We thought let’s hike up the hill and see if we can come across anything. We had been seeing lots of deer and elk tracks and knew they were in the area, but hadn’t seen them except for first and last light. But they’ve got to be somewhere during the day, so it was just a matter of finding them.
Corey takes the logging road as to hopefully be easier on his back and knee, and I head up the hill through the trees. We discuss where to meet as we’ve been hunting this area for a few weeks and I start meandering through the woods on animal trails. Following the freshest tracks of the kicked up larch needles while trying to keep in the general direction of where I’m supposed to be going. I get to the top of the hill, just after the switchback in the road, so I scan the area looking for Corey. Not seeing him, I figure he must still be slowing coming up the road. After spending a few more minutes watching the road and clearing above, I decide I should move ahead to the other side, since that’s where Corey should be coming up shortly and if anything was waiting until the last minute, hiding in the brush, before they are forced to go into the open, as we all know they do, they would walk right to me.
So I cross. Reassess the clearing from a new angle and still nothing. Then Corey appears, scowling and giving me hand signals that there’s two deer right next to me. I don’t see them. More hand gestures. Um, I don’t see anything. Frustrated, he gets up and starts walking the 50 yards to me and shaking his head.
“There was two deer, standing right next to you.” Well crap. Because of my position there was a small hump that hid them from me.
There were a few weeks left in the general season but with Corey’s knee surgery the following week, this was probably going to be our last two days hunting for the year. So we were definitely feeling the pressure to put some meat in the freezer.
Corey suggests I walk up the road a half mile to the switchback and then get on top of the ridge to look down our side of the clearing, to be able to see the other side, but go slow and keep an eye out incase those deer were still in front of me.
We made a plan for if one of us shot. He sat down at a tree and I headed uphill mumbling, about me being the one walking up there, bear scat right in the middle of the road, and something about knowing it would be fruitless; if anything I’d kick something down to him because of the wind.
After about a twenty minute hike up the road, I reached the switchback and kept telling myself to just “get in there”. The brush was getting increasingly thicker with each step and I was getting more hesitant.
Finally, I saw a game trail and decided to head up that way. At this point my rifle wasn’t shouldered and I was almost crouching to get through.
Deer poop. Fresher deer poop.
More poop. Beds.
Ok, this was it, I was in their house. Getting more optimistic with each step that it was turning back into “the woods” instead of thick brush, STOMP.
Well shit, there he was, 50 yards in front of me, looking right at me.
Other than my Texas buck, this was the largest whitetail I’ve ever had a shot at, but at that moment, I could have cared less. Looking back now, Steven Rinella’s words from MeatEater “meat crisis” is the state of mind I was in. As horrible as it is to say, I was thinking, okay Chelsea, you can’t wait for the perfect broadside shot, but you cannot let this deer go. I even think some of those words were mumbled out loud. And now he’s running off, probably because I’m talking to myself. REGROUP CHELSEA.
The fog is getting thicker and he’s moving through the trees. Without looking down, I chamber a round. There is no sound except for my feet moving through the fallen leaves. Just the same as it was with my elk the year before, it was just me and him, total tunnel vision. We do a dance between trees which seems like half an hour, but was only maybe a minute, if that.
Slightly quartering to me, the back half of his body covered by a tree. Free hand, shaking like a leaf, I slow my breathing and hold still, then BOOM. He turns, headed down the ridge. I take a quick look down to step over the downed tree, look up and nothing. Making a mental note of the tree he was last standing at, I run forward 50 yards. No white tail, no crashing off. All I can think is, where is he?? Before I get even more tangled up in the trees, I grab a pink ribbon and mark the tree next to me and then mark the one that he was at, making a straight visual line back to where I was when I shot. Looking feverishly on the ground for blood, nothing. Then Corey comes up the hill, as he took off running towards where I was after he heard the shot. He starts asking “well, where is he?” Almost in tears, “I have no clue.” Trying to point where I was and where he was and told him that I took one step, and he was gone. He wanders off mumbling. My focus is on the ground. There has to be blood. All of a sudden, “Here he is.” Wait, what? He wasn’t wandering off, he was following a game trail, another hundred yards from where I thought he was. He took two steps and died. In what seemed like a half an hour looking, was merely minutes. After putting my tag on him, we retraced the steps to where I shot. When I ran, I didn’t properly mentally mark which tree he was next to. 200 yard shot through the fog and trees. A wave of relief came over Corey and I. We had meat for the freezer. After taking a few minutes to be grateful, we made a plan that I would head the mile back to the truck and get the kids snow sled. With Corey’s back injection two days before, we needed to be able to get this guy off the hill.
Rifle on my shoulder, I head back. Almost to the truck, I hear a shot, I’m thinking, hell yeah, Corey got a deer too. So I take off running, get the pack and sled. Run the mile back to him and realize he’s field dressing my deer. Um, wait, I thought you were going to wait and let me do it. He’s like well I heard you shoot, figured you filled your elk tag. Not so much, but glad he could be so nonchalant about it.
It wasn’t until after we got the deer back to camp, and headed to the nearest gas station for ice, that I was able to take in what had just happened. I harvested a big game animal, alone. To some, that’s nothing, but it was a big moment for me.