On the Eve of Deer Season

By author of Brow Tines and Backstrap

A look back at opening morning through the eyes of a first-time bowhunter

The kid was about 14, and for the first time, under his dad’s supervision, he’d set his own treestand in an area he’d found himself. Truthfully, he didn’t know just how good of a funnel he’d found for a morning hunt – it was a strip of timber that narrowed down to 20 yards wide at the end, surrounded by sprawling hay fields – but he did know that he saw deer there without fail while squirrel hunting, and that alone seemed to indicate a good place.

He’d killed deer before. But never with a bow, and that was his goal more than anything else. His dad had gotten him a new Martin Firecat the Christmas before, and the kid had saved up enough money to buy six new XX78 Super Slam arrows—the best ones made (they had Chuck Adams’s signature on them)—and a box of Thunderhead 100s to go with them.

Will Brantley with Doe

Sleeping on the eve of the opener would be difficult, and the kid knew it. But he was prepared. He’d bought a 3-pack of hunting videos that included Whitetails in the Wild, Monster Bucks of North America, and Monster Bucks II.

Not that he’d need it, but he set two alarm clocks just in case, and slept downstairs on the couch in front of the TV. For the most of the night, he watched Bill Jordan and David Blanton deer hunting in Georgia, Texas and Michigan.

He remembered David showing off a young buck he'd shot in one video and saying, “Bowhunting’s not always about the size of the animal, but about the thrill of getting close to them.”

Monster Bucks of North AmericaThe kid had no concept of that buck scoring just 100 or so inches, and he wouldn't have cared. It was a bow-kill, and that alone made it a coveted trophy.

The kid's dad had no plans on hunting himself that morning, since it was hot and he didn’t care much for the early season. But when the kid’s alarm went off, the dad woke up too, so he could give his son a ride to his stand.

By legal light, the kid had dropped his arrow quiver from the tree—twice—and his flashlight once, which wouldn’t have been a big deal except that it turned on when it hit the ground and shined skyward, illuminating the kid like a ghost-story narrator.

But an hour after sunrise, a big doe that had been feeding in the hayfield managed to not detect the kid in the tree. She eased into the strip of timber, got a hitch in her giddyup crossing a creek, and stopped broadside at 30 yards. The kid was already drawn. He knew better than to let his arrow go without really settling into his kisser button—but dang! He was excited. The arrow thumped into the dirt underneath the doe. She ran 50 yards, stopped, and eased away, showing her white flag of disapproval until she was out of sight.

The kid redeemed himself that evening, when a little 5-point buck stopped at 10 steps, and again the evening after that, when another doe ambled by at 20 steps. Just like that, the kid became a bowhunter—and he understood what David Blanton meant about the thrill of getting close.

Of course that kid was me, just shy of 20 years ago. I think about that season, when I became a bowhunter, and I smile at every detail, most of which are still crystal clear. Here it is, on the eve of another Kentucky bow season. I now call those guys from my childhood hunting videos co-workers and friends (Bill’s kind of the boss, too). I’ll be taking cameras and lenses and maybe a notebook with me to the stand, because sharing the hunt with you is my job now.

And then there’ll be that moment. When I see that first deer of the season, and know it’s about to step into range. Regardless of its size, regardless of whether I shoot, and regardless of what I do for a living now, I’ll be 14 again. And I’ll remember what David said about the thrill of getting close.

Man, am I ever glad season is here.