I harvested my first deer of the season Saturday. It was the opening day of gun season and we had just run out of meat so the rule applied "if it's brown, it's down". I have been bow hunting pretty hard at a friends property for the past 2 weeks. I've seen deer almost every time I go out and half of those times I have seen shooter bucks. It's been very exciting but also a little frustrating. There have been probably 4 or 5 times that I would have been able to take one of these nice shooter bucks with a gun, but as all the bow hunters that's why we do it this way. I'm going to tell you the story in a bit but I need to tell you what I've learned first.
I strongly believe that God will and can work in your life in what ever way possible. I have found that one of the ways He shows himself to me is through hunting. Notice I said hunting and not killing because as my dad would said "If you killed something every time you went out it would be called killing, not hunting". Over the last 3-4 years I have been spending most of my hunting time by myself. This is due to school and moving and lots of other reasons. When I was in high school I always hunted with my dad and we had those great times together going in and coming out of the deer woods. Those times are very special to me and something I will always hold "deer" to my heart. But since I have been "out on my own" I have learned that every one does not bow hunt and in fact most people don't bow hunt and on top of that the ones that do are so protective of their locations and knowledge that there is no way of building relationships with them. I have been blessed to meet a couple really good guys that like to bow hunt here in Searcy, AR and we have been able to share some of the joys of hunting together. But with school and work schedules going every different direction it is hard to coordinate times to get in the woods together. So again this year I have found myself driving to and from the wood alone. Now that everyone is done having their pity party for me I would like to tell you the most prolific positive that has come from these experiences.
I love to wrestle with thoughts on God and meanings of what ever is happening around me. I love to get to experience the relational side of God. I love to talk to God and ask crazy questions and beg for miraculous answers. So, for the past 3-4 years I have loved being alone in the woods. Don't get me wrong, I miss so much spending every hunt with my dad, uncles, grandfathers, cousins, etc. but because I love all of the things stated before, I love being alone with God. I am a funny creature (as I think every human is) in the fact that I ask God the same questions over and over and he gives me the same answer over and over. The difference with God is that he doesn't seem to give me the answers in the same way. I see it like this... "Okay ZACH, you didn't get it that way, let me try to explain it to you this way." And when I think I get it and still ask again He just smiles and laughs and tries again. I guess you could say I am think headed. Well here I am, another deer season, same old questions. I can't really put into words what God and I talk about but if I had to it would sound something like this "God are you active in my life... specifically in my hunting life?" I know this might sound a little crazy and believe me as I reread that I think it's crazy also. Of course He is active in my life, how many times do I need Him to prove that? But, I still find myself in a tree stand wondering what role God plays in all of this hunting stuff. He plays a BIG ROLE! This goes back to what I said earlier about how God works in our lives in whatever way possible and He knows that nature/hunting/His creation/quiet time are all ways that He can reveal Himself and speak to me... personally! I say this because there may be some hunters out there that disagree with my for lack of evidence in their own hunting lives but my response to that is maybe hunting is not the optimal way for God to reveal Himself to you. Maybe it's through your job or family or church or anything, because I strongly believe He can use anything.
I do need to add that God has been so faithful to me in so many areas of my life and I am abundantly thankful for Him. But, there has just been something incredible special for me, personally, in the way that God uses hunting in my life. With that here is the story of my first deer of the season.
Every year around the beginning of November the "men" from our church get together and have a camping trip. We usually leave Friday midday/evening and set up camp, go to bed really late and then get up and hike to some beautiful spots (yet another way God can reveal Himself to us). Cassandra and I have been going to CrossWalk for over a year now and last year was my first camping trip with the boys. It was such a blast that this year I was pumped to go until I found out that it was planned for the opening day of gun season. Here is my dilemma, I can't remember ever missing an opening day of gun season and I know I will love to go camping with the guys. I talked to the head of this operation and he said we would be camping on the Ouachita Trail. I looked up the spot and found that it was located in a WMA (Wildlife Management Area). This meant that it was a public hunting area. I first told them of this and asked if they still wanted to camp in an area that hunters would be shooting at anything that moves. They still wanted to go. Now I'm stuck, miss the camping trip and go to my friend's property for the opening day of gun season where I've seen shooter bucks almost every day, or go camping with the guys from my church and get up early to wonder some woods I've never seen before and have no idea where the deer might be? I decided to choose the latter and just spend the following week hunting my friend's property hard. As I was packing for my trip I grabbed the last of the deer meat from the freezer and marinaded it for a couple of days. Last year I packed in some deer steaks and we cook them over the firer and the boys loved them so I wanted to do that for them again. There is nothing like eating back straps over a campfire. With the last of the deer meat in hand I hiked to camp site and met up with the guys who were already there. We ate so much as almost got sick and we loved every minute of it. We stayed up really late and I was the second to turn in for the night right behind a guy who had to run a 17 mile marathon the next day (yeah I know he is crazy). The next morning I heard him stirring around 5:40 AM and I laid there until 5:55 or so. Then I got up, stoked the fire so they would have some warmth when they go up, put on my orange, and head began walking into the wind. I didn't get 50 yards from camp when I realized it was still dark enough that I couldn't see very far so I wait 15 minutes or so for the sun to come up and give me a better understanding of where I am. At this point I noticed the lay of the land and could see a large bowl shaped developed out of the hills. I decided to hunt this seeing as it was exactly how we hunt in West Virginia. I moved down into the bowl until I got to a spot the was about half way down the hill and in a small bubble shape. I sat on the edge of this "bubble" and could see the entire bottom flat. This was at about 7 AM when I sat down and began listening.
I looked at my watch at saw that it was not 7:39 AM and I told myself that I would wait until 8 before getting up and moving a little because I was getting cold. No more that 2 minutes later I hear the crunching sound that gets your heart going 100 MPH. I look to my right and coming off of the steepest part of the hill was a brown body. I jumped up and get really excited because I knew it was a deer and the freezer was empty so if I had the chance I was shooting. I noticed very quickly that this deer was on a mission which means one thing.... it's a buck in rut. I pull my gun up and check the head and sure enough there is bone. Now my heart went from 100 MPH to 150MPH and my adrenaline shot through the roof. You have to remember now that I thought there was no way I would even be able to see a deer let alone possible take one, and a buck at that. So I do not have anything on me that I usually carry like a grunt tube or water or anything. Just me, my orange, and my 30-30.
As the buck walked through the bottom flat I noticed the direction he was headed would take him almost directly uphill to the camp site. There was a 30 second window where he dipped behind the knoll I was on and I took this opportunity to slide 20-30 yards closer to the point that I thought he might come into view as he headed uphill. Sure enough he was on the same path and I pulled my gun up as soon as I saw his head again. The next chain of events seem to take 10-15 minutes but in reality it was closer to 10-15 seconds. I put the scope right on him and he stopped, just like all good bucks do, directly behind a tree. He was looking around and then started walking again. He stopped one more time and what do you know he was right behind another tree. This time I almost shot anyway hoping to make it through the brush, but before I could make a decision he began walking again. Quickly I realized it was now or never because he was headed uphill fast and this was my only window. So as he was walking I aimed for the front of his shoulder and at about 80 - 90 yards I pulled the trigger. He folded up and fell like a sack of potatoes! In my joy and excitement I still practiced gun safety, just like dad taught me, and I ejected my shell and put the safety on. I half jogged over to him and at 10 yards or so I noticed a leg kick so I pulled up and finished the job. The next flood of feelings can not be described, only experienced! After 5 minutes of some serious fist pumping and muffled cheers I decided to go to work.
The story does not end here... I was so excited and the adrenaline was pumping so much that my thoughts were a little scattered. The next thing I know I was elbow deep in a deer with no gloves and no water to clean off. After this was all done I threw my gun over my shoulder and hung my jacket on my head and began dragging this deer back to camp. Now there is a fine line here between prideful and being proud of your accomplishments, but let me tell you it was a good feeling to get to drag an 8 point into camp with all of my friends there waiting. We cheered and high fived of a while and took some great pictures. Then I strapped him to my back pack and drug him back to the car. I hung him up in Searcy that evening and skinned him, then Cassandra and I got up early Sunday morning and quartered him out so we could put it on ice. Now I'm not sure if it's called "redneck" or "appalachian" (I like appalachian) to get up before church to quarter up your deer. Cassandra and I cut it up last night after church and we still have to find someone with a grinder to make the burger.
Needless to say it was a great weekend! Here are the pictures my the deer.
And just a cool side note... dad was able to take a nice 7 point Friday evening so the Haugh boys are officially "The Bone Collectors"! Here are a couple pictures of his deer.