The First Deer Hunt: From Mentorship to Magazine

posted on June 5, 2023
JTH The First Deer Hunt Lead

For the past several years I’ve made my living in the hunting industry, but to do so has been a dream for far longer. Given these facts, one might surmise I was raised in a hunting family, destined from birth to stalk the most elusive game of North America. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The only hunters in my family were my grandfathers, one of whom I never had the good fortune to meet, the other being too old to take the field by the time I came of age. While I had the desire to go, I lacked the mentoring to do so, and that was that.

This remained the state of affairs until a man named Jimmy Pirtle stepped into the picture. A friend of my folks, Jimmy was a prolific hunter and offered to show me the ropes. Excited, I quickly secured an old hunting rifle from the local auction house, threw the worst scope in history on top of it and got it dialed. While I had been shooting with my parents since I was 5, hunting was a whole different game, and I was giddy with excitement.

In sneakers, blue jeans and a camo coat I took to the woods, tagging along eagerly behind Jimmy as he showed me deer trails, scrapes, beds and rubs, explaining the significance of each and how to find them. Finally, our destination reached, he swept the leaves from under a tree—explaining this would be less noisy in the long run—and we settled in to wait. Our first sit was unsuccessful, though Jimmy proved to be a wealth of whispered knowledge. The time spent was not in vain.

Male hunter wearing camouflage and orange vest and hat posing with whitetail buck.Had Jimmy Pirtle (pictured) found other things to do way back when, the author would not be where he is today.

A few days later, we headed to a neighbor’s property for another go. Sitting in a makeshift stick blind by the river, our outing was interrupted by another hunter, bounding down the hillside and hollering at us, seemingly oblivious to the doe we were watching at the other end of the field. Upon talking to him, it became readily apparent this was a sportsman of roughly my own experience. The only difference? He lacked a mentor to show him the proper etiquette and protocols when encountering other hunters afield.

Despite this, luck was with us—the doe looked our direction with mild curiosity but did not spook. As soon as we returned to our blind she went back to feeding, meandering slowly in our direction. Time, on the other hand, was not so obliging—the end of shooting light approached with increasing celerity. It was the fastest sunset I had ever experienced, and we soon realized it was now or never.

Jimmy ranged the doe at around 420 yards (though, as I recall, he didn’t tell me that until afterwards)—a long shot for a kid’s first deer. I found her in my crosshairs and my heart sank. With a foggy top-end magnification of 4X and the wobbly sight picture my middling skills afforded me, I had no chance of hitting the animal. Realizing my dilemma, Jimmy offered me his gun, a wood-stocked, left-handed beauty topped with a far more powerful Leupold. “Where do I aim?” I queried, fully ignorant of the capabilities of the unfamiliar firearm. “Hold a couple inches above the back,” he told me. I settled in to fire.

I pulled the trigger. “Low,” he said, “hold higher.” As I racked another round into the chamber, the deer ran a few steps then stopped again, staring at us. My first shot, I had been too scared to put the crosshairs fully over the deer, holding instead on its spine. I was determined not to repeat the mistake. Holding a few inches over her back, I breathed deep and pulled the trigger. The doe jumped, kicked and ran into the nearby brush, where we found her piled in the fading light. Then the real work began as my mentor, almost giddier with excitement than myself, shook my hand and showed me how to field-dress.

Fast-forward quite a number of years and I am sitting in an outfitter’s house in Idaho, having just arrived from a hunt in Texas, penning this story. Had Jimmy decided he had other plans or more important things to do (which he undoubtedly did), I would not be here today. Instead, thanks to one man’s charitable generosity of time and tools, hunting has become both my livelihood and a primary passion.

So, the next time a friend’s kid expresses some interest in our way of life, think about helping him or her take those first steps into the field. The future of our lifestyle depends on passing down the knowledge, skills and passions involved to the next generation, even if they don’t happen to share your last name. You never know, it might even become their life.


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