It was a dark, cold November morning, but a special morning. Plans were in place to take my daughter, Isla who is 6 years old, on her first deer hunting excursion. Now to be fair this was not her first official hunting outing. She had been out on a number of weekend long elk hunting trips with no success. But today would be different. Today she would learn what “field to freezer” really meant.
I was up early with lots of excitement, as this time my daughter was the one requesting to go hunting; and what kind of a father would I be to deny her this request? We had set out everything the evening before as Isla got a new Rocky Camo insulated jacket. Being that we live in the northern part of British Columbia, preparing for the weather is a must, especially if you might sitting for a while. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal and toast and packed a thermos. Our destination was only a few miles from our house. Over the years I have managed to secure about 2500 acres of private land in various spots. And just an FYI, respect for the land is your biggest asset to getting access to private land.
As my daughter and I were making our way down an oil lease road to park on the field edge, we spotted a group of mule does making their way across the field. We were still about 30 minutes away from shooting light, so this wasn’t the ideal situation. Luckily they didn’t spook and kept feeding away from us. I pulled out my Vortex Diamondback 8×42 binoculars and was checking to see if there were any bucks in the group. I had caught a few spikers on my trail cam but nothing legal as of yet. We are required to take a mule buck that has at least four points on one side (not including the bow tine). As I was busy glassing the does, my daughter shouts in the truck cab “look a daddy deer!” Sure enough, this brute of a buck emerges from in behind the shack on the oil lease about 250 yards away.
Her immediate reaction was “let’s go shoot it!” Although I loved her enthusiasm, this was a prime opportunity teach her a few ethics. First, we talked about that it wasn’t legal shooting light yet. We had to wait. Next, we had to look closely at his antlers and count the points to make sure he was legal to shoot. Last, we can’t shoot near the the oil lease, we need to make sure we had a clear shot with no obstructions around or behind the buck. The buck’s antlers were very dark and blended into the background of the field and it was extremely difficult to count points.
We were left with no choice but to follow this herd down an open field to try and get closer to count points. All we had was a feeding doe decoy to hide behind. The field had plenty of rolling hills (as seen in the featured picture). We were making a quick pace to try and gain some ground and make sure the last doe in the line didn’t spook. After about a half mile of stalking (long field), Isla was losing steam. The tall field stubble was like walking through thick buck brush for her with every step. So I told her if we crested the next hill, and had a shot, then we would take it. If not, then the buck lives to fight another day.
As we slowly crept over the hill we found a frenzy, called the mule deer rut, happening right before our eyes! This big buck was going nuts! Chasing small bucks off, chasing does, he just wasn’t stopping for anything. Isla and I were huffing from covering a lot of distance in a short period of time. I ranged the buck at 365 yards, my rifle was zeroed for 300 yards, my Bushnell Elite 3×9 40mm riflescope was maxed out. The buck was pretty small in the crosshairs, but I felt confident in my ability. I told Isla that when he buck stopped I would range and shoot. He finally stopped to rake the ground, I ranged at 367 yards, set the crosshair at the top of the vitals, judged a 4 inch drop at that distance and drove that Hornady 140 grain bullet down the barrel of my .270 win Savage Model 111. That buck didn’t even take a step, he heaped up and that was it.
I turned to my daughter, trying to fight back the tears, that we had completed our first successful hunt together. But to my surprise, she was more emotional and excited than I was! She kept repeating “oh man we got’em! Oh man dad you shot him! Oh man I can’t believe we got him!” We spent the next few minutes catching our breath and trying to realize what just happened. It seemed to all happen so fast, from initially starting down the road, to making the shot, it felt like a blink of an eye. We called my dad at the farm to bring the side by side and meet us at the downed buck.
We began the near 400 yard journey to the buck. Neither of us really spoke too much as we walked over there. I think we both were replaying the whole hunt in our heads. As we approached the buck, my daughter stopped and looked at him, “he’s dead right dad?”. I could see that she maybe wasn’t expecting the animal to be so big up close and was looking for reassurance that the deer wasn’t just going to all of a sudden jump up a stomp us. I reassured her and we made that last 20 feet together. “Can I touch it dad? Can I get my picture with it? I would really like a picture with it to show mom and my friends.” All the words I imagined hearing when my daughter and I had our first successful hunt together. My dad arrived with the side by side and we propped up the giant buck for pictures. Some with both of us, just her and just me. We loaded the buck into the box of the side by side and drove home. I left Isla with Grandma and my wife as my dad and I went to field dress the deer and get it into the cooler; my sister also arrived to help out with her knife skills to cape it out and quarter it up. That evening we had a few friends over for dinner and my daughter told the whole story, with every detail down to the pictures. A couple weeks later, when it came time to butcher, cut and wrap the meat my daughter Isla was right there to help out, completing the field to freezer process.
I hope every hunting parent gets to experience what I did that day. The time when your kids finally understand what “field to freezer” truly means. All the hard work that goes into planning the hunt, executing the hunt, having success, and ultimately putting that meat in the freezer knowing where it has been the entire way through. The emotional high is really indescribable but I will never forget that moment when I looked at my daughter and her smile was bigger than mine. We now have our mounts side by side in our family room. My first deer on the left, hers on the right. And even though she wasn’t the one pulling the trigger, that buck is just as much hers as it is mine.