Having hunted throughout North America and abroad, I can safely say my time best spent in the field has been with my son, Wyatt, right here at home in Oregon. There is nothing better than mentoring a young hunter and nurturing their love for the outdoors.
This fall my husband and I both drew doe tags in the North Ukiah unit of Eastern Oregon. The tag allows harvest of a doe of any species. Prominent in the area are both mule deer and whitetail.
We knew going into the hunt that it would be a quick and easy adventure, and we would have no problem filling the freezer. Although we would not have a great trophy to hang on the wall and memorialize the experience, that was okay. What we did know is that we would have fun together as a family. In reflecting back, however, I can say the hunt was much more fun than any of us could have imagined. The experience brought much more joy to my soul than any large trophy could ever compete with.
The morning started out pretty promising. Before day light we had already seen two dozen deer in the fields as we drove in to our “spot”. Odds were looking good! We parked our truck, checked our gear, and began our early morning trek up the hillside.
As anyone who has ever hunted with a young child knows, it is difficult to put on a quiet spot and stalk with child in tow. The first 1/2 mile of our trip was a bit discouraging… “Mom, I’m cold”. Two minutes later, “Mom, I’m hungry”. “But you just had a big breakfast 45 minutes ago!”. “I know, but I’m still hungry”. Urg!!! I’m sure every animal within 5 miles had heard us by now and had ventured further into the wild!
After we made it to the top of the hillside and looked back down to the tiny speck of a truck we left behind, Wyatt’s eyes beamed with excitement. He was the King of the Hill. We settled down, had yet another snack, and began to quietly watch the hillsides around us. It didn’t take long before we spotted two groups of does and fawns across the canyon. My husband and I were hoping to each harvest a dry doe, one without a fawn, so we had no interest in taking a shot at any in the small heard. It was a great opportunity for Wyatt, though, to sit and watch the deer as they grazed. One hazard of hunting with your child is the risk they will steal your gear. I looked over and realized Wyatt had claimed my Zeiss binos and wasn’t about to give them back! Fortunately, after a few minutes he found them too be to heavy for his small hands and returned them to their rightful owner. We ventured on to let the deer graze in peace.
On our trek back to camp we spotted a large whitetail doe by herself at about 20 yards. After carefully inspecting the area we realized she was alone and did not have a fawn hidden away in the nearby brush. I was mesmerized by her beauty and snuck a few pictures before raising my rifle and pulling the trigger. The doe ventured about 25 yards and expired.
I wasn’t certain how Wyatt would do while we were cleaning the deer. Although he had been with me and my husband on a number of other hunts, this was the first time he had been with us while old enough to really understand and comprehend death. It turned out to be a great experience for us all. While I gutted the deer, Wyatt asked a number of great questions. My husband and I had the opportunity to share with him the anatomy of the deer, the effects (internally) of proper shot placement, and the ethics of a clean harvest. The discussions had in the field will inevitably set the tone for Wyatt’s future hunting career. I can only hope he holds true to our strong hunting values.
After my doe was cleaned and hanging, we set out to fill my husband’s tag. We crossed a rambling brook by camp and set off up the hillside to glass. As we came around a bend in the trail, we noticed the forest was alive and the trees were literally moving… we had ventured into a lady bug infestation! I had never in my life seen so many of the little red bugs. Wyatt, of course, was in little boy’s heaven! We continued our wilderness treasure hunt and found grasshoppers, garter snakes, lizards, a (soon to be retired) rattlesnake, and bear sign. They joy on Wyatt’s face melted my heart.
Todd was able to easily harvest his doe that same afternoon. With two deer hanging, it was time to head home. Although we were all tired from our day in the woods, we were much closer as a family.
On the drive home, we saw chukar, grouse, turkey, pheasant, and quail all within a two mile stretch of the road. I can guarantee we will be back out in the field again soon to enjoy a day with family… likely with shotguns in hand.