Tagged Out: First Mule Deer Experience
By Tammy Bashore, Artemis co-founder
It was November 9, 2016; the day before the rifle opener for west river deer in South Dakota. We had decided to go scout a few of the public land spots in the county we had drawn a tag. After driving around feeling not-so-optimistic about what we were seeing, we decided to pull into one of the spots, walk in a little ways and just see if there was any activity for the next hour until sunset. The particular piece of public land we were on was a WIA (Walk In Area); meaning that it is a privately owned land operating as a working farm or ranch that is leased to the public.
We got parked and everyone proceeded to change into his or her hunting gear. Our 11-year-old son had a mentor tag, so we decided to have him bring his gun and his tag just in case we saw a doe he might be interested in shooting. We had no idea what would happen next.
The land appeared very flat at first glance. We were sure we could see the entire piece of public land, but as we began walking we realized there was a small “bowl” or valley in the center that was not visible from the road where we had parked. The boys tend to walk a little bit faster than us girls (myself and our 7-year-old daughter, Elle), so they reached the side of this valley before us. We saw them take a seat real quickly and motion for us girls to get down and crawl slowly to the edge.
Elle struggles to not giggle and talk while dancing as we walk into hunting areas, so it is always a task for me to get her to calm down and keep herself very still and quiet. On many trips in the past, we walk into a hunting area and often times see nothing. As numerous seasoned hunters know, many hunts can be a sure test of patience. Our kids had experienced several of these same tests of patience recently and were sure this was just going to be another one of those times. So Elle was not too excited about having to be quiet for what she believed to be no reason. But we continued to slowly crawl to the edge of the valley, and quickly realized what the boys had motioned about.
Below us, just on the other side of the public land fence was a herd of mule deer on private property. Mule deer tend to not be as easily spooked as whitetail – so while they noticed we had arrived, they didn’t make too much of a fuss about our presence. The boys were sitting just a few feet down the side of the hill from us, while Elle and I stayed on our tummies towards the top. We sat and watched as they continued to eat on private property, trying to figure out how we were going to get them to cross the fence to public land and eventually make their way into shooting range for Jakob. Keep in mind, this is Jakob’s first time hunting where the possibility of tagging out was very real. Needless to say, he was focused and his sister was pretty excited she was going to get to see how hunting really worked. Up to this point, the kids had never been with us during the hunts when we tagged out.
So as we sat, my husband, Brian, began to call; just to see if we could get their attention and get them moving. Nothing happened. They looked at us. They looked at each other. And then continued eating. The herd all knew we were there and had no intentions of crossing that fence to come closer to us. After feeling a bit frustrated thinking this was going to be a bust, a random lonely doe comes out from another area of the private property, walks to the fence line, crosses the fence into public land and we couldn’t believe what happened next; the entire herd followed this doe over the fence! This doe had not seen us come in and was oblivious to the fact that we were there.
At this point, Jakob got into shooting position, with Brian coaching him through the entire way. Meanwhile, Elle and I are watching in awe as we can’t believe this is about to all come together perfectly; and so quickly, at that! Within this herd was 1 really nice size buck. A mentor tag is for doe only, so we had to keep reminding Jakob to only shoot a doe, and be careful with his shot. But Jakob was focused; he was ready. Brian made a sound that made one of the mule deer does look at us and become curious. That doe began to walk towards us. At that time, I heard Brian whisper to Jakob to take a shot whenever he is ready. Elle and I covered our ears in anticipation. BOOM! The shot went off but that deer did not go down. The herd scattered. We thought he had missed. When the majority of the deer had ran away we noticed one doe was running rather oddly and quite slow. Jakob had shot a different doe than the one we had all suspected! His exact words were, “well that doe was bigger, so I decided to shoot her instead”. The doe wasn’t quite going down very quickly so we had Jakob make a second shot. He got her again and this time she fell to the ground. We couldn’t believe it. Jakob had just successfully killed his first animal; an animal that would feed his family for a year. He was a very proud kid.
We quickly reminded the kids that the hunt is not over just because the animal has been shot. The real work begins now. The kids go with Brian to make sure the deer is dead, while I head back to the truck to get the deer cart and other supplies for gutting a deer. The entire way I am texting people that I know would love to hear about Jakob’s accomplishment. The kids meet me half way to take the cart and drag it over to Brian and the deer. They are smiling and proud. I keep hearing Jakob thanking the animal for the food she would provide. It was the sweetest interaction I had ever seen.
At this point, Brian begins to gut the animal. I ask the kids if they want to see this part or if they would rather go back to the truck; both wanted to stay and see the entire process through. Elle was amazed with what the inside looks like – she immediately wanted to know what was in the stomach to see what deer eat. Buying meat at the store has no meaning – but for our kids, they understand that their food once had a face. It was a living, breathing being that will now sustain our family. Hunting for us is not about shooting the biggest animal for bragging rights, it is for food. Every animal is a trophy in this house. But this one was even more special as our son’s very first deer. A day I will never forget as his proud mother watching him accomplish something he wanted so badly.
This experience solidified hunting for Jakob and he successfully completed the hunter safety course this spring to officially be able to safely hunt many other animals here in South Dakota. His grandfather (my late father) would have been so proud of Jakob on this day. As an Artemis Sportswoman, a large component of our mission is to foster the next generation of sporting conservationists. Passing down this sporting heritage to my children will always be one of my greatest accomplishments as their mother.