By Tom Walton
As a new hunter, it didn’t take me long to learn that hunting partners share a unique bond only time spent in nature can forge. Whether it’s the reward of gazing across a vast mountain vista after a grueling hike or being there for a person’s first harvest, there is something special about sharing these experiences with others. After all, humans have hunted together for thousands of years. It’s no wonder modern humans still seek out the camaraderie of hunting buddies. In my short hunting career, I have made countless friends and shared incredible experiences with all of them.
However, life got busy for most of my buddies this last year, and I found myself hunting solo for most of the season. While I enjoy alone time as much as anyone, after spending a month of hunting elk by myself, I was ready for some company. Come deer season, I turned to the one person who’s never let me down: my wife, Joddie. Despite having recently undergone an extensive shoulder surgery, and having reservations about hunting, she agreed to join me in the woods.
“I don’t want to see the gore; I just want to eat it,” Joddie used to say whenever a conversation about hunting arose. While she loved a freezer full of fresh game meat, she did not like the idea of doing the dirty work herself. I was okay with this, because she was happy to let me hunt as much as I wanted in return for a year of delicious meals. Although she was not a hunter, my wife has always loved the outdoors. We are avid hikers and campers, and we both love to fish. She gets jealous when I tell her hunting stories involving close encounters with wildlife.
“I want to see elk and deer that close!” Joddie often said.
“Well, you gotta spend more time in the woods with me,” I’d reply.
The Walton's favorite whitetail spot.
Wanting to share my experiences with her, I devised a plan to get my wife afield. The first thing I did was sign her up for hunter’s safety. I told her she didn’t have to hunt, but at least would understand the process better. She reluctantly agreed, and even found parts of the class interesting. Then, I bought her tags.
“I don’t know if I am ready to shoot an animal,” she told me. I didn’t push the issue, but explained I would love to have her join me in the woods. This meant a lot to her, and eventually she agreed to go. I told her she might as well have tags with her because they are inexpensive.
“Who knows, maybe you’ll change your mind,” I told her. She agreed we could use the extra meat in the freezer, too.
As the opening weekend of deer season approached, Joddie became unexpectedly excited about hunting. She asked questions about what to expect and even went shopping for camo. Of course, this made me excited, and I wanted to make her experience as pleasant as possible.
Hunting in Idaho can be difficult. We have every kind of terrain from high alpine peaks and thick timber woods to open prairie and desert. Additionally, fall weather can be unpredictable with its wide temperature swings. Because of Joddie’s recent shoulder surgery, I knew I couldn’t make it too rough, as she still lacked a lot of energy and was in pain. To accommodate, I picked an area consisting of rolling golden hills and open fields. The fields are surrounded by dense pine forests, providing excellent cover for deer. The nearby snowcapped mountains stand like tall sentries around the valley and serve as a reminder that you are in Idaho’s mountain country. The area has easy access, but still makes for a wild and scenic experience.
Hoping to let the weekend hunters do their thing before we hit the woods, we decided to hunt the first Monday of the season. We each had one deer tag. I worked the late previous night, so we decided to make it an afternoon hunt. It was a windy day with mild fall temperatures. We gathered our gear and loaded up on snacks. We had about an hour drive to our first spot and left about mid-day.
Inexperienced myself, I had only killed my first deer the prior year, and I had yet to take anything with antlers. I kept the expectations low. My hope was we would at least see some does and have fun watching them. Maybe we would consider taking one.
Even though I was excited to be heading out on a hunt with my wife, I was anxious, too. I felt some pressure; I was concerned about seeing animals and I wanted her to experience wildlife in the ways I had described to her. I was also worried she would be uncomfortable or get bored. However, she seemed perfectly relaxed. She told me she was just happy to spend time with me. About 10 minutes into the drive, she got quiet. I looked over to my right to find her quietly napping in the seat beside me.
Once we got to our spot, we hiked about a short distance through a field to a lone ponderosa pine, which stood towering like a lighthouse overlooking a creek and a large patch of thick timber about 200 yards away. At the tree, I got my wife set up for the evening sit. Within minutes, the area came to life and we saw a coyote trot up the far creek bank not 30 yards from us. The sight of the predator had me worried, but not for long. As soon as the coyote vanished into the far tree line, we saw a large group of does appear in the field off to our right.
The deer were well over 800 yards away. Knowing Joddie was lacking the energy for a drawn out stalk, I decided to see how close I could get for practice. My wife was content with staying put and she was still not sure if she was ready to watch a deer get shot. I made sure she was comfortable and set off. I stalked into about 300 yards from the does when some movement from across the creek caught my eye. I looked through my binoculars and saw a small herd of elk feeding their way into the field. There was a nice big herd bull with the group.
I decided to abandon the does and see if I could find an easy crossing over the creek for Joddie; I wanted her to see the elk. I quickly made my way across the field and found a crossing. When I came up the far bank, I found the elk still feeding in the field. They were beautiful. As I was about to go get my wife, I saw a deer walking through the field between the elk and I. I figured it was another doe, but for some reason decided to take a closer look. When I peered at the deer through my binoculars, I was surprised to learn this doe was in fact a young 4x4 buck!
My plans changed again. Having the beautiful little buck standing in front of me, I decided I would try to take him. He was feeding away from the elk and right towards me. Everything felt right. I got into a prone position and decided to let him feed a little closer. I watched the buck through my scope with anticipation and excitement. I told myself to be patient and wait for the right shot. However, the buck appeared nervous. He kept looking back at the elk. I didn’t think much of it until he suddenly broke out into a full on sprint straight towards me.
Something spooked the buck, and he was making a mad dash to the vegetation by the creek. Just as he got within about 10 yards from me, I got up to my knees, rifle shouldered, and grunted at the buck hoping to make him stop. It worked, the deer stopped dead in his tracks. I quickly raised my rifle and shot the deer broadside. He jumped straight up, and ran right towards me again. Without thinking, I cycled the bolt-action .308 and fired a second shot at the running deer. The round struck the deer in the left side of his chest and he dropped to the ground. My heart was pounding as I watched my first buck die practically at my feet.
Tom's first whitetail buck and second successful deer harvest.
My mind shifted to Joddie. I wanted to go check on her. I wondered how much she saw. I walked to the deer and spent a quiet minute with him. I looked up towards the tree line to see the elk hadn’t budged. They seemed to care less about the violent scene that played out only a few hundred yards away. I placed my tag on the buck’s antler and went to get my wife. I found her already walking in my direction.
“I got a buck!” I yelled. She was unexpectedly excited. She waited on the far side of the creek while I field dressed the buck, not yet ready to experience the gore up close. When I dragged the deer to the truck, my wife experienced an emotional roller coaster.
“He’s so beautiful!” She exclaimed when she touched the young buck. She began to cry.
“I’m sad for him, even though I know he will feed us,” she said. We took some time to discuss the dichotomy of killing to eat.
“It’s okay to cry and be sad,” I told her, “I’m sad, too.” We both agreed this was the most ethical way of acquiring your food, and we were happy for our success. However, we both felt a sense of loss for the land. This deer called these woods home and he was no longer a presence there.
As we drove home with the deer in the truck bed, Joddie underwent a transformation from wanting nothing to do with hunting to displaying an understanding and interest in the process. In just one afternoon, she became my new hunting partner. By the time we made it home, she was talking about hunting again the following week.
“That was fun watching you, but next time, I want to be more involved in the action,” Joddie said. At the house, we hung and skinned the buck. We planned another hunt for the following Monday. This time, we would be looking to fill her tag.
Joddie enjoying the company of two moose while adventuring in the outdoors with Tom before she became a hunter.
The week passed quickly and before we knew it, we were on our way back to our new favorite deer spot. Once again, our expectations weren’t high. We were simply hoping for a doe to fill the freezer. After parking, we walked down to the spot where I’d crossed the creek the week before. The creek flows through the bottom of a 10-foot-deep brush filled ditch. With some effort, I was able to help my wife across. Thankfully, she only fell once and was uninjured. Once across the creek, we climbed off the far bank and settled into the tall grass.
It was a beautiful clear day. The mountains on either side of us created a wind break, and the air was cold and crisp. We had gotten a late start, and the sunset was already turning the sky fiery shades of orange. As we waited, I tried to remain quiet and watchful. Joddie on the other hand was picking grass and trying to tickle me with the long weeds like a child. She wasn’t the best at sitting still, but she was having fun, which made me happy.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long. Despite Joddie’s goofiness, a small forky buck walked out of the tree line just shy of 300 yards away.
“Deer, deer!” I whispered excitedly. My wife instantly became all business. Because of her broken shoulder, we held the rifle together, essentially becoming one shooter. I helped her steady the rifle.
“Keep the crosshairs behind the shoulder and slowly squeeze…” The rifle cracked before I could finish my sentence. Joddie tumbled backwards onto her rear. She sat on the ground, laughing at herself for not being more steady. I had watched the young deer lurch to the side before running off into the brush; I knew the deer was hit. I put the rifle on safe and helped my wife to her feet.
I handed Joddie the rifle and said, “Let’s go find your deer.” We crossed the field and located a few drops of blood. I was instantly afraid she would lose her first deer. I instructed her to stand by the blood while I walked back to our packs to grab the headlamps.
Daylight was fading fast. As I was walking back, Joddie was walking towards me. I got a little frustrated.
“I needed you to stand near the blood so we didn’t lose it,” I grumbled.
“I already found him,” she replied, sobbing slightly and pointing towards the tree line. “He’s in the bushes over there. He’s beautiful!”
Joddie's first whitetail buck and her first successful hunt.
I was impressed Joddie had found the deer on her own, but I felt for her. It is not an easy thing to take a life. She asked if we could say a prayer for the little buck. We knelt over the deer, each placing a hand on him with the other hand around each other. We prayed and gave thanks for the deer.
My wife tried to explain how she was happy for us, but sad for the deer. I told her I am sad for every animal I harvest and it’s a good thing to feel remorse for it. It means we appreciate the animal and the food it provides. Not yet ready to field dress, my wife watched as I cleaned her deer. I didn’t want to push her too much.
A buddy who was hunting nearby came over to lend a hand. Together, we carried my wife’s first deer to the truck. In two afternoons of hunting, we’d each taken our first buck within an hour. I told Joddie it isn’t always this easy.
“Yeah, right,” she replied jokingly, “I don’t understand why you make it sound so hard!”
Both bucks' antlers are lovingly displayed in the Walton's home.
We were happy. We were a team. We set out to fill our freezer with fresh meat and we accomplished our mission together. Joddie loved the experience so much, she has since braved some cold days in the woods to go elk hunting with me. She is even hoping her shoulder will heal quickly enough for her to try archery next year. The experience brought us closer together. We were already husband, wife, and best friends; now we can add hunting buddies to the list, too.