Over the years I have gotten the opportunity to pursue whitetail. I have gone to Missouri, Oklahoma and now in Montana. The first trip to Missouri we didn’t see a single furry animal. In Oklahoma, we saw deer, and my mom harvested one but I did not. My recent hunt, in Montana, changed my luck with hunting whitetail.
In September I decided I would purchase a deer tag here in Montana and attempt to harvest one with my bow or my rifle, depending on how the hunting went. Sadly during archery season I hurt my back to where I couldn’t walk and ended up not being able to go out with my bow. After a month I finally recovered enough to get back out in the field. I slung my rifle over my shoulder, ready to harvest a deer.
With my back still in recovery mode my ability to pursue a big buck became limited. I set my sights on getting a doe to fill my freezer. The first day my boyfriend, Jordan, his sister, Sage, and I headed to a piece of public land that they have had much success on in years past. The temperatures were freezing plus a nice windchill that went straight to your bones.
We hiked over two hills then sat a nice clearing where we could see if the deer would come up or down multiple drainages. As time ticked on we didn’t see a single thing move. While waiting we watched hundreds of cranes fly over and admired their loud calls. The sun started to set and we hunkered down more.
Finally, something moved — a pumpkin (AKA another hunter)! He emerged out of the trees on the ridge across the way. We waited a little longer then decided we should head back to the truck before one of us lost a toe or finger to frostbite.
The next day we put together a new plan. For this one, we would for sure see a doe, and we may all have success. We headed to a new spot but saw hunters in every inch of the public land we checked out. Feeling a little discouraged we trucked on, exploring as we went.
On our scouting/hunting trip we spotted many mule deer does, and in this unit, you’re only allowed to harvest bucks or either sex whitetail. Of course with this many hunters, we weren’t likely to see anything with antlers unless they’re on private land. We decided we would try this place again during a weekday when there wouldn’t be so many other hunters.
Slowly the plan was coming together. We ended up finding a small chunk of public land that looked promising. It had a nice field with trees along the edge in a draw that went down to the Madison River. We decided to check it out, if nothing else we would take our rifles for a nice walk to get fresh air.
The weather was nice. Not too hot and not too cold. We made it to the river and had a little powwow. We decided that Jordan would head down one way and I would head the other to see if we could spot one along the river or in the trees.
We loaded our rifles, split up and went on our way. I let Jordan get a little ways out in case he spooked any deer out of a patch of willows, which I knew he would have to trek around to get near the river. I waited and ran through our plan in my head. Suddenly, I hear sticks breaking and two big whitetail bound out of the willows.
I had considered this would happen but sat there in awe. I couldn’t believe that there was not one but two whitetail does standing directly in front of me and both were in range for a shot. I quickly moved into a kneeling position, raised my rifle and clicked the safety off. The deer were calm and walked slowly, looking around. I selected the larger of the two does, took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and squeezed.
My ears rang and I racked another shell into the chamber — This is something I’ve learned to do in preparation for the need of a second shot. As I worked the bolt I watched the deer and both does bound off.
I took a moment to assess the situation. I heard the whop so I knew I hit her, but she’d departed too quickly for me to take a follow-up shot. My heart raced, and I started to panic. The best case scenario is when an animal drops immediately, but I worried that maybe I didn’t hit her good enough for her to go down. I waved Jordan over and we moved into position to put in another shot.
We spotted the two does at about a hundred yards, and I knelt down again. I felt rattled a little. Jordan noticed and whispered, coaching me through my anxiety, so I could make a good follow up shot on this deer. I held the crosshairs on her, steadied, took a breath, and as I let it out I squeezed again. My eyes widened after the shot, and panic began to over-take me — I didn’t see the deer.
The doe had dropped in the waist-high grass. Once I realized this all of my anxiety released, and I began to ball my eyes out. I felt so terrible that I had not made a perfect shot and that I had to readjust and move to take this deer down, and I felt relief that I’d done good on my follow-up.
We waited a few minutes for me to gather myself, keeping an eye on the spot where we watched her fall. As I caught my breath, I looked around and noticed two different hunters emerge from the trees. They had been waiting for deer to feed down to them. With all the action, they called it a day and we watched them walk to their trucks. We chuckled a bit, knowing that these fellas watched my shot on this deer.
After my cheeks were dry and I was all gathered, we waded through the thick grass toward the deer. I lead the way in case I had to shoot again, and as I walked I worried hoping she’d passed. Thankfully, when we got to her she had stopped breathing. There’s no need for an additional bullet. I stood there and stared at her — She’s beautiful.
The tears began to fall down my face again, but this time they were of pure joy. I was so happy that I had finally harvested my first whitetail. The happiness also came because I felt relief in not having to take another follow up shot.
I unloaded my gun, set it down next to the deer and put my hands on her, still admiring her beauty. After the puffiness had gone from my eyes we took a few photos, and I couldn’t stop smiling. This beautiful doe fills a lot of firsts for me. She’s my first Montana harvest, my first whitetail, and my first animal since I’ve left home for college. — The pride swelled inside of me.
Then the work began. We field-dressed her and found that my first shot was a little back. Thankfully, the second shot hit the good spot, which made me happy to know that I can still shoot straight.
With my sore back, Jordan and I drug her out, then managed to load her in the truck. The next day we had more hard work of butchering her, but I’ve been doing all of this since the age of three, so it felt good to know that we could do this on our own.
I put a great amount of meat in the freezer and am so blessed that God gave me this great learning opportunity. I kept the deer’s skull and will bleach it and save it to remember my first whitetail hunt. I’ll also tan her hide as I’ve done with all of my first animals.
What a rollercoaster of a hunt! — But I am so glad I got out there, even with a bad back, and I got to harvest a beautiful fat doe.