Log in

Tanja's Deer Hunt

November 30, 2023 9:59 AM | Anonymous

Author: Tanja Eiben

The Becoming an Outdoors-Woman team has realized that the best way to get women involved in hunting is to begin at the end. What? Yup! Begin at the end of the hunt. The Friday evening icebreaker at the BOW workshops is a game taste. We might serve javelina chile or deep-fried bobcat. Most try everything and are surprised at how tasty our wild dishes are.

Add a charismatic enthusiastic instructor and magic happens. Because BOW is about breaking down barriers, we offer a big game field dressing class and a butchering class. John Davis has taught these two classes this year. We use a domestic goat for both classes. In April he was able to get a Barbary ram!

The students in these classes asked John for a deer camp similar to the javelina camp that one of our BOW leaders, Kathy Greene, does. He took it to heart and made it happen. He found sponsors with Safari Club International and the Outdoor Skills Network and rounded up a fantastic group of mentors. We were also able to get donations to pay for the food and porta-potties at the campsite from Yuma Desert Doves — Women On The Wing Pheasants Forever Chapter, Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club, and Valley of the Sun Quail Forever Chapter.

End result was 40 people total with 19 deer tags, at least half of which were BOW alumni! There were guest speakers, one-on-one instruction, and 4 deer harvested. All had a great time and everybody helped with camp duties. I especially appreciated John telling the group that this camp was not about taking a deer, it was about learning.

-Linda Dightmon, Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Administrator 

Tanja’s Deer Hunt

Over the 2023 Veteran’s Day weekend, I got to participate in a mentored Adult Beginners Deer Hunting Camp that paired beginner hunters and observers with an experienced volunteer mentor to teach and showcase them the skills necessary to hunt such an animal.

My volunteer mentor, Lera Petska, is a professional hunting guide and volunteers her time to a variety of mentored camps. I immediately liked her when she introduced me to her canine sidekick, Jones, a big Catahoula mix. Our little group was completed by Alex Stricklin, who came as an “observer”, with lots of curiosity to learn and enthusiasm about experiencing a hunt.

Our three-girl/one-dog team roamed the hills south of Arivaca, Arizona. Lera’s Forerunner took us on some of the nastiest and steepest roads I have ever conquered from the inside of a vehicle. That first day we saw quite a few deer and one buck, but could not get close enough for a shot.

The second day of our hunt was spent in the same fashion, as we covered miles and miles of beautiful Arizona desert and glassed countless hills and mountainsides. We got within less than a mile of the border to Mexico and then worked our way back up north. Despite not seeing any bucks, the time spent with Lera was not for nothing. I learned so much from her about deer behavior, like how to use the sun and the time of the day to gauge their activity level. There was lots of gear talk, as well as GIRL talk and mutual sharing of experiences in regard to health, relationships, and the challenges of an active lifestyle. Despite coming from very different backgrounds the three of us discovered countless similarities and formed a bond as a team. Jones claimed special status when he managed to get into my cooler bag. I came back to find that he had wolfed down my lunch sandwich, the boiled eggs, and all my cheese sticks! But those droopy hound eyes did their magic and I just could not be mad at him!

I could tell that Lera was getting frustrated because all the great deer areas were packed with other hunters and it was really difficult to get away from the crowds. On the third and last morning, we made one final push and, still in the dark, using some very questionable roads, drove way out to a very remote canyon that we started glassing before the sun came up. Suddenly Lera approached me and asked, “What do you think about getting a buck with one antler?” I responded, “That would be a cool animal, a real character buck with a story!”

Within minutes, all three of us were on our way, hugging the hillside and making our way up the steep slope to a high viewpoint over the canyon. This was the first time I actually had a rifle in a carrier tied to the back of my backpack. Lera’s gun had a bipod and a huge scope and the unfamiliar weight made me feel unbalanced. But it was so worth carrying it, as the scope was vital in spotting a buck on the hillside across the canyon about 450 yards away from us. Lera set up the rifle and by using various packs, we constructed a pretty solid rest that I could lay on and find a comfortable position with full view, control of the gun stock, and access to the trigger.

While we were adjusting the rifle, Alex declared “He just bedded down!”. Thankfully, she had kept an eye on the buck the whole time and was able to show us exactly the yucca plant under which he decided to lay down. I could just about make out his silhouette as well as his head with the flickering ears moving and with the help of a sunspot on his fur, Lera was able to point out the exact location of the vitals to me. I decided to take the shot while he was still lying down and being pretty much motionless, as I had a clear visual. Lera made sure we were all wearing ear protection and gave me the ok.

Things got pretty intense in my head, as I tried to take long, slow breaths and it took several attempts until I could find a moment of stillness after exhaling. I also prayed that I would not pull the gun with the trigger, an annoying bad habit I do sometimes. The gun went off and jumped and I lost sight of my all too familiar yucca plant. Lera yelled “He is down. One shot! You really know how to shoot!” I could not believe that this had finally happened and that we had the best possible scenario of a fast, clean kill. This was the moment when I put my head on my arms and shed some tears…of relief and gratefulness about just having taken a wonderful animal.

When we found the deer about 45 minutes later there were several surprises. It was a rather big-bodied buck for a whitetail and he had TWO antlers, one 3-point, and the other side being deformed and ending in one point. I was super excited about my special buck and so thankful that Lera helped us with taking professional photos…of the deer and of all three of us!

When we started gutting, it suddenly felt like a deja vu, exactly like what we had been practicing in the field dressing classes at BOW camp. Then, with our help, my badass mentor lifted the 80-pound deer on her shoulders and carried him out!

Back at camp, fortunately, I had lots of help with skinning and quartering the deer. Despite having gone through these steps in previous BOW classes, it was intimidating, as for the first time I completed the whole process from start to finish on my own animal. Thankfully, several participants and mentors stepped in when needed and gave tips and a helping hand.

My character buck — the first big-game animal I’ve gotten — will be showcased in a Euro mount, a throw made from his hide, and will make lots of wonderful dishes for my family and friends.

Protecting wildlife and their habitats through education, inspiration, advocacy, and action since 1923


Arizona Wildlife Federation

PO Box 1182,  Mesa, AZ 85211
(480) 702-1365


Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software