By Jessica R. Cain | LaFollette, Tenn.
The hunting bug bit late, but awfully hard for this Tennessee huntress.
Even though I grew up in a hunting family, I didn’t get bit by the bug until 2015. That year on Thanksgiving day, I tagged my very first deer, an 8-pointer. But it wasn’t until the next hunting season when I tagged a 10-pointer that it really hit me.
The day after Thanksgiving 2016, my brother, Justin, my cousin, Jake, and I went out to separate areas of our family farm and set up for the evening.
I had seen a few does and a small 6-pointer come through, but I was getting frustrated because weeks had gone by and I hadn’t seen a shooter. Just like every hunt, we had a group text going on, and Justin sent a message for me to join him. He had seen a big buck, but he was holding out for a monster that had gotten away from him the year before.
I met him at his stand, a box blind overlooking a bean field. About 30 minutes before dark, a buck stepped out at about 200 yards.
I was getting my gun up and ready when another big buck came out.
I said, “Justin, which one do I take?”
He said to take whichever one I wanted, which was the first one that had walked out. I put my scope on the buck, and my heart was pounding so hard that I’m sure Justin could hear it. My breaths were more like ragged gasps.
The buck kept moving and never offered a good shot. Then, he walked back into the woods. My shoulders slumped, and I felt sick, but then Justin said, “Jess, he’s back!”
I got ready and put the crosshairs on the buck again. With daylight fading quickly, Justin told me to take the shot whenever I felt comfortable. “He’s at 214 yards exactly,” he said.
I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger, and then all I could see was a cloud of smoke.
Justin and I waited a few minutes and then went to where the buck was standing when I shot. All I saw was a clump of hair on the ground, and no blood. I was so disappointed.
Justin said he thought I had hit the deer because of the way it jumped, so we called my parents and cousin to help search.
It was dark by the time everyone arrived, but we found where the buck had entered the woods, along with a few drops of blood.
I was still hopeful, but I couldn’t help thinking that I probably just grazed the deer. Then we came across more blood, and my heart started to race again.
I had never tracked my own deer before, and I was surprised how each spot of blood would bring hope, and then hope would turn to doubt when we struggled to find the next drop.
The trail was leading back toward the stand and a nearby creek. If he crossed the creek he would be on the neighbor’s property, so that added to my worry.
We tracked for probably 100 yards past the stand and heard what sounded like a big crash. My heart fell to my stomach, because my gut was telling me he had jumped into the creek.
My dad, Robert, looked at me and said it was up to me to decide if we should keep going or back out until daylight. As much as I wanted to keep going, I knew the buck would cross the creek if we pushed him, so we left.
That night, I remember waking up every hour, and I kept praying, “Lord, please just let him be on our side of the creek.”
When morning came, I was already awake and ready. My mom, Becky, Dad, Justin, my uncle, Paul, my cousin, Jake, and his son, Bryson, all headed out with me.
Dad and Justin have a gift for tracking, and I never would have found my beautiful 10-pointer if it wasn’t for them. The loud crash we heard was the buck falling down a cliff near the creek. We found him right on the back. The Lord was listening and answered my prayers – the buck died just 3 feet from the water.
I know my 10-pointer isn’t what most would consider a trophy, but I’ll never forget him. I got to shoot him with Justin by my side, and it was the first deer I tracked that I had shot myself.
I’m sure the rest of the family won’t forget that buck any time soon, either. Let’s just say it was an adventure getting him back up that cliff!
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