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I recall shooting my first deer, a large doe, even though it was decades ago. I know I can't recall specifics about every one since, but I can remember bits and pieces about many hunts.

I remember my son’s first deer nearly two decades ago. I remember one of my older brothers’ first deer. It was just a couple years ago. I wasn’t there when my other brother killed his first deer.

I remember our first really traumatic injury while hunting. It was several years ago when my son’s hand slipped while gutting a deer and he buried his hunting knife deep in his upper thigh and severed some blood vessels. I've told that story, or pieces of it, several times before here in the newspaper and in hunting magazines and websites. I’ve never ran so fast and my heart pumped so hard as it did that day as a raced to find him in time. He survived due to lots of prayers, a tourniquet fashioned from his belt, a flying trip to the closest emergency room and several stitches. 

I remember the first buck I ever shot, the first deer that didn't drop immediately due to a misplaced shot and I had to track it a long distance before locating it, and the first time I was dragging a deer back to the truck and was followed all the way back a pack of obviously hungry coyotes in broad daylight. 

Deer season is more than a time to hunt a deer. Most people hunt with friends or family. In those cases the camaraderie of deer camp can be much more fun than the hunting.

Around our camp I see leaving the warm, cozy hunting cabin — which for the past two decades has been my grandparents’ farmhouse, but this season will be a new cabin — full of good food and laughter of family or friends to go out in the cold and sit in the woods waiting for a deer to pass by as a necessary task of saying I deer hunt. I do enjoy the thrill of eventually harvesting a deer.

I have killed some nice bucks, but, I do not “trophy” hunt. I judge my deer by how close they are to the cabin or 4-wheeler when they fall. In no way do I enjoy the bitter cold, excessive solitude if I don’t get one on opening day, and the nights spent in an uncomfortable, unfamiliar bed. But the good food, great company and adventure of every season being different makes it all worth it. And a great side benefit is all that healthy venison I fill the freezer with afterward. 

Truth be told, as far as actual hunting goes I much prefer squirrel hunting over deer hunting. I can stalk through the woods, sit and watch, find my prey and get within shot range, take the shot, feel the accomplishment of securing food for my family, and then head off in a different direction to do it several more times in the same day. With deer hunting you usually only have one success a season, or at least one a day. With bonus tags available in much of the state nowadays there’s an opportunity to take home more than one. And those fortunate enough to own a chunk of land can take advantage of landowners tags, often called "farm tags", to gather in some extra meat for coming months.

Of course the main difference in deer hunting and squirrel hunting — or rabbit, quail, duck, or any other small game or waterfowl — is the quantity of meat you can harvest from one hunt. An average size deer will provide my wife and I with enough meat for a few dozen meals. It takes two squirrels or rabbits, or a half dozen quail to fill the table for even one meal.

Which brings up another point. If you enjoy hunting but prefer only to target bucks for the antlers, or just enjoy the hunting but not the venison, consider donating your deer meat to Share The Harvest. The program is managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation and is a way to see that venison unwanted by hunters is put to a good use ... distributed to needy families through food pantries. A hunter can donate a portion or all the usable meat from an animal. The butchering must be done at a participating “Share The Harvest” processor ... which can be found on the MDC’s website or in the Fall Hunting Guide 2016 found in today's paper. 

I remember jokes told, meals shared, meals ruined by amateur cooks, missteps and minor mishaps like grabbing the wrong rifle as I headed out the door one opening day and missing a buck only an hour into season because the rifle I had grabbed, which belonged to my son, was similar to mine by had an additional safety.

In addition to the first firearm-killed deer, most hunters can recall their first archery kill, or their first successful pistol hunt, or the first deer taken by young hunters they’ve introduced to the hobby. And I’d say most hunters painfully remember their first clean miss and the shame of going home with no deer to show for their efforts. I know I sure do.

In fact, I started a practice many years ago of carrying a second cap - not blaze orange - with me when I go deer hunting. If I don't kill a deer I'll wear the camo or other colored cap home. Once it gets late in the season and you see some man or woman riding down the road in their truck wearing a blaze orange hat I tend to feel sorry for them ... season is nearly over and they're still out there pounding the brush trying to fill their tag. I feel even worse about it when it's me. 

I've already had a couple "firsts" this (archery) deer season. Not only am I operating out of our new hunting/weekend cabin on the property, but I'm also archery hunting with a crossbow for the first time. While I've yet to fill a tag on my first two hunts, I have a lot of time left to see one and let an arrow fly.

So as you prepare for the upcoming firearms deer season take some time to reminisce about all your deer hunting “firsts”. And if you’ve shared some of those experiences with family and friends get together on the phone, or better yet in person over a good meal, and talk over some of those old stories and good times. After all, the great memories linger much longer than the taste of even the best tenderloin.

Doug Smith lives in an old house, drives an old truck, tinkers with old tractors, is married to a young woman, hunts and fishes often, and can be found on any given day wearing his Buffalo plaid flannel jacket and matching Elmer Fudd hat. ( ... and can hardly wait to make more deer season memories come mid-November.)


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