This weekend, I’m going to take my oldest grandson on his first deer hunt. Although he’s accompanied me while hunting deer before, this will be his first time carrying a high-powered rifle.
This is also the first time in many years I’ve mentored a youngster in deer or elk hunting. I’m reviewing the important lessons I should impart, without making the experience too much like school.
So, Brendan, here’s what’s coming.
Everything starts with safety. You started shooting when you were 5, so there should be no surprises here, but expect to show me how to operate your rifle and the lessons you learned about firearm safety from the ODFW Hunter Safety course.
Also, since this is your first time, and I’ll be walking ahead of you at times, I’ll want you to keep the chamber clear until we see an animal or set up where we expect one. Once you chamber a round I’ll expect you to check that the weapon is on safe regularly. Make it a habit, something you do every minute or two.
There’s more to safety than just firearms handling, Bren. You need to know where you are going and how to get back. Getting lost can be among the most unsafe things you can do, although it doesn’t have to be. I’ll want to see your map, compass, GPS and extra batteries.
Your Uncle Corky was lost overnight while we were elk hunting and he was just a couple of years older than you. He built a fire and was perfectly comfortable all night. He wasn’t worried at all. I, on the other hand, just about lost my mind and was physically sick for a week afterwards, so don’t expect to be traipsing off on your own.
I’ll expect you to be prepared for success, something I see hunters fail to do on a regular basis. You’ve taken one of the most important steps, by sighting in your rifle. It’s just as important to know your own limits. For your first hunt, let’s establish an absolute maximum shooting range of 200 yards, and then only if you have a very solid rest. Let’s try hard not to shoot offhand at all, but if you must, never greater than 75 yards.
You should bring a meat pack, which you will definitely need if you kill a big buck. If you get a smaller one I will show you how to skin out and remove the lower leg bones and tie the skin and hooves together in a cross pattern, so you can wear the deer like a pack and carry it out. And don’t forget your game bags. We’re going to want to keep the meat clean and protected from flies.
You’ll need brightly colored engineer’s tape you can use to mark a blood trail. We hope you make a shot that kills the animal instantly, but if it doesn’t happen you need to be able to track and find the wounded animal.
Preparing for success is wonderful, but you’ll also need to prepare for failure. Carry a lightweight coat and hat, as well as an emergency bivvy sack, so you can survive the night in the event you can’t get back. I’ll want to see your first aid kit, as well as your fire-making materials, whistle, headlamp and other survival gear.
I guess that’s enough. You’re ready, so let’s just take a walk, move slowly, quietly and stop often. Don’t expect to see an entire deer; look for ears and antlers and legs. But don’t look just for deer — look for everything, because we’re not just deer hunting, we’re exploring, an exploration that will bring you joy for all the rest of your life.