I filled my doe tag in 2019 on the second Saturday of the season.
Opening weekend, typically, is about family and friends filling their tags, especially those who have traveled the farthest to get here, because it’s a good bet they won’t be back before the season ends.
I’m afforded something they aren’t, time, which is why my rifle rarely sees the outside of its case the first few days of the season and I wonder why I even bring it.
When it all goes the way we want it, we have a handful of deer to skin, quarter, debone and package. We do the latter in the basement on an old table we bring in from outside that displays the knife scars from last season and the season before that.
The table is situated between the TV – and whatever game we decide on – and the sink and refrigerator. The chatter of a football game turned low and the unmistakable hum of a vacuum sealer safeguarding the various cuts of venison from the freezer are sounds I can easily get behind.
While I wouldn’t trade opening weekend with those I enjoy being around, a tradition I’d never want to shake, part of me looks forward to going it alone. Hunting at my own pace. Sitting when I want to sit. Hiking when I want to hike. Eating a sandwich out of the wind, with my rifle leaning against a rock, when I’m hungry.
The fallout, of course, is obvious. If I shoot something, no matter how far from the vehicle, I’m more alone, at least figuratively, than when I started. While the work of quartering an animal and getting it out solo isn’t terrible work, it’s work, nonetheless.
The morning I shot my doe, I hiked before first light to a rock pile a half-mile off the road. Good vibes, this rock pile. My oldest shot a doe there opening weekend and his brother did nearly the same just to the south of it.
After an hour, maybe longer, I was wondering if it was too early to eat my sandwich. Nothing was moving, not even in the distance through binoculars.
In the unit we hunt, there are a number of mule deer scattered across the landscape. It used to seem odd to see them in this part of the country, but we’re over it now. Hunt any of the hills to the northeast and south of the rock pile and you’ll bump into them in places you expect and in some places you don’t.
One redeeming value of these animals, and there are more than a few in my view, is that if you bump a mule deer from its bed, it won’t immediately run with its ears pinned back for the next township like a whitetail. Oftentimes they’ll stop, give a look around as if they’re curious as to what spooked them.
That’s what I was counting on when I left the rock pile and hiked a mile into the hills, a mule deer doe just curious enough to hang around long enough for me to kneel and pull the trigger.
When my phone vibrated in my front pocket sometime later, it was my youngest, who was pheasant hunting about a half-hour south, checking to see if I’d had any luck. I told him I was kneeling over a mule deer doe and was about to get to work.
I know where you’re at and I’ll come pack it out, he said.
Turned out, I wasn’t alone after all.