Lub-dub. Twelve-year-old Tyler Muenks feels his heart pounding—in his chest, in his head, in his finger resting on the rifle’s trigger. Lub-dub. The whitetail buck turns broadside, the deer’s wide rack glistening in the early morning light. Lub-dub. Tyler hears his dad whisper: “There’s your shot.” Lub-dub. Tyler peers through the rifle’s scope, aligning its crosshairs on a spot just above and behind the deer’s front shoulder. Lub-dub. S-L-O-W-L-Y Tyler squeezes the trigger.
He’d been waiting nearly a year for this moment. The past Christmas Tyler had torn the wrapping paper off a brand-new rifle. A few days later, he and his dad drove to a shooting range. They hung a target downrange and sat at a shooting table. Tyler steadied the rifle on a bean bag, took careful aim and fired. His dad watched through a spotting scope to see where the bullet hit, then adjusted the rifle’s scope. Tyler shot nearly a box of shells, but he became comfortable with the rifle and got it sighted in.
Tyler spent summer scouring his uncle’s farm for deer tracks and buck rubs. A buck’s antlers grow beneath a fuzzy sheath of tissue called velvet. Eventually the velvet gets itchy, and bucks rub it off against small trees and shrubs. Tyler found a cedar sapling rubbed nearly to shreds. He hoped a big buck had done it. Tyler set up special cameras alongside crop fields and deer trails. When animals walked by, the cameras automatically snapped pictures. Tyler loved checking the cameras. By late summer he’d collected snapshots of raccoons, opossums, coyotes and—of course—deer.
Birds wing south. Leaves flutter earthward. Days grow short. Early one mid-November morning, Tyler’s dad gently shakes him awake. His dad has been nice and cooked a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. Tyler scarfs it down, then tugs on warm coveralls. Before stepping outside into the black pre-dawn morning, he puts on his hunter-orange vest and hat. Tyler knows deer can’t see orange, but other hunters can.
It’s still dark when Tyler and his dad reach their deer stand, a metal platform 12 feet up in a tree. The stand hides Tyler and ensures that if he misses a deer, his shot angles safely down into the ground. His dad has placed the stand so Tyler will be shooting in a safe direction with no roads, houses or livestock nearby.
Tyler’s dad climbs the ladder first. He tosses down a rope, and Tyler ties his unloaded rifle to it. Then Tyler climbs up. He wears a safety harness around his waist and shoulders that he clips to a strap encircling the tree. Only once Tyler is clipped in and sitting safely in the stand does his dad pull up the rifle. Then, the waiting begins.
As the minutes pass, Tyler watches squirrels raise a ruckus chasing each other through the dry, fallen leaves. He soon spies a doe walking along the edge of the field. Not far behind is what he’s been waiting for all year—a big buck!
Waiting for a safe, clean shot is essential. But it’s also nerve-wracking. The buck seems in no hurry. Through binoculars Tyler watches october/november 2011 i 11 it graze. He counts the points on its antlers—six, seven, eight. It’s a nice buck, and as minutes tick by, Tyler’s heart pounds harder and harder.
BLAM! Tyler doesn’t hear the shot, doesn’t feel the rifle kick. He sees the buck flinch, though, then watches it bound away. Tyler knows he must stay in the stand and wait. If the deer is wounded, walking up on it will only make it run farther. “I think you made a good shot,” says his dad. “Don’t worry.”
While he waits, Tyler thinks about all that came before: getting the rifle for Christmas, sighting it in, scouting for deer, checking his trail cameras. And he realizes, buck or no buck, he’s had a great time hunting deer—with and without a gun—all year long.
Nichole LeClair Terrill