Corey was fourteen, so the act of killing his first deer might be considered his “rite of passage” or his “coming of age” event, but, in all honesty, he did not transition, or enter his liminal phase, a period between withdrawing and re-entering his social position with new insight, until about midway into his fifteenth year.
It was in the summer of 1989 that Corey stepped over into adulthood. You can almost see this move on the VHS tapes I made of him that year. He went from a chubby little uncoordinated kid nicknamed “Chunk”, to a confident baseball player, secure within himself of his capabilities and social interactions. Of course, there was some resemblance to
After his fifteenth year he lost the glasses and the nerdy look of his youth and began to mature into the good man, husband, and father he is today. I doubt that killing his first deer had much to do with the transition, but it did not hurt! I could argue that from that fourteenth year forward he was a much changed human being.
At fourteen, Corey was still not confident enough to want to use my Ruger .270 on the youth hunt at Cumberland Springs Wildlife Preserve (formerly a state park), near
He replied, as many have commented since, “You’re crazy!”
To me the recoil was something I wanted to own and control. I never again “half-mooned” myself between the eyebrows and would never consider deer hunting with anything else.
For that reason I began letting Corey practice with my 12 gauge slug-gun. I placed a paper plate on a fence post about 20 yards away and told him that if he could hit that plate, he could kill a deer. So, with that instruction, Corey set his sights on hitting that plate, and with the second shot he was well on his way to being consistent.
Corey and I took several overnight trips to Cumberland Springs, sometimes sleeping in the back of my S-10 Blazer, and other times we enjoyed pillow fights at a little motel in
We arrived at our pre-scouted location before sunup, but waited in the truck for the rain to slack. Around 10 a.m. the sky began to clear and we moved on into the woods, thinking to ourselves that it was a waste of time. Entering the woods after daylight is usually a no-no in the hunting world, but the idea was to give Corey his time in the woods.
The first hour passed slowly with Corey fidgeting, twisting, and pulling up little twigs, and me fussing at him to “Be still!” I had long become accustom to sitting motionless for long periods and moving slowly and deliberately when necessary, but he was a kid! I could expect nothing less, and actually did not really mind. I just wanted him to learn the rules that he could reference in later years.
Nonetheless, he would squirm and I would fuss. Often times, on other hunts, we would end up wrestling in the leaves behind the camouflaged netting, and laughing and teasing each other. Once we were even surprised by two does that stood just feet from us trying to figure out what all the commotion was about! It just proves that deer are very inquisitive animals, and times like those make all the rules about stealth being a requirement seem like myths!
While I was lecturing, and he was ignoring me watching a chipmunk play nearby, I suddenly diverted my eyes to movement over his shoulder and said very softly, “Son, there’s a deer!”
“Yeah, right,” he said not believing me.
However, as he turned to look my way, he realized that it was true. Not 15 yards from us walked a very gray doe, and our hearts began to pound! She ambled along, head down browsing, and at about 20 yards I knew that Corey needed to make his shot or lose the opportunity for the season. I kept whispering instructions to him about target alignment and his breathing.
I watched him flip off the safety on the Mossberg, steady his aim, and re-feel his grip. Suddenly the shotgun BOOMED to life and spit out the huge rifled-slug of lead toward the still unaware doe.
As it turned out, the doe had nearly turned its tail toward Corey, lessening his target area, when he fired. The slug entered the doe’s right rear hip and exited its left shoulder, bisecting almost the full length of the doe’s body! The doe dropped in her tracks and was dead instantly.
Corey stood for a long time, surveying the area and reliving the experience. After the photo of him at the scene, I introduced him to the dreaded “field dressing” part of the hunt.
I actually helped him little, watching him step back as a roll of steam wafted up, bringing the “innards smell” that usually brings on either the dry heaves, or worse to the new hunter! However, he did well and followed my instructions to the letter, even reaching in up to his elbows and rolling the cavity contents out on the ground.
I kept teasing him about having to, by tradition and rite of passage, eat a piece of the heart! That almost brought on what the smell had not!
Back home, he retold the story over and over. I even made a video tape of him telling the story, and while he spoke I noticed that he kept touching and running his finger between the split in deer’s hoof. Was it out of respect, which most hunters hold for their quarry, a way of reassuring himself it was real, or was it nervous guilt over what had happened?
Either way, it is times like these that are called “bonding days”. I miss them so.