"I cried because I didn't know what else to do."
Garret and I celebrate a transforming moment in my life. Before this doe, I was not a hunter. Now I am.
I was not a hunter. I grew up playing in the woods behind my parents' house in rural Iowa, but I was not a hunter. As a child, I helped my dad pluck ducks after a fall harvest. As a teen, I often had to park my car in the driveway because a hanging deer had taken my spot in the garage. But I was not a hunter.
I had a bow and shot at targets. I even put on camo and trekked through the freshly planted cornfields with my fiancé to hunt turkeys. Still, I was not a hunter.
On October 5, 2007, my status changed. It was my second day of whitetail hunting. My fiancé, Garret, and I put on our hunting gear and settled ourselves into a tree on the edge of a bean field about 50 yards from a row of apple trees. We had scouted this spot the previous night while hunting on the opposite side of the field. That first night, we had watched an exodus of does cross the field out of my bow range, heading right for that row of apple trees. We would move over there. Our plan was set.
As we climbed into the plush hickory tree, the temperature was a sweltering 85 degrees. The wind was perfect and the cover was great. Now we just had to wait.
But we didn't have to wait long, as the procession of does soon began. I was amazed. This was the first time I had been this close to deer without their knowing I was there. My eyes were fixed on two does coming from my left, headed right to me. When the first doe came within range, I drew my bow and took a deep breath. She was supposed to walk to the right to present a broadside, 20-yard target for me. She did not. She kept left of the tree.
Now the doe was hidden by brush beneath the tree, and I was still at full draw with no shot. My arms burned under the weight of my bow, but I was terrified to let down. Until this moment, I didn't understand the importance of learning to collapse quietly. In my head, I was screaming at Garret to somehow help me. He is my teacher and my mentor, and he needed to do something. Just tell me it's okay to let go. Just tell me it's okay to breathe! I thought.
Finally, my willpower gave out, and I let down and dropped my head. Just as I was about to fall apart from the disappointment, a doe appeared to my right. I could just barely see her out of the corner of my eye. I waited for Garret to tell me to get ready again, but he didn't say anything. Doesn't he see her?
Slowly, I shifted my weight and prepared to draw again. My arms still ached and my heart raced. Get it together, Maggie. Get it together, I thought over and over, coaching myself back to the moment. Taking a deep breath, I began to draw -- and the arrow fell off the rest! The sound it created grabbed the doe's attention.
My arms still ached and my heart raced. Get it together, Maggie. Get it together, I thought over and over, coaching myself back to the moment.
Lifting the arrow back onto the rest with my finger, I managed to reach full draw and place my 20-yard pin on the doe, burning a hole right behind her shoulder. I'm not thinking. I'm not breathing. I'm praying. At that moment, the entire universe fell silent as I squeezed my thumb release and watched the white fletching fly through the air and hit the doe.
"Good shot!" Garret said over my shoulder.
"No! No, it wasn't a good shot. I think I hit her too low!" I said, as I strained to watch the fleeing doe.
Everything was perfect. What happened? I wondered. Tears filled my eyes at the thought that I may have wounded an animal.
"Watch her! Watch her!" Garret's voice jolted me back to the moment. The doe was standing 70 yards away. Then she sprinted a few yards and fell down. It took me a moment to realize she wasn't going to get back up.
"You did it!" Garret said. "You did it!"
I did do it! I had my first bow kill. Tears fell like raindrops down my cheeks. For the first time in what seemed like years, I took a breath. My hands were shaking and my body was exhausted. All I could do was cry, but not because I was sad. Yes, I respected the animal and her life, but I felt no guilt in killing her. From a young age, I had understood the circle of life and our place in the animal kingdom. I cried because I didn't know what else to do.
Garret and I sat and enjoyed the rest of the evening until darkness fell. After recovering the deer and field-dressing her, I saw something I wasn't expecting to find -- a giant hole, dead center through the doe's heart. This time, I didn't cry. I smiled, and didn't stop for hours. Right then, the world somehow looked different. I felt different. I was different.
I was a hunter.
Author's Notes: I used a Hoyt Sierra Tec bow, CX 100 arrows, 100-grain G5 B-52 broadheads, Metrao Precision bowstring, Trophyline Tree Saddle, and a GamePlan Gear Bow-Bat. To watch my entire hunt unfold live on video, visit G5 Outdoors' website at http://www.g5outdoors.com/#sec_video. The author and her fiancé live in Memphis, Michigan.