By Jessica Elkins, Beaufort, S.C.
When it comes to hunting, I am definitely a daddy's girl. My dad has taken me hunting with him since I was a toddler. I'd sit in a little baby carrier on his back as we crept from hill to hill. For my 15th birthday I received a hunting rifle to use on deer and hogs. We went hunting around Thanksgiving—hoping some snow or rain would dampen the leaves, allowing for quieter walking—and Dad sent me off on my own in the north hills of Georgia. I was super excited to try out my present.
Dawn cloaked the trees in gold and stretched their shadows like long legs across the hills. I had chosen a cozy spot underneath a hardwood where squirrels were nesting with a view of the steep valley below. The sun had barely eased the chill from my fingers when I saw a flicker of movement below in the sparse shrubbery by the stream. I let the forest sounds surround me, trying to pick up on any scuffing. I heard multiple soft crunches, and my eyes riveted on the source. A doe was grazing on grass just inside the shrubs. I've always wondered how deer can "ghost" themselves somewhere without you even noticing.
My excitement was building. I needed to relax and focus. I recalled something I had learned while watching my dad hunt: You have time, so take it. Waiting for a good shot is worth it in the long run, and rushing to get into position just alerts the prey. Slowly I rose, taking about 30 seconds to relax in a balanced standing position. She was broadside, probably 25 meters away from me and easing her way out of the shrubs. I raised my gun and sighted on her chest, just behind her shoulder. Slowly I eased the safety forward, but it wasn't as smooth as my .22 and it clicked softly. I forced myself to keep breathing as she lifted her head and stared right at me. It was then that I realized four more does were just behind her in the shrub. And all of them were staring at me. The doe I was focused on weaved her head in an alarmed manner then abruptly continued grazing. The lone doe behind the herd continued staring, but the rest followed the head doe's lead. I felt my emotions flow down my body as if soaked up by the ground, followed by an inner peace.
The staring doe flicked her ear. I pulled the trigger. The boom peeled away my mask, and adrenaline took over for the chase. They all scattered, but I kept my eyes and ears riveted on my prey. Like second nature I ejected the used shell and clicked the safety as I bounded down the hill. My feet hardly touched the ground and I was at the base in three leaps, ironically, like a deer. A deep musky scent hit me—a buck must have frequented this area. I replayed the scenario in my head, and remembered her taking off toward the stream slightly to my right and disappearing into the bush. Quickly scanning back and forth like a hound, I picked up her tracks and saw a dribble of blood. Not a lot, but enough to get me going in the right direction. I took off and found maneuvering easier than I expected and appreciated my shortness when ducking down through tunnel-like areas. Her tracks became messier as I erupted into a clearing. Her white tail and underbelly made spotting her easy. She had fallen by the stream's bank.
As I stood panting over her still-twitching body, I willed her to die quickly. In seconds she shivered, stretched and ceased. I thanked her for her meat and promised her, for whatever it was worth, that I would respect and use her pelt. Relief washed over me when I saw bloody foam oozing from where I had intended to shoot her. Her mind had probably died before her body with such a shot. I sat down and stroked her, noting the softness of her pelt, while my dad and I called to each other till he located me.
His approval of my shot gave me a good burst of pride. My first deer hunt was a success! My dad helped me gut her and drag her out of the hills.
Providing something for my family gave me a sense of accomplishment, and showing my dad he did a good job teaching me made the whole trip perfect. I hope many other teenagers can make their own success next time they step outdoors!
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