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Gary Howey

” IN 2017

Don’t Be Afraid to Try New things My First Deer Hunt By Gary Howey

Entered by Gary Howey

Former tournament angler, hunting and fishing guide. Inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing "Hall of Fame" in 2017. Active member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), Past Executive Director (AGLOW). Howey has been an outdoor communicator since 1980 with his award winning syndicated "Of the Outdoors" columns appearing in magazine, newspapers, and tabloids throughout he upper Midwest and nationally.

September 20, 2017

  Deer hunting has always been something that enthralled me; one of those adventures I had heard and read about, but never had the pleasure of getting out and doing.

  The main reason I did not know much about deer hunting was that my Dad did not have a rifle and so there was, no way we could hunt deer.

  When I returned from Viet Nam and moved to Nebraska, I loved the outdoors, but not into it like I am know and I did not know many people who hunted deer so it took me a few years to get into it.

  When my opportunity to hunt deer came about, I was on the road selling parts for the Ford dealership in Norfolk, NE. and editing and producing my newspaper The Outdoorsmen. Being on the road and calling on repair and body shops gave me the opportunity to meet some great people with similar interests as me.

  One of those was Gary Fredericks who ran the Verdigre Body Shop. Over the years, we became good friends and we often talked about the outdoors and deer hunting.

  Then, one year, he asked if I would like to deer hunt the following year with him as he and some of his friends hunted deer between Verdigre and Lynch, NE.

  The sentence was verily out of his mouth when I answered “You Bet” I would love to, but, there was one problem, I did not have a rifle and with a family, really did not have the funds to go out and purchase one.
  No big deal, I would figure it out as I had almost a year before the hunt. I started checking into the cost of a rifle and the person to talk with, as he was one of the big deer hunters in Hartington, Steve Samelson who owned a body shop as well as a small gun shop.

  I kept stopping by; talking with him about what caliber to use and what loads would be the best. Steve knew his stuff when it came to rifles, ammunition and deer hunting as he had hunted deer a long time.

  After several visits I started asking about cost, what rifle would work best as I planned to hunt other game including antelope as well as predators.

  He suggested I go with a .243, as there were both light and heavier loads available for the rifle, which made it versatile. Then we got down to the nitty-gritty, what I could afford to spend on a rifle.

  I had a plan as to how I would pay for the rifle, which was to take on an extra job on weekends and after work at the pheasant preserve outside of town.

  Steve said that I could put a little down and make monthly payment until I had the rifle paid for and if all went according to my plan should be no problem.

  I ended up purchasing a Winchester BDL .243 set up with a Redfield Wide Angle 3 X 9 scope equipped with see through sight scope mounts.

  I paid a little each month and as the deer season approached, it appeared as if I would not have it paid off before the season.

  Fortunately, for me, Steve understood, allowing me take the rifle before I had it paid for and I had two weeks before the season to zero in the rifle and be ready for opening morning.

  Opening day could not come soon enough for me and as the opener got closer, I counted the hours, minutes and seconds until the rifle deer season opened.

  The evening before the season, the Fredericks allowed me to spend the night at their house in Verdigre, a night where I got very little sleep, as I was not about to miss my first deer hunt.

  Opening morning, we headed out to Gary’s hunting partners place and sat down to a breakfast fit for a king and his court. The meal included; three kinds of meat, eggs, breakfast potatoes, toast, rolls, juice, milk and coffee. I thought, if a breakfast is served like this before every deer hunt, “I was in.”

  After breakfast, everyone prepared to head out to the locations where they had taken deer in prior years, which meant, that I the “new guy” hunted by myself in an area I had never seen before.

  Besides having to head out into the field, in pitch-black darkness in a part of the state I had never set foot on before, I had not been out of the Army very long and was still a little jumpy, especially in the dark coming into a new area. 

  The landowners’ wife was nice enough to drive me out to the ridge I was to hunt, where she told me to cross the fence and head west towards the creek. As I worked my way along the ridge through a huge expanse of buck brush, I thought to myself, how I am going to find the creek in the dark, and hopefully it would not be by not falling into it.

  I was about a third of the way when I made a detour around a huge plum brush and as I neared the end, all hell broke loose, as a covey of quail came up all around me sounding like fifty birds taking flight in every direction. I about jumped out of my skin as I went in the air, turned a compete circle, landing in a mess of cactus nearby.

  After settling down and pulling what cactus quills I could from my legs, I figured it was not going to do me much good to walk in the dark all the way across the ridge.  I did not want to spook any more wildlife and would not be able to see any deer in the dark, so I sat down waiting sunup.

Being successful at anything requires the first step and if you fail, remember the other things that the experience taught you, like the beautiful sunrise and the time spent with good friends, as failure is part of life, so enjoy all experiences.

  From where I sat, the landscape below me appeared like a beautiful painting as I could hear the creek with its pristine water flowing to the north, the six mule deer bedded below the plum brush in between a group of cedars. What was left of the fall colors really stood out with the red and yellow foliage blending in with the green of the pine trees.


  The sun appeared in little slivers above the eastern horizon, which gave me just about enough light to glass the valley below and the adjourning ridge.


  As I glassed the ridge, I thought I spotted something in the darkness that looked like a group of deer, bedded down below another plumb thicket but was not sure so I waited for more daylight.

  Once the sun cleared the low cloud cover, what I saw was defiantly deer, six mule deer, chewing their cud and looking my way.

  I looked and looked, hoping to see a rack on at least one of them, but to no avail as they were mule deer does and fawns.

    Now what to do, should I move and spook them or just wait it out, hoping a buck would make an appearance.  We were in the middle of the rut and to have six deer, several of which were does bedded down across from me, seemed like a win-win proposition. 

  It was better to wait it out at least for an hour or so, and glass the terrain, hoping that a lonely buck would come in looking some companionship.

  As I watched the valley between the two ridges, I  kept checking the time, as I knew was suppose  to meet the other hunters back at the house at by 9:30. I had just looked at the Mule deer when I caught movement to the right. There at seventy-three yards was a 4 X 4 Mule deer making his way up from the creek bottom, moving towards the cedar-lined ridge.

  One always thinks that by everything you read or hear about when a hunter spots a buck that everything goes smoothly, not so as my heart was about to jump out of my chest; I was sweating profusely and my breathing was not the way it was suppose to be in order to get off a good shot.  I brought the rifle up, but not before the buck stepped into the cedars. I thought perhaps I should try to low crawl and cut the distance, but the cactus sticking up along the ridge between where I sat and the tree line were not something I cared to tangle with again.

  Once again, I would have to wait it out to see if he gave me a shot or move quickly once he vanished into the trees, trying to catch him as he made his way down through the valley.

  The stars must have been lined up correctly he caught site of the does paused, glancing in their direction and then stepped out from behind the tree exposing his vitals, giving me a shot.

  As my shot rang out across the valley, the bedded does headed for higher ground with the buck bolting, disappearing down into the creek bottom.

  Now what, it looked as if he hit the ground running and beings this was my first deer hunt I was not very sure about my tracking skills. As I charged along the ridgeline, with my heart still up in my throat, I brought the glasses up, hoping to see him heading down stream. When I saw nothing either way, how could this happen, I thought I made a good shot. That was when I started making up excuses, could I have rushed the shot, were my cross hairs centered, it had to be my breathing, as it was not pretty.

  As reached the cedar where the buck was standing, I looked down at the creek, glancing both ways and saw only trees leaves whipping in the wind and the creek meandering through the valley.

   This is when the thrill of victory became my agony of defeat. Using my binoculars, I glassed up and down the valley to no avail, what to do know, I had to find a blood trail.

  Walking over the edge of the rim onto the other side of the cedars, I glanced at the ground, hoping for some sign when my heart beat and breathing came back to normal, I was no longer sweating bullets as there he lay not twenty feet from the tree, my first deer.

  I thanked God for giving me this day, the friends that brought me to this point and did my best to dress out the buck.

  An hour later after dragging my deer down a ravine, through the creek, back up another ravine, through a pasture and into the yard I charged up to the farm hose to let the others know I tagged a deer. I was the first hunter in and when the landowner’s wife suggested we jump in the truck to retrieve my deer. I told her it was in the yard, she gave me a strange look and asked why I did not hang around until the pickup could have taken the trail right to where I shot the deer.

  It was a great experience, one that will live with me forever, as I’ll always remember those friends who took me along on my first deer hunt, several of whom are no longer with us, the beautiful sunrise, the great camaraderie, meals and the patience I acquired on this hunt.

   Patience is something that came hard to me, but on this trip, I acquired a bit of it, enough to sit down and wait until sunrise and not spook the does. Enough to not rush the shot yet not  enough  to look around and see the trail leading to the ridge, which would have saved me an hour of dragging my deer to the farm place.

  Getting into anything whether it is football, baseball or the outdoors takes the first step, where you are not sure what you are getting into, a fear that you may fail when all you need just enough ambition to go out and take part in it to take the first step.

  Failure is part of life and even if I failed on this hunt, I still would have had many numerous beautiful memories an awakening of all the outdoors has to offer.

  Do not be afraid to take that first step, to try things as my first deer hunt really opened up my eyes and the world of the outdoors to me!


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