It was Mothers Day weekend when we all decided we'd go hunting in the Fall together. My friend Tom who is becoming quite the urban farmer was interested in harvesting a deer. My friend Carrie has hunted before and is always up for a physical challenge with a little adventure thrown in. My parents were in. They were the ones most likely to get tags due to "preference" points accumulated over 40 years of hunting in Oregon. Scott, and our 13 year old son were on board. And of course, as the owner of Cowgirl Cash, the sponsor of the Women only Big Buck hunt, I was in. The rest of the friends and spouses at the Mothers Day tailgater at Mt. Bachelor, were also up for an authentic Eastern Oregon experience.
The obscure white postcard printed with successful or unsuccessful didn't arrive until mid June. Our party quickly dwindled to six. Scott and my parents were the only ones to draw a tag. Teddy could hunt under the "mentor" program which meant he could fill one of the 3 tags.
We have hunted in the Paulina unit east of town a few times before. It's nice because it's close, beautiful, and familiar. However, it had been a long time since we'd filled tags there. There was a glimmer of hope early in the year of hunting on private land in Mitchell. But it's complicated and rare to get permission. Multiple generations and past promises dashed our hopes. We would be fine on public land. I learned a new term from my dad on this trip. DIY hunter. That's what we are. No lodges, no guides, no private property.
The season opened Saturday, September 29. We had hauled a trailer out the weekend before to secure a shady, central spot in the middle of the high desert. Remote, but surprisingly close. We worked all day Friday and were at our camp sight having dinner, making a plan, packing lunches, loading guns and reminiscing over past hunts. Lights were out by nine pm.
The moon opening morning was immense. It was 5:30 am and there was no need for a headlamp. Scott and Teddy headed out early on foot. Luci drove my mom, dad, and I to two different spots. It was cold and early and dark despite the moon, and damn we forgot both sets of binoculars. Luci and my dad turned around and headed back for them. The plan was to hit three different peaks above an open valley and glass the hillside at daybreak and wait for a big buck to walk in front of one of our groups. We got the binoculars headed to our "stands" and waited. We watched the wind, we watched the sun and our shadows, we watched each other and waited some more. About 2 hours later my mom and I got cold and we were starting to get bored. No deer. Just two red spots on one hill (Scott and Teddy) and one neon orange speck on the other (my dad). We decided to take a walk to a ridge in the sun and scare something up. We ended up walking through a valley, up a hill, and catching up on everyone we knew and the complete Branin health history. Scott said he couldn't always see us, but he could hear us. Oops. We were scaring deer to them.
After a nap and a close game of scrabble we headed to a different spot. This time it was Scott, Teddy, my dad and myself. The plan was for Scott and I to head up the butte. Teddy and my dad would circle around on the road and pick us up afterwards. As we headed up the hill we crossed a deer trail we referred to as the deer super highway. Never have I seen as many tracks on one trail as this. There were deer here! We executed the plan and sure enough, we spooked a doe from her napping area and sent it over the hill to Teddy and my dad. After walking and scouting and traversing we headed down and headed home.
I did not have a tag, so I felt perfectly justified to stay in bed when the hunting party headed out at 5:30. I was dreaming of snuggling under my comforter with a fresh pot of pressed coffee and my book (Wild by Cheryl Strayed. You'll understand if you've read it.)
At 10, Luci and I went driving and looking for the hunters. We found them an hour later. No bagged bucks, but they'd jumped some does, and found some beautiful shed antlers. Scott was ready to head in, but Teddy wanted to keep hunting. We agreed that my mom would drive and drop my dad and I and Teddy. We drove for a few miles. Spotted antelope, found another hunters gut pile, jumped a doe and her fawns and finally I said "wait"! Far in the distance was something that looked like the body of a big desert buck. It was far. It was fuzzy, but I was sure it moved like a deer. We crept closer by car. Finally I realized we were at the same butte from yesterday evenings hunt and that the deer I was imaging I saw was on the deer super highway!
We formulated a plan (a new plan apparently, that had my mom climbing a mountain instead of driving the car) and silently got out of the truck. The wind was blowing our scent towards the deer. My mom and I spread out in order to send the buck over the hill to where Teddy and my dad would be waiting on the other side.
Again the plan had worked. Teddy and my dad had parked the truck and were waiting for deer to come their way. Teddy had a nice stand, and my dad decided to rest his eyes a bit. (We let him off the hook since he'd been hunting since dawn). Teddy heard the deer crashing down the hillside, but he was facing the wrong way. He turned, shouted "buck"! "Big Buck" to wake my dad. He found the deer in his scope and took a shot. When he brought his gun down, the deer was still running. He put another bullet in the chamber, found the deer again and took another shot. When he took the gun down the deer was gone. Dead and gone or just gone? We searched for a body and blood for a good hour. This nice buck got away this time. It was a thrill, and my dad said "Teddy, I'm proud of you for getting the lead out."
Deer hunting. It's not for everyone, but I've decided that while I have the opportunity to spend one weekend a year with my family working together for a common goal in amazingly beautiful country, that I will continue to hunt. I've added killing (and gutting) a buck to my "list". I'm inspired by Lily Raff, Cheryl Strayed, my mom, and all of the other women out there who go against the norm, stand out from the crowd, and take life head on. Besides, hunting fits my criteria for the "four basics" necessary for a good life. Whole food, fresh air, sound sleep, and love. I experienced all that this past weekend.