Bowhunting with a traditional bow is tough. Add a baby and it’s even tougher. Yes, I know how crazy that sounds.
I’m fairly new to the world of traditional archery, having hunted just four deer seasons with stick and string. I’ve been pretty lucky for the most part, filling tags every year and taking an abundance of small game—with the exception of last deer season.
Last year right before deer season, my daughter was born eight weeks premature. She was in the NICU for awhile, and I wasn’t permitted to shoot for six weeks, so I ended up barely getting in the woods at all, which was fine. My daughter was far more important.
However, this year I was determined to make up for lost time. I wish I could put into words how badly I wanted to shoot a deer. Just one, and I would be content!
My husband, Alex, has been on third shifts for a while now, making it difficult to leave my now one-year-old daughter, Isabella, with him. So, my game plan for the 2019-2020 deer season was to carry my daughter along with me in a backpack carrier. I had done it successfully for small game, and she loved being out with me. It would be better than sitting at home, right?
Bringing a baby along on a hunt means twice as much work, getting up earlier than I normally would so she could have breakfast and giving me extra time to get us both dressed and ready. The first few hunts of the season I was surprisingly seeing deer. Although nothing came close enough to make a good shot with my bow, just seeing deer felt promising. I wasn’t planning on being picky this season either and would willingly take any buck or mature doe.
As weeks went by, I began to grow discouraged. I felt exhausted and hunting with Isabella was difficult, as there were days when she would just cheerfully chatter away. As sweet as it was, no animals would come within shooting distance, with the exception of a few squirrels. At least we wouldn’t starve.
I started opting for midday hunts to try and catch up on sleep. I was going out about twice a week, just trying to enjoy the time spent with my daughter.
On the morning of November 11, Isabella woke me up around eight. Alex was still asleep, so I got Isabella up and tiptoed out to have coffee and breakfast. It was 50 degrees outside, and I hadn’t hunted in a few days. As I sipped my coffee while looking out the window, I contemplated whether I should stay in or go hike some public land.
Many people ask why I hunt public land when we have a few acres of our own, but hunting our own property can be hit or miss. Deer pass through, but it doesn’t hold them. I have had far better luck on public land despite the number of other hunters I encounter there. I decided that I would hunt that morning, and packed Isabella and my gear into my Jeep. There were several trucks parked at the place I wanted to hunt, so I decided to go to a little out of the way area that I hadn’t been to all season.
At this point, I had very low expectations. I told myself that it was a gorgeous day for a hike and exercise and fresh air does a body good. So, I got Isabella ready and off we went, my bow in my hand. This area is always loaded with deer and turkeys, and rarely do I ever see other hunters there, which is surprising. There are several fields, surrounded by hardwoods leading down to a river. Walking in, dozens of deer tracks imprinted the mud on the path.
I was only 30 yards from the Jeep when I heard leaves crunching and looked to my right only to see a deer moving toward the field. I tried to tiptoe stealthily (which is hard when carrying a baby) and make a circle to get in front of her, but she saw me and took off. I continued on my way to the field edge, and disappointment sank in. I felt as if I had hit a wall. This season had been so difficult, and I felt I needed to accept the reality of eating my tag. Looking back now, I realize how silly that was as there were still two months of deer season left, but my melancholy mood had taken hold and it was hard to shake.
I decided to make my way slowly down the edge of the field and see if I could spot anything. Halfway down the length of the field I heard beagles, and since rabbit season had opened a few weeks earlier I knew they had to be hunting. This field would be pointless to hunt. I decided to take a few photos and head back to the Jeep. My morning hunt—short lived as it was—had come to an end.
I was probably 30 yards from the Jeep, right where I had seen the doe earlier, when I heard crunching again. There’s absolutely no way, I thought. But sure enough, I could see a deer moving through the brush and if it continued it would take the path right in front of me. I froze completely, waiting and hoping that Isabella was sleepy enough not to notice the deer coming in our direction.
The next few seconds seemed to drag along, when all of a sudden a large doe stepped onto the path and stopped as if fate intervened, the stars aligned, and the universe was saying, “This one is for you.” The deer didn’t look in my direction, so I don’t think she was even aware of me. I barely remember drawing my bow, but I do remember how hard my heart was pounding, almost echoing in my ears.
My shot hit just behind her shoulder, right where it needed to be. She wheeled and ran. Shaking, I just stood and watched as she made it to the edge of the field and crashed. There would be no need to follow a blood trail, as I could see her belly up from where I stood.
I’m not sure I can describe my feelings as I walked up to her. All of the hard work and dedication had paid off, and my self-doubt had disappeared. This was really happening! I felt elated. Isabella became less sleepy once she saw the deer before us. Always obsessed with deer, she found this one absolutely fascinating and started squealing.
I decided to forgo field photos, as rain was supposed to move in soon and I could get some good photos at the house. I quickly field dressed the doe. I will honestly say this wasn’t my best work, but I got it done. Then I threw a rope around her neck and made the short drag to the Jeep. I couldn’t have asked for an easier one.
However, I encountered my first problem trying to get her into the back of my Jeep. She was a giant doe, probably one of the biggest I’ve ever taken. She definitely weighed more than I do, and I really struggled to get her in. However, I was determined, and I finally managed to get her front half in and lift one hindquarter up onto my knees and then into the Jeep. My back didn’t feel right for a few days afterward, but I felt no regrets.
The next problem was that I couldn’t close the back of the Jeep. It was a hilarious sight, with the deer’s hind end sticking out too far. I could have easily quartered her up and gotten her in. However, I opted to call Alex and have him bring his pickup and load her up.
I’ll be telling this story for years to come, and although Isabella won’t be able to remember it, she will have photos to look back on. I saved the deer hide to tan and make something for her, so she will have a memento of such a special hunt.
When this year started, I had a lot of people judging and doubting me for bringing my one-year-old daughter hunting with me. I just want to say I hope I inspire other moms to spend more time outdoors with their little ones. Sure, it can be difficult—but you don’t have to give up time in the outdoors. You just have to figure out how to make it work.
Equipment Notes: Beka hunted with a 45# Bear Super Mag, Harvester wood shafts from 3Rivers Archery, and 125-grain Woodsman broadheads.