.. and the Ruger rifle spoke with a sharp CRACK!! In a split second I saw Mr. Buck fall over instantly. She did it! I dropped my cell phone and gave her a big hug with so much joy at her accomplishment. I told her she did her job and made an awesome shot. Mr. Buck didn’t even feel a thing. She claimed her first Columbian black-tailed buck! Jessica was visibly shaking and was overcome with emotion, she said she wanted to cry from all the nervousness running through her body. I told her, “You’re experiencing buck fever just like those kids in the YouTube videos.” Like Jessica, those kids were all overcome with an adrenaline and emotional rush over the realization of what they had just accomplished.
I’d say the spark is back! Congratulations Jessica!