Antillio and I met two years ago at a "Learn To Hunt" event put on by the Ohio Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. Little did I know it at the time, but one of my most memorable hunts would be a product of this event.
I had come as a volunteer, wanting to give back, meet new people, and do my part to increase hunter recruitment.
What drew me to Antillio was his open mind and willingness to learn. Whenever I encounter someone with these traits it's easy to invest my time as you can tell they are in it for the long haul. After the event, we traded numbers and had a couple of failed attempts to meet up for various hunts. Whether it was Mother Nature having other plans or busy schedules getting in the way, the seasons came and went.
This year would be different, as I eyed the last weekend of gun season and fired off a text to see if he would be interested. An ecstatic yes was the reply.
The days leading up to the hunt my hopes were waning. Weather reports were calling for highs in the 50s, unseasonably warm for December; and as we all know, that usually translates to lackluster hunting. Nevertheless, you hunt when you can and hope for the best. Sunday came and just after 1pm I heard a knock on the door.
Before heading out into the woods I wanted to cover a couple of things with Antillio, as it would be easier to talk without whispering to each other under the stand trying to not spook a deer. Using an archery target we talked about shot placement, aiming for an exit hole over entry, and how shot placement can change depending on the angle. He had done his homework and already had the basics down.
Next, we went over clothing and safety equipment, took a couple of shots to make sure the shotgun was aiming true and we were ready to put everything to work.
Walking out to the stand we stopped to point out and discuss scrapes, licking branches, and trails. I told Antillio we were planning on catching the deer coming from their bedroom and heading for dinner. We would be sitting, overlooking the hallway to the dining table so to speak, as multiple trails intersected, pointing in the direction of a soybean field that would be to our Northeast.
I've never been more excited or hopeful to just see a deer in my life. I felt like I was a young kid again, hunting with my Dad with my fingers crossed hoping just to see a doe. Sending a quick prayer above all I wanted for Antillio was to not get skunked. Seeing a deer would make the trip, getting a shot would be icing on the cake.
I have hunted this particular property for the past four years. It is a 20-acre island of trees surrounded by a sea of crop fields with other islands of trees within a couple hundred yards. I told Antillio as he got settled into the stand that when the crops have been harvested, the deer are either in this chunk of timber already or not. Very rarely will deer traverse from an island of trees to the next during daylight. Due to the vast amount of honeysuckle on this property providing plenty of cover I knew we had a chance.
Hanging in my saddle on the back side of a tree next to Antillio my vision was slightly blocked directly in front of us. No problem, I thought to myself. I had already handed him the binos. The deer usually come from our left anyway as I turned my gaze south and got comfortable to sit out the night.
15 minutes pass, Antillio breaks the silence in a not so quiet voice..."There's a deer!"
I'll be honest, my first thought was "That's impossible! We still have an hour and half of shooting light". Maybe he caught movement and it’s actually a squirrel. I lean to the side of the tree and look over his shoulder. Are my eyes deceiving me? 90 yards straight in front of us, a doe is on a trail heading diagonally across us to our right.
"Raise your gun" I whisper "She will cross right in front of us".
Antillio keeps his calm and we pick a shooting window to get her to stop in. As I let out a soft "meh" the doe stops broadside at 25 yards. Seconds tick by; Antillio takes his time, takes a breath and fires. The shot looks to be true and the doe whirls around and races off to our left. A clear exit wound can be seen on the opposite side right behind the shoulder. We watch as she goes down within 65 yards of the stand.
We give the doe about 45 mins before heading down out of the stand. About halfway down I look up and see movement. The doe is back up on her feet. We back out and come back to take up the trail after a couple hours and find the doe 15 yards from the initial spot she bedded down.
We take a moment, thank the deer for its life and soak in the seriousness of the situation.
Once tagged, a lesson in field dressing follows as our headlamps illuminate the outdoor classroom.
Antillio went home that night with tenderloins, the satisfaction of procuring his own food, and hopefully a memory that will last a lifetime.
Hunting Is A Gift
I truly believe this deer was a gift. Every animal we kill and harvest should be viewed this way. This hunt came together perfectly. Spend any time pursuing wild animals and you will find that very rarely does this happen. As I reflect back on this hunt it becomes clear to me that hunting in and of itself is a gift and privilege.
Unfortunately, this type of experience is not a given; we as outdoorsmen and women need to cherish, fight for, and promote the opportunities we have we have. Joining BHA is a great way to start!
Ignite The Passion And Take Action
I can't recommend enough taking a new hunter out into the field. Step out of your comfort zone and share your passion with someone else.
Watch them acknowledge the sounds of the woods and a beautiful sunset from 20ft up a tree, the side of a mountain, or a duck blind. The excitement in their voice seeing an animal and then understanding the full responsibility of hunting for their own food by participating in the circle of life.
It's a powerful memory. One I plan to create many times over.
So here's to a new friend, great memories, and another hunter added to the ranks.
Camden Bonardi is an active member of the Ohio Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.