All I did was look up, and I saw the doe looking down. It was up the hill standing sideways between some trees looking down at me with that slightly inquisitive look. So I went down on one knee and tried to line up on the thing. That’s the idea right? Hunt deer, shoot a deer?
My breathing from walking up the hill was too hard, distance too far, crosshairs jumping all over the place. So I sat my butt down right there and unfolded the bipod, I can shoot from a bipod. Deer still there, still looking at me. The snow was cold, temps had been close to zero since before it started snowing. Sitting was too low, brush and rocks and logs were in the way, so I rolled onto my knees and folded the bipod back onto the rifle and took a couple steps over to a tree to use a branch to lean on.
Maybe the deer wondered just what in the heck I was, I’d been half shuffling ever since I started following the small herd a half hour before. The cold snow was on top of bare ground and walking was loud. Shuffling I didn’t step down on quite as much dry cold snow, it was quieter if akward. It was so cold I’d choked on heading out early but I rallied for the afternoon hunt. Deer have to eat, all that digestion gives off heat as a byproduct, I figured I had as good a chance the second day into a cold snap as any.
The tree was no good either. The deer was only visible through a gap in the trees and moving to the tree was out of the sight line.
When I stepped back to where I could see, there was the deer, still looking at me. So I went down on one knee again intent on seeing if I could at least steady up. Moving forward is out of the question. A deer might wonder what the heck the stupid animal is floundering in snow but something moving towards it is a potential threat.
I’d caught my breath with all my fumbling so pulling off my mitten with my teeth I put the thing in my sights, my finger inside the guard and the second the crosshairs lined up on the sweet spot the gun went off.
Where once I’d seen a solitary doe looking from between trees a long ways away, I now saw bits of three or four deer glimpsed running through the trees. Must have been more than one. One thing with shooting is there are no do overs. I put my mitten back on and started walking up to where the deer had been.
When I got to about where I thought the deer had been standing I got to wishing I’d taken a more careful look. It was quite a ways. So I went a little further. Sure enough there was a tiny bit of red, a flek really, not a drop but something that looked like it had entered the snow with some velocity. But no deer. This is fairly open country mind you, one can see a few hundred feet in most directions. Very widely spaced thin aspen.
So I walked in the direction the deer had run looking for more blood. None. The deer noticing me walking towards them bounded away, no obvious limping. I stopped and put my glasses on them. No red spots. I watched them turn and walk back right downhill. They were stepping pretty in that exaggerated step they use when ready to bolt in an instant. Any limp would really show up on that kind of walking. I wanted to put the wounded one down, and in my freezer but I just couldn’t decide which one was wounded without a limp or a red spot.
I could have just picked one to be the wounded one, like a big doe or something, but I wasn’t to that point yet. Our freezer had been empty since the summer. That’s a lot of empty space. Cheap factory farmed pork and chicken sometimes tastes a little off. Beef is way out of my paygrade, even hamburger. The deer were temptingly close.
I walked back to where I’d seen that splatter of blood in the snow. Sure enough, there it was, one fleck of red, and all the deer tracks. I couldn’t make believe it wasn’t there. The deer were still there, not looking at me really but further down the slope, and that gave me an idea. I walked down a little and a rock caught my eye, except all rocks were covered with the light snow, and there it was, a doe deader than all get out. I approached from the nose and put muzzle to eyeball looking for blink, no use catching a hoof from a dead deer.
Three or four years old, not a giant but not a fawn either. I put my pack down took out my cleaning kit and my tag, signing and scratching in all the right places, then I called my wife and told her I’d be very late. It was a fine shot, double lung, no damage to heart or liver meat. I shoot those big copper bullets that go very fast, same bullet for all animals, keeps me from having to learn new things.
I cleaned quickly but carefully. My hands more nimble as they warmed up from handling the guts. The temps were right at zero when I left my truck, no doubt well below zero with the light mostly gone. Much of the work of cleaning is done as much by feel as anything else the guide hand under the back of the knife holding the belly away, keeping the lungs and stuff away while sawing up through the breast bone, holding the bladder away while sawing through the little bone at the front of the hips, reaching way up inside the carcass to cut across the windpipe and then while pulling the whole thing out slicing away those connectors by the diaphragm.
Cutting the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys out of the rest of the guts I felt the cool air on my hands. I slipped the innards into a cheesecloth bag, peeled my thick surgical gloves off inside out and tossed them too in the bag and into my pack, knives folded and away in cleaning kit, zipped my tag carefully in my breast pocket and put my mittens back on. Nippy.
I tied a parachute cord around the neck of the deer and a large loop to go around me. It drug, if not easily. It was work to get it up to where it was standing when I shot it. I should have known, shot deer run downhill. I’d pull for five paces then stop, cough, pant, catch my breath, pull five more paces. Once I started downhill things got much easier. Depending on the gradient I could go quite a ways before stopping.
I wear highly specialized technical gear for extreme temperatures and hunting. On my feet I wear boots with lots of wool socks. For pants I wear cotton sweat pants under loose cotton poly army surplus over trousers that have elastic cuffs and waist, Up top a lightweight down jacket from Costco under a cheap orange polyester hoody and an orange fleece hat. Works for me just fine.
Pulling the deer warmed me up quite a bit and I rolled my hat up above my ears, must have been ten below. The area I hunt is National Forest but difficult to access. I’ve only seen a couple hikers up there in the many many times I’ve hunted. There are no trails thank god. The quarter moon behind clouds was more than enough to see by. I didn’t find my way back to my truck I just walked. Getting the deer into the back of the truck was a bit of a struggle. Mule deer are big. I figure it took me less than a couple hours to walk out. Truck defrost started blowing warm air after I was mostly down out of the mountains. Made it home before the kids went to bed.