‘Tis the season. Of course, I’m not talking about the holidays… which is still my favorite time of year. No, I’m talking about rifle season. Deer season. Huntin’ season. If you grew up in Georgia, there’s a chance you know something about it.
I, however, did NOT grow up in Georgia. I grew up in West Texas.
On our family farm on the Oklahoma-Texas state line, we learned to handle a firearm at a young age. I think I shot my first shotgun when I was seven or eight years old, around the same time my dad gave me my first rifle.
But we didn’t deer hunt. Pheasant hunting was much more common, because it’s so much easier. It was nearly impossible to get close to the deer without them seeing us coming, and it wasn’t something my family took interest in.
When I joined the Army in 2003, I finished basic training at Ft. Benning and found myself driving right down the road to Ft. Stewart for my permanent duty station. When I was medically retired in April 2007, I decided to stay in Georgia as opposed to moving back to cattle and tumbleweeds. I was officially a Georgia resident.
I wanted to learn to hunt, because my friends from college (and the Army) all did it. I bought a compound bow and started practicing, and a few weeks into the season I took my first deer. One shot, one kill, and it was over in an instant.
I joined a hunting club, and the experienced hunters taught me a lot about obeying the law, hunting safely, and basic hunting ethics. I didn’t understand the purpose of hunting “seasons” until someone explained it to me. I didn’t realize the danger of hunting from the ground vs hunting from a tree stand. I was ignorant, and ignorance, though blissful, is dangerous.
So where am I going with this?
My dad (non-hunter) came to visit last week for the holiday. He knows I love hunting, and he wanted to share the experience with me. He bought a two-person ladder stand for us to hunt in, and he brought his rifle. We went to the store so he could purchase his license, and we set out to kill a monster buck.
Day one: I shower with my scent-killer soap and shampoo, spray my clothes with scent-killer spray, and get ready to head to the stand. Me: “Hey dad, you gonna shower?” My father: “No not right now, I haven’t really gotten dirty.”
For those who don’t know – deer can smell PRETTY WELL. In fact, they have a better sense of smell than a bloodhound. Scent killer doesn’t even necessarily WORK, but it can’t hurt to try. My dad, however, had no clue why I was asking him to take a shower.
So, we headed to the deer stand. Once we were up there, we talked about everything you can imagine. Work, family, politics, religion, etc – we talked about it all. If you’ve ever seen any of the hunting television shows where the hunters are always whispering into the camera about what the deer are going to do or some other narrative, you probably recognize that deer can hear PRETTY WELL. Most hunters whisper if they speak at all – but my dad and I were NOT most hunters. He wanted to talk, and there’s no way I was going to try to stop him. I hadn’t seen the guy in seven years. Let’s be real – we weren’t really up there to kill a deer anyway. We were there for the time together, and that made it worth it.
So here’s where the ethics come into play.
After a couple of afternoons sitting in the stand (talking) and not seeing any deer, my dad gets this idea: “I think I’ll get down and go walking through the woods and see if I can jump any of the deer. If I miss when I shoot, you can get them when they run back this way.”
Hey. No. Not a good plan.
Besides the fact my dad would be down range (not cool), it’s not a good idea to just start popping off shots at a deer when you walk up on it. If the deer is moving at all, it’s not a good idea to shoot it. Why? Because we aren’t US Army Snipers trying to gun down bad guys in a combat zone. We’re hunters. Hunting requires patience, and it requires ethics. You might hit the deer, but will it die? Will it suffer? What else might you shoot when you rush a shot like that?
I told my dad it wasn’t safe and it wasn’t a good idea. He answered with a story about elk hunting with a guide in Colorado. He and my uncles all went on an expensive elk hunting trip to Colorado a few years back and my dad said the guide had them shooting at the herd while they were running. If I’d been there, the guide would’ve been refunding my money.
If you’re going to hunt, please be ethical. If you aren’t experienced, just ask a hunter. We all love to talk about the sport that we love. Some things are common sense, but let’s be real: you don’t know what you don’t know.