Emotions of the First Deer
“The buck brought me to my knees and then to rub salt in the wound, gifted me a memento to remember the moment.”
There I was…
I made a commitment to myself that the first game animal I hunted would be done so alone. It’s indisputable that learning happens a lot quicker with the help of a knowledgeable friend. But the task of finding, killing, and butchering a deer emerged as an opportunity for personal growth, and If successful, it would be due to my actions. This decision, right or wrong, made me a life-long hunter.
Beginning in October of 2016, I walked the rocky bluffs of southeast Wyoming looking for a mule deer buck. I was inexperienced, noisy, and unfamiliar with an animal’s keen sense of smell. For days, I watched deer in the distance trotting in the opposing direction. As the sun set on each failed hunt, I would sulk back to the truck discouraged with my abilities. The unforgiving season crept on, as did I.
Although, as the old saying goes, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut”. After a week of tedious walking, antler tips rustled in the sage ahead. They stood out with confidence, as the rest of the animals remained hidden behind the next hill. Startled, I stopped in my tracks. My heart began beating violently while sweat slicked my palms. The immediate excitement caused my nerves to swell. I crept a few steps closer. Days spent wandering was about to pay off! The deer turned his attention in my direction and I fired. The recoil caused my eyes to shut and when they opened, my heart sunk. The unscathed buck, privy to my intentions left without thinking twice.
I was sick but knew I had to check the scene for blood. I approached the area where the deer was standing and didn’t see anything out of place, so I took off after him. Being a novice, I had had hope he was in the area. I walked nearly two miles before that ignorant hope began to wane. Tears began to build in my eyes as the magnitude of the mistake set in. Like a sad child on a playground, I collapsed into the dirt. I then laid my rifle down and felt something brush my knuckle. It was a lone deer shed missed by hunters the previous spring.
With the tears still lingering I began to uncontrollably laugh at the situation. The buck brought me to my knees and then to rub salt in the wound, gifted me a memento to remember to the moment. Alone, staring at the sunbaked forky shed, I reflected on the irony of the situation. “What are the odds and no one will believe this.”
The following weekend I got back out with a newfound determination and a better understanding of buck fever. Get that first miss out of the way to gain control of my emotions, was the takeaway. I started to glass down into the first canyon of many in the area. To my disbelief, a deer laying in the rocks was unaware of my obvious silhouette. He was a buck, though much smaller than my previous adversary. The heart-pounding returned, but this time I knew what to do. With the gun leveled on a rock, I got comfortable and put the sights on his lungs. I slowly pulled the trigger and watched as he tumbled downhill. He kicked on his side, without gaining any ground. During these futile efforts to survive, I realized the permanence of some actions. I couldn’t take back pulling the trigger, though, in the moment, part of me wanted to. When he finally perished, the heaviness of the situation was immediately replaced with surreal triumph.
I stood up and started down toward the deer but fell to the ground. My legs wouldn’t work. The excitement had rendered them useless! Then a wave of happiness, propped up by a sense of achievement rushed through my body. After a minute, the adrenaline wore off, allowing me to approach the beautiful animal. Meat for the year rested at my feet and It was I who put it there. A different kind of tears returned to my eyes.
I view science-based conservation as an effective strategy in guaranteeing healthy wildlife populations. Organizations like the Wyoming Wildlife Federation continue to fight for conservation by being the eyes and ears for citizens and the government. The preservation of hunting as a pastime and the conservation of wildlife is what will keep our state authentic.
Recipe: Hunter’s Curry
This dish combines my love of hunting and Indian cuisine. It’s meant to be simple – an easy option after a long day in the field. I encourage readers to use less revered cuts, like the neck and the front shoulder. Tenderness is good, but having a little chew to your food reflects the grit we as hunter aspire to have. Lastly, don’t buy light coconut milk. Always go for the full fat as we are eating for flavor and calories!
1 pound of game (doesn’t matter which animal)
1 Julienned Onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon of chopped ginger
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
15- ounce coconut milk
2 tablespoons of curry powder
1 teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
Salt to taste
1 cup of uncooked basmati rice
Add one tablespoon of oil to the pot
Salt the meat and brown the slices on all sides
Remove meat and set aside
Add the last tablespoon of oil to pot and cook onion until soft
Add garlic, ginger and cook until fragrant
Toss the curry powder, turmeric, cinnamon into a dry spot in the pot and cook until aromatic – about 30 seconds
Combine the meat and residual juices on plate to pot
Add coconut milk and add the same amount of water
Simmer for 30 minutes
Serve over rice
Christopher Bancroft is a freelance writer and photographer native to Wyoming. After graduating from the University of Wyoming, Bancroft sought to cover hunting, fishing, and travel stories. Though the Cowboy State is his home and primary hunting ground, he frequently travels internationally. The locations he has journeyed include remote Caribbean islands, Central Asia, Europe, and of course, the American West. His stories convey the importance of cultural and environmental conservation while maintaining an undertone of sincere adventure. Bancroft’s writings and images have appeared in publications such as American Falconry, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bugle Magazine and MeatEater, among other outlets.
Follow along with him @christopherbancroft on Instagram