Shooting a Deer This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

September 27, 2012
I have been a hunter my entire life. I have spent every fall in a tree stand ever since I was ten, and I have been target shooting for as long as I can remember.

The first time I picked up a bow, it fit perfectly in my hand. It was as if the wooden handle was crafted for the curve of my palm. I nocked the arrow and drew back the string. With the tip of the release against the corner of my mouth, I held back the weight of the cams and set my sights on the target. Once my hands stopped shaking, I let the arrow fly. Even though the arrow stuck a good foot from the bull's eye, I was still thrilled that I hit the target.

“Nice shot, Trevin!” my dad exclaimed. “But that's not good enough to kill a deer. If you want to hunt, you have to prove you can make a kill shot every time. There is nothing worse than wounding an animal.” So I spent every summer practicing until my shoulder went limp. I wanted to be confident that I would make a clean kill when the time came. After a few years, my dad finally decided that I was ready.

All of that practice proved effective. I made a clean shot on every deer I killed. No whitetail I hit ever ran further than 60 yards before silently tipping over. However, one hunt changed that.

I wake up to a beautiful fall morning. The air is chilly, but the sun is warm. It is one of those days when the earth cannot decide what season it wants to be. The atmosphere is perfect for an after-church nap and a late afternoon bow hunt. At 14, I am old enough to hunt on my own, but on a day like this, a father-son hunt just feels right.

We arrive at the blind around 2 p.m., giving us plenty of time before the sun sets. Normally, Dad and I are silent as much as possible, but today is different. The deer aren't moving much, and the laziness of Sunday weighs upon our souls. We aren't out here to provide meat for the family or to tag a trophy buck. Honestly, we aren't even here to shoot a deer. Rather, Dad and I venture to the shack to enjoy time with each other, and there is no better place to do that than right here in God's country.

As I look across the land, I fall under the trance of the picturesque view. The late-planted cornfield sways like a sleepy ocean in the breeze. The rustling leaves muffle our voices as we absorb nature's beauty. The song of the red-winged blackbird and the bark of a squirrel assure me that my dad and I are not ­interrupting nature's course.

Just then, two does emerge from the cornfield about 100 yards off, which is out of range for a bow. We watch them mill around the opening for a few minutes before they dive back into the rows of corn.

Dad turns his attention back to conversation. He starts with some small talk: “What's new in school?” and “Isn't this nice?” But soon he leads us into deeper topics, such as how incredible nature is, what opportunities may arise in my future, and how lucky we are to be spending time together. I cannot help but agree.

“Trevin, don't move.” The look in my dad's eyes and the sudden lower tone of his voice tell me what he has spotted. He mouths the words “two does,” and motions to turn slowly. It is the same two deer that we saw earlier. They must have walked toward us through the corn, and now they are just 30 yards away. As they wander even closer, my dad whispers, “You take the shot.”

I don't need to take the shot. I'm not even sure I want to take it. A strange hesitation comes over me – one I've never felt before. It's as if I forgot that we were hunting. But the lead doe keeps creeping closer. I do not want to shoot her. I have no need to. Our family will be perfectly fine without her meat in our freezer.

There she stands, just 10 yards away. What hunter would pass up such an opportunity? She may not be a 12-point buck, but for an amateur bow hunter like me, this big doe is a spectacular kill. Besides, I have taken much harder shots than this. Heck, just last year I shot an 11-point buck in the heart at 30 yards on a trot. Here this doe stands, 10 yards away, completely still. She is practically telling me to shoot her. If I let her live, how will that make me look? Will my dad think I am afraid to kill an animal?

So I nock the arrow and draw back the string. With the tip of the release against the corner of my mouth, I hold back the weight of the cams and set my sights on the target. Once my hands stop shaking, I let the arrow fly. There is a whack and the doe charges off into the corn. After seemingly endless seconds of heart-pounding chaos, we hear her thrashing come to a sudden halt. We listen for a few more minutes to see if she will get up again. Then we pack up and begin the search.

I walk to where she stood at the moment of the shot, and find blood. As we follow her trail to the edge of the cornfield, we find a path of broken stalks painted crimson. A relieved breath eases from my chest; such a sign usually means a well-placed shot. As Dad and I find another pool of blood, we hear a crunch of cornstalks not far from us. We look up the row and there's the doe. But there's one problem. She's still alive.

The deer is facing away from us, but I can see the arrow sticking out of her right front leg. The wound is pulsing crimson blood that runs down her leg. She knows we're here, but she's so badly hurt that she doesn't want to move. She has given up. I have deprived this magnificent animal of her only defense, the ability to flee.

Now she stands, waiting for me to end her life. I can neither physically nor mentally do it. With her back facing us, I do not have a safe kill shot. Even if I manage to sneak around to her front side, it's too dark for me to see my sights. Risking another shot will likely only make her suffer more.

“We'll have to come back with a gun tomorrow morning,” my dad says somberly. “There's nothing we can do tonight.”

I don't sleep very much that night, imaging the pain the doe is in. At what point is an animal hurt so badly that it disobeys its natural-born instincts? Will she die? Will she live? Will coyotes eat her alive?

I go through school the next day in a fog. I spend the first few classes resisting the urge to pick up my phone. I finally call my dad at lunch to ask what happened.

He says the doe was standing in the exact same place we had left her. She hadn't moved an inch. When my dad approached her and raised the gun to her head, she didn't even flinch. After twelve hours of bleeding, twelve hours of suffering, twelve hours of feeling the razor-tipped broadhead against her delicate sinews, she was ready for death.

After the phone call, I feel like the most evil person on the face of the earth. Who am I to take an animal's life? Perhaps God was testing me. Maybe God put that deer in front of me for a reason, and I let both Him and the deer down. I shot the deer because I thought hunting was about killing, but it's not.

This experience taught me what it means to be a true hunter. A true hunter respects all life enough to know what is his and what is not. A true hunter can distinguish an animal that God has set aside for harvest, and an animal that has a greater task to fulfill. A true hunter loves nature enough to willingly sit for hours in the sun, rain, or snow, hoping that today is the day. A true hunter does not kill to brag but harvests to connect.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

NoName said...
Jan. 5, 2015 at 11:31 pm
Very well written. I have hunted since I was legally old enough (12 in Colorado) and my father took me hunting with him so I could learn well before that. For all but one of my shots on an animal, I have hit the vitals. But I suppose all it takes is one to make sure you never miss them again. The time I missed, I was shooting at a jack rabbit. Even though it was a small game animal, and the shot was still in the centre mass, I will never forget the way he jumped. It was terrifying seeing him try... (more »)
MaxineA said...
Oct. 25, 2013 at 11:23 pm
I love this! I wish my neighbor felt this way. He's a mericless hunter when it comes to racoons. I regret the day we adopted a cat with a striped tail. He shot our poor Felix twice. He's a nice guy, though. He helped my dad and other neighbor kill a snake at our front door. I felt no pity for that thing.  
gabe_hunting said...
Oct. 8, 2013 at 9:08 am
This is so true and something like this has happend to me before and its hard to deal with but its just apart of hunting.
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