Buckmasters Magazine

Never in a Million Years

Never in a Million Years

By Jean Willcox

This former anti-hunter can’t wait for next deer season.

If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would be hunting and loving it, I would have told them they were crazy. That would NEVER happen ... not in a million years.

I grew up in an animal-loving, hunter-hating, anti-gun home in Altoona, Pa. To this day, my family doesn’t know that I hunt. I’ve only been doing it for a few years, and it just seems easier to not mention it than to try to explain how you can love animals and the outdoors and be a hunter.

We were raised to believe that hunters were mean, nasty men who went out in the woods and waited for some defenseless animal to walk by so they could shoot it for no reason.

And hunters weren’t very bright, either. Those fools would take time off work and get up well before dawn to walk through the woods to just the right spot. Then they would sit and freeze half to death, all for meat they could have bought at the store for a fraction of the money, time and effort.

To be fair, I don’t know if my parents actually instilled these ideas in our heads or not, but when those thoughts were expressed in any circle we traveled, they always agreed. I do know that my father has always disliked hunters and does to this day.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40s and met Joe that my views began to change.

When we met, I just knew Joe and I were a perfect match. The only drawback was that he was a hunter. I didn’t know how far our relationship would go because of that.

He told me stories about when he and his dad went hunting and how much he missed the time they used to spend outdoors. We also talked about how much Joe loved hunting with his son Joey.

A teenager, Joey was able to join his father and uncle at their deer camp in Potter County. I was amazed at how big an event that annual trip was to them. They talked about it weeks before it was time to go. They spent hours shopping for supplies. They tested and cleaned their guns, checked equipment, and on and on. Their excitement was unbelievable — all this anticipation to shoot some poor animal?

Before the season opened, Joe took me to the hunting camp. It was night when we arrived, and the first thing we did was drive to the top of the mountain and turn off the lights of the truck. I was awestruck by the stars. It was beautiful! You could see every star God had placed in the sky, yet when I looked at Joe to see if he was as awestruck as I was, it was too dark to see him.

He then pronounced that we would go scouting the next day. I had no idea what he meant, but I knew it couldn’t be bad if we would be doing it on this mountain.

Once in the woods in the daylight, we saw rubs, scrapes, trails, bedding areas, tracks and all kinds of interesting things. It was starting to sink in. Joe was pretty smart. He knows I love animals and the outdoors, so he brought me to this beautiful place and spent all weekend walking through the woods with me, showing me all these wonderful things to soften me up.

Never in a Million YearsThe next week, Joe and Joey were sighting-in their guns and asked if I’d like to shoot one. I had never held a gun before, and I have to admit I was a little scared. Once I got over the initial fear, however, I realized shooting was pretty fun. I wasn’t too bad a shot, either. Once again, Joe was on point, helping me see that guns weren’t bad and that they didn’t go off until someone pulled the trigger.

When “the boys” were away at hunting camp, I did a lot of thinking. Maybe this hunting thing wasn’t all bad. Here was a man who had very close ties to his dad and respected him immensely. Joe’s teenage son, at a time when most boys don’t want to hang out with their fathers much, was going off with his dad and uncle to spend time with them and their buddies.

Joe and Joey have a mutual respect that’s wonderful to see, especially in this day and age. I think it comes from their mutual love of the outdoors. For the first time, there seemed to be more to hunting than just killing an animal. Later, I would learn about the traditions passed down from generation to generation — things like using a certain rifle to get a first deer and other charming oddities.

As time went on, I spent more time at the hunting camp with Joe. He introduced me to his friends who lived in the area, including Randy and Sue.

They are two of the most decent, honest and hard-working people I have ever met. They, along with Joe, helped me realize there are different kinds of hunters ... those who have respect for the land and animals on it, and ones who don’t. They helped me see that hunters serve an important purpose in nature, and that hunting isn’t easy. They really had to work to be successful.

Most surprising were the stories about unsuccessful hunts. Yet they had a great time, anyway. Next, I started to think about how the animals in the woods were able to run free and have a chance to get away. That can’t be said of those that end up under celophane at the grocery store.

In the summer of 2000, Joe bought me a hunting license under the agreement that I didn’t have to use it. If I went out and the opportunity came to shoot and I couldn’t pull the trigger, he would understand. I was excited for deer season that year. I wanted to be part of this wonderful group of people who loved and respected the land and the animals. Joe set up a treestand for me with another for him in the tree behind it.

Opening day finally arrived, and it seemed like forever until it was light enough to see. I was already freezing and thought, “This isn’t much fun.”

We didn’t see anything for hours, and then Joe said he was going to get down and walk a little to see if he could get something moving. Not long after he left, a group of deer headed my way. I was afraid I was going to panic, and I was desperately trying to remember all the things he had told me.

I wanted to shoot a deer, but I wanted it to suffer as little as possible and needed to get a good, clean shot. I remembered asking Joe where to shoot if the deer was coming straight for you. I aimed for that spot. It seemed like I had the crosshairs on it five minutes before I finally shot. I saw the deer jump, and then fall.

Just as I lowered my gun, Joe came crashing down through the woods toward me. He told me to direct him to where the deer was and not to get down until we had located it. He found it not far from where it was hit. It was a good shot, and I was glad it didn’t go far.

It was amazing how once those deer appeared, I was no longer cold. I barely remembered pulling the trigger or feeling any kick from the rifle.

Joe did the gutting for me and was going to have Joey drag it to the truck. But I shot it, so I wanted to drag it. By the time I arrived at the truck, I was glad it was a small deer (I have a lousy sense of direction and dragged it almost twice as far as I had to).

The following year, the only thing I “bagged” was Joe. We were married at the Brookland Club. I knew it was a special place for him, filled with many memories. His Dad had passed away, and I felt somehow that being married there, so close to the mountains they loved, was a way of having his dad share our special day. I also had fallen in love with the area, so much so that we bought a place and moved there permanently.

Last year, I wasn’t successful during the regular season but had fun, anyway. Even on the second day when it was so cold, I stayed in that stand until late afternoon. The view from the treestand was beautiful, especially when the sun was coming up.

I finally got a doe during the late muzzleloader season. I had never shot a muzzleloader before, so even that was quite an experience.

This spring, Joe and Randy took me on my first turkey hunt. I made them put me someplace all by myself, far from where they were hunting, because I didn’t want to ruin the hunt for them. I had a nice spot, and I just couldn’t believe my ears when the turkeys started gobbling. They didn’t sound real! I was sure it was another hunter.

I took out a box call and screeched around a little (I don’t really know what I was doing), and I was amazed that this turkey was answering me. It was awesome! I could hear him getting closer and closer. He came out into the open, but he must have spotted me, because he didn’t stay long. I really didn’t care, because the “talking” was enough for me. I just couldn’t believe it. It’s hard to describe the feeling.

I know I am hooked now, because I can’t wait for hunting season. And there is a turkey gun on my Christmas list. I guess the old saying is true … Never say “never!”

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This article was published in the August 2010 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

Copyright 2018 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2017 by Buckmasters, Ltd