Once in a Lifetime
It all started with a dream…
It was just another week night in our home, my boyfriend Logan and I had known for a couple weeks that we had both drawn east river any deer tags. This would be my first rifle tag in South Dakota as a resident of three years. I had been hunting a few times in my home state of Wyoming, but was getting eager for my first rifle hunt in South Dakota, Logan’s home territory. We had just picked out the rifle I was choosing to purchase this year in preparation for season, a Savage 7mm. My first rifle after always borrowing family member’s firearms. A new gun was exciting in itself, if only I had known then how my season would turn out. After we finished dinner that night, Logan looked at me and said “You know I had a dream last night that you are going to shoot a big deer this year”. Of course I brushed him off and said that’s not going to happen, everyone knows he is the lucky one! Little did we know, his dream was going to come true.
Fast forward to opening day of east river, November 19, 2016. We were walking into some public land Logan had been scouting, along with almost every chunk of land we thought reasonable. We honestly had such low expectations for this weekend after the amount of deer we had been seeing. Our first peek into the draw we immediately spotted a wide mule deer rutting hard. He was at 100 yards then at 300 yards chasing and mating with a doe. The deer were active and there were considerably more deer in this area then we predicated. This wide buck didn’t slow down enough for me to have a shot and soon disappeared behind a hill. We worked back around the ridge to attempt to get a shot on him. The next time we saw him he was a little over 200 yards, and I didn’t have the set up to get in the prone position. I decided to line up and try to take him from sitting. This resulted in a miss on this wide mule deer.
We chose to work down the draw in hopes of getting another chance at this buck. While hiking Logan spotted a different mature mule deer. He quickly set up his rifle and made a shot at the buck who fell down. We had successfully harvested one of our any deer tags right away on opening morning, more than what we anticipated. While discussing our next move on how to get the animal we had just shot out, Logan’s sharp eye found antlers six hundred and some yards away on top of a hill.
Quickly we agreed to chase this deer, Logan knew immediately he was a quality buck, I did not know just how nice he was. We started our stalk and before long were on the crest of another hill not too far away. As I crawled the last few yards to get into position Logan informed me of the yardage, 160, and that he was bedded down so I could take my time and be careful and that he knew I could successfully make this shot.
After a prayer to our Savior for this opportunity, and attempting to still my racing heart and irregular breathing and self-doubting mind, I squeezed the trigger. Miss. I had missed this deer. Right over his back. But he didn’t move. Not a muscle. Logan later informed me he thought maybe it was a decoy deer someone had placed. I ejected my shell and closed the action and lined up again. Steadied my breathing quicker this time and squeezed the trigger only to hear “click”, there wasn’t a bullet in the chamber! How many more mess ups was this deer going to hang around for! I thought maybe my clip was empty and pulled a bullet from my pocket only to have Logan stop me before I jammed my gun with two bullets because there was no way my clip was empty. Why was this happening?! I removed the clip and closed the action. Lined up, fired and heard the coveted sound after the fire all hunters know to mean a hit. It wasn’t the perfect shot but he was down. I decided to hit him again and fired a shot to strike the vitals.
I had fumbled my way into shooting this magnificent mature mule deer. This once in a lifetime deer was mine. After all these mishaps, I knew right away the Man Upstairs had planned for me to harvest this animal in His name, nothing else could explain why he was sitting in this spot, and didn’t move while I missed, and struggled with my firearm.
This deer, means so much to me. Walking up to him that day I didn’t know it then, and I don’t think I fully grasp it yet, but I know he is one of a kind. Once in a lifetime. The patience from my hunting partner, the hard work and hours put into scouting and effort in the hunt. Yet, there are so many ways this hunt could have ended differently. He is my third mule deer, second with a rifle, first South Dakota buck, and very likely the largest I will shoot. I will always remember how the landscape was covered in a light fog, how chilled the air tasted and how majestic this deer appeared atop a hill in his habitat.
I am so humbled that I was the one who got to take this deer. I know there are countless men, women and conservationists that make greater sacrifices than I have in the hopes of finding a deer of this scale. This deer is a tribute to you, a sign that yes they are out there, yes they are even on public lands, and yes you can successfully harvest a trophy.
Friends have said to me that I might as well quit now. Yes he is probably the largest deer I will ever find, but that is not the only reason I hunt. I could have shot better, I could have spotted him sooner, I could even have remembered to force my hunting partner, boyfriend, and guide this day to take a photo with us all in it. I am not done hunting, I will improve my abilities, and even though this lucky hunt will trump many deer I shoot size wise, he will not be my last. Besides I still have to find a white tail, and I still have my archery tag! It won’t be long before I return to the outdoors!!