32 Year Old Deer

By Ken Kempa

Posted on 2015-03-30 18:40:52

The deer obviously was not aged to be 32 years old… that’s how old I was when I finally took my first deer. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs where you did not talk about owning any guns much less ever admit to hunting. None of my friends, my father or any immediate relatives, were into guns and shooting. Now, over twenty years later, I‘m very fortunate to have hunted in many states including Alaska, as well as the countries of Australia, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, and Zimbabwe. In two trips to Africa, I was able to collect over fifty animals for hardly the cost of a good elk hunt out west. Looking back, it amazes me that I did not take my first deer until I was 32, and now I consider myself truly blessed to have been able to hunt as much as I have. Before the actual hunt, some history is first in order. It all started with a cap gun and a working Bulldog Army tank.

Chapter 1: From Small Acorns

I loved watching westerns on TV when I was very young, so it was no surprise that for my 5th birthday I received a cowboy outfit complete with a hat, a blue western shirt, and of course a nickel plated single action cap pistol (yes toys were actually metal back then- no plastic) with a silver star-studded holster and belt! In just a few short months, as I burned through dozens and dozens of rolls of caps, my parents realized they had created a monster. After going to the store and talking them into buying me a box of caps with five or six rolls to the box, I was in shooting heaven for several days. Then the first time my dad bought me a package of six boxes of caps, I was giddy with excitement. I practiced and practiced with that cap gun until I thought I was real deadly with it, though how I could have known, with a cap gun that only goes “bang” and smokes without firing any projectile?

The following Christmas. my life changed forever when both my younger brother and I got battery-powered, REMCO U.S Army light Bulldog tanks with brass cartridges that fired real grey plastic bullets! They were, of course, Army green, with an aluminum barrel w/muzzle brake, real rubber tracks, grey wheels, small good-guy/bad-guy figurines… and REAL AMMUNITION!

Actually, it came with eight simple brass cases much like a .38 Special case with a primer-pocket sized hole though the back, and eight grey “bullets” which were shaped like a blunt spitizer, and a “tail” on the back end. The bullets were...

projected out the barrel when a firing pin would strike the tail end of the bullet, and the brass case would be ejected out of the front underneath the turret. The top loading magazine on the tank held 4 loaded rounds. Of course, I did not have a chronograph back then, but the velocity was enough to take out the bad guys, and could even destroy the best built fortress made of playing cards. Motorized and capable of almost going faster that a turtle, as long as the silver Eveready D cell batteries held out. The battles my brother and I staged raged for hours and hours. Now I was getting somewhere… projectiles!

A move from downtown Chicago to the suburbs when I was seven was the ballistic turning point for me. First came the red plastic AUTOBAND pistols which looked like a government .45, and could be loaded with and shoot eight or ten rubber bands. Those, in combination with the Bulldog tanks, growing armies of plastic soldiers, and more decks of playing cards, led to repeated battles that rivaled the conflict at Gettysburg. A few years passed before a special Christmas resulted in us both getting Daisy Pop and Smoke Carbines! They looked like a single barreled, lever action rifle, fired no projectile, but only made a large “blast” when fired while emitting a whisp of smoke from the barrel (as long as you remembered to put a drop of oil in the small port on the side of the barrel). While Daisy claimed “non-firing,” it did not take long for my brother and I and all the other boys on our block to figure out if you cocked the gun, and then jammed the muzzle in the dirt, when fired, the clod would be projected out with some force! For two summers, I clearly remember waging wars all day long with a half dozen kids on our block. How simple life was back then.

Chapter 2: Better Late Than Never

I was hooked, and just had to get a handgun of my own.

After much begging, I finally got my first BB gun when I turned 13. Yes, I was very ballistically slow as a child- not by my lack of desire, but because advancing my armament required a constant barrage of begging and pleading with my parents. A Daisy of course, modeled after a pump action Remington, gave me hope that someday I would get a real gun. A few years later, my dad surprised me one day when he came home from work and told me a distant uncle of mine was going to take me pistol...

shooting. Finally at 15 years of age, I would get my chance to shoot a firearm! My dad and I drove to a range where we met my uncle. I started off by shooting his S&W Model 41 .22 LR handgun. Then towards the end, he let me shoot a cylinder full through his K-38 Target Masterpiece in .38 Special with light wadcutter loads. I was hooked and just had to get a handgun of my own.

The next day he came home from work, with what could best be described as a pot-metal, horribly cheap, horrendously fit and finished “Saturday Night Special”.

I carefully began my process of selection to determine what my first handgun- my first gun of any kind- would be. After much research, going to gun stores and reading magazines (no such thing as the internet back then), I was determined to get a Thompson/Center Contender in .22 LR, as my high-school budget would only allow shooting that very low cost ammo, then only about 1.5 cents per shot! Earning only $1.75/hr. at the time, the purchase price of around $160 seemed formidable, but I reasoned that I could buy an additional barrel for less than $50, so for just over $200 total, I could essentially have two quality handguns. Though I was buying the gun with my own money, living under my parents’ roof required their permission. When I approached them, my dad suggested (insisted) that he would borrow a .22 from a guy at work, and if after shooting it for a few months I was still interested, then yes I could get the Contender.

The next day, he came home from work with what could best be described as a pot-metal, horribly cheap, horrendously fit and finished “Saturday Night Special”. I was elated! For the next two months, I went to the range twice a week, and was lucky to hit a piece of copy paper with every shot at 50 feet. Then as promised, my dad went with me to a local gun store to order the octagon barreled Contender in .22 LR, which would arrive in a few days. Finally, I was on my way to my first real gun.

Chapter 3: First Handloads and Ballistics Lessons

The next day, I decided to try an experiment, the first in a lifelong pursuit of a sound ballistics education, and purchased a tin of .22 starter pistol blanks and a tin of .22 air rifle pellets at the local store. I was going to “create” a gallery load I could shoot in the garage. This would be my first attempt at reloading and creating...

custom handloads without having to go to the range. How smart was I?

Thinking it stuck in the inside layer of Masonite, I walk up to it and peer closely.

Later that day, when my parents were not home of course, my younger brother and I headed for the garage. Both overhead doors were closed. I slipped a .22 pellet into the cylinder, and inserted a .22 blank right behind it, then swung the cylinder closed.What to shoot? My brother pointed at a cardboard box on the shelves against the outside wall, which was labeled “GOOD TABLECLOTH”, and he said, “SHOOT THAT ONE!” So of course, I did. A dark hole appeared on the box, and we immediately went over and opened it to recover the slug. Historically, this was the start of my terminal ballistics career, and the quest to recover fired bullets to see how they performed. I Peeled the nice folded tablecloth back layers at a time, I soon gave up trying to recover it, closed the box, and returned it to its place on the shelf. So my first attempt did not go so well. I told my brother I really wanted to recover a pellet; we needed something to stop it. So he said, “SHOOT THE GARAGE DOOR!” So of course, I did. CRACK- and a black dot suddenly appeared on the garage door. Thinking it stuck in the inside layer of Masonite, I walked up to it and peered closely.

“The Browns across the street got a new car!” I exclaim.

That also was my very first “Oh sh_t!” moment in life, one I will never forget

I knew this because I saw completely through the hollow core garage door; the pellet gave full penetration! That also was my very first “Oh sh_t!” moment in life, one I will never forget. Panic set in. We were looking at a .22 caliber hole on the inside skin of the door. Quickly we unlocked the wounded door, opened it, went outside, and then closed it. As it descended, we were horrified to learn our second ballistic lesson: Bullets can make BIGGER HOLES during exit than entry. Although there was only a .22 caliber hole through the outer Masonite, a CRATER the size of a quarter surrounded that. As the door was painted black, the brown crater surrounding the hole looked like a 12 gauge slug had tried to pass through without expanding. This is also the first time in my life I ever really swore a lot, and I am not ashamed to admit there was no shortage of tears too,...

and the casting of blame at my brother, for commanding me to do such a stupid task. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the NEXT DAY my dad was to take me to pick up my first ever handgun, my first ever firearm.

Add “woodworking and painting” to my young list of new skills.

I have always thought myself to be a quick thinker, and this situation quickly proved that to be true. We lived right behind a hardware store, so I ran over and purchased a 3-foot section of ¼” dowel rod. Getting back home in record time, I checked and saw that it was a snug fit in the “pass-through” hole. I quickly cut a short section, smeared some wood glue on it, and tapped into place so it was flush with the inside. Going outside I saw I needed to trim it just a bit, so I went back inside to get a loose hacksaw blade for trimming. “When are my parents coming home?” I thought to myself. Now the outside of the garage door had a crater with a wood post in the center. Back to my dad’s workbench and I spotted a small can of wood putty- a mixture of glue and sawdust- and grabbed a putty knife. Once back outside, I quickly worked to fill in and level the crater,casting blame on my brother during the whole process. Actually, the skin of the door looked pretty nice when I was done. Back again to the workbench, where underneath I found a partial gallon can of exterior black paint. When are my parents coming home? I dashed outside and artfully painted over the fresh wood putty and end of the dowel. Add“woodworking and painting” to my young list of new skills.

We both stood back and accessed the repair. Actually, it looked real good; mom and dad might not even notice it! But I never, ever for even a moment thought about not telling them (at least my dad… it’s a “guy” thing after all). My parents raised me to be honest, to always tell the truth. They always told us that telling a lie will get us in a whole lot more trouble than telling the truth, so that is what I knew I must do… the next morning.

Silence… I sat there with my head down for what seemed like an eternity.

I woke up an hour earlier than usual, and quietly sat at the kitchen table, eating my cereal at a record slow pace. Later, my brother told me he was up the whole time, still lying in bed listening, but pretending to be asleep. My dad went through...

his normal routine, started a pot of coffee, went downstairs to shower and shave. Up he came,made one slice of toast and began drinking his one cup of coffee. There was no good time to speak, but I sensed he was about to get up and leave, I spoke out.

The first year I had the Ruger, I put over 40 lbs. of lead bullets through it, all cast on my good-natured mother’s gas range top.

“Dad I did a really stupid thing yesterday. I bought some .22 blanks and a tin of .22 air rifle pellets, so I could have a light load to shoot through the gun. In the afternoon when you and mom were gone, I loaded a pellet into the cylinder and put a blank in behind it. Then I shot it at the inside of the garage door so I could recover the pellet and see what it looks like, but it went completely though the door.” Silence…

“I got a wood dowel, plugged the hole, and patched the crater on the outside with wood putty, then painted it. You can hardly see it at all.” Silence… I sat there with my head down for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally he spoke. “What you did was very dangerous. What if someone had been outside and gotten hurt? It seems like you learned a valuable lesson. Don’t ever do anything so foolish like that again. We don’t need to say anything to your mother about this. I’m glad you told me the truth; it shows you are becoming a man. When I get home we will go and pick up your Contender.” My father kept his word, and after work we did go and pick up my first gun. The respect I had for my dad soared far above the relief I felt then, for the foolish thing I had done, which he choose to forgive.

Chapter 4: Real Job, More Guns

After I graduated high school and got a real job, I began to add to my gun collection. A Marlin model 39 .22 lever gun, a few shotguns, and a hand gun or two. My first centerfire rifle was a Ruger #1 single shot in .45-70, for which I paid full retail at $265. Also, walking out with a new Leupold 1-4 scope, I still remember shaking a bit after writing out a check for almost $500. The first year I had the Ruger, I put over 40 lbs. of lead bullets through it, all cast on my good-natured mother’s gas range top. Soon came a .222 Remington, a .270, .300 Win Mag, and a .338. My collection slowly grew. I shot handguns twice a week indoors,and clay birds maybe once a month. My real love though was...

rifles in medium and large calibers. It got to where I was shooting over 8,000 rounds of .338 and larger calibers a year at an outdoor range. By the time I was 30, I had a nice collection, but had yet to go hunting. None of my friends hunted, none of my relatives, and no one at work did. It seemed like I might never get to harvest a deer. Then, one winter it happened.

Chapter 5: First Deer Hunt


I had been married for three years when my brother-in-law stopped by just before Christmas. In with the presents he brought was some smoked hard sausage. Cutting off the end, I took a bite. It tasted a lot like salami.

“What is this?” I asked him.

“Venison sausage.” he said.

“It’s great! Where did you get it?”

“I had it made from the deer I shot in November.” he stated nonchalantly.

“You hunt deer? I’ve been married to your sister for three years, you know I have lots of guns, and you never thought to mention you hunt?” I was flabbergasted by his oversight.

“In southern Illinois EVERYONE hunts deer! Would you like to come down next fall and hunt?” he asked.

The next spring, I applied for the area he suggested, and happily got my permit later in the year. I was so excited, but also a little scared. I was 32 years old, had fired over 100,000 rounds of high-power rifle ammunition that I loaded myself, but had never taken a deer, much less even gone hunting. What if I suddenly became a bad shot, or could not do it when the moment arrived? The pressure and fear began to build more than the excitement. So I focused instead on working up loads and practicing at the range even more. Then I find out that in southern Illinois you can only hunt deer with a shotgun! I had over a dozen great deer rifles, but would have to use a shotgun!

As well rounded as my rifle lineup was, I only had a few shotguns. A break open single shot, a few pumps… oh, and my 12 gauge Valmet 412S over and under made in Finland. Fortunately, the rib came with mounting grooves for a scope mount. As the company also offered double rifle barrel sets and combination shotgun over rifle, they had decided that all configurations would be...

set up for easy scoping. On goes a Leupold 1-4 power scope, and I purchased a dozen boxes of Active shotgun slugs that featured an almost wadcutter shaped 1 oz. slug. My first trip to the range and I am getting 1-1/2” groups at 50 yards with the over and under Valmet. However, the upper barrel is printing its groups about six inches higher than the bottom barrel. Happy with each group size, but disappointed with the great difference in point of impact, I keep looking though the scope trying to figure out what to do. And then I see it.

The top barrel’s point of impact is the center of the fine crosshair, and the lower barrel’s point of impact is exactly at the place where the lower reticle’s thicker duplex begins, just below the fine crosshair. Switching to a new target, I begin by firing the bottom barrel first- aiming with the top of the lower duplex, then fire the top barrel- aiming with the center of the fine crosshair. A moment later, I am rewarded with an inch-and-a-half,six-shot group at 50 yards as fired from an over and under shotgun! Come November, certainly I’ll have the nicest shotgun on opening day down in southern Illinois.

Chapter 6: Opening Morning

They also made sure I had a good stand, and said I most certainly would at least see a nice buck.

I am pretty much sick to my stomach, and constantly feel like I am going to lose breakfast at any moment. I feel ashamed as here I was an accomplished shooter, but having no more hunting experience than a ten year old, still in grade school. Everyone in camp was really nice and encouraging, telling me I know how to handle a gun, I’m a good shot, and I’ll do just fine. That was really helpful to hear. They also made sure I had a good stand, and said I most certainly would at least see a nice buck.

We headed out well before dawn and walked through a forest. The floor of the forest was covered in crunchy leaves that had fallen weeks before. My brother-in-law directed me to the stand on the corner of two fence lines, and said he would be back in the early afternoon. “Good luck!” he said as he walked off in the darkness, leaving me all alone in the woods with my scoped Valmet.

It’s hard to say if I was more nervous or more excited; for sure I was very high strung. At first light, I began to hear shots fired in the distance, but never even saw a doe early...

on. Then at around 9:30, a medium sized four pointer came over the hill, walking along the fence line, and headed straight for me. I was so focused on waiting for a classic broadside presentation that I let him come to within 30 yards of me without even considering a shot. Then, as if on cue, at about 25 yards, he turned to my right, and began walking broadside to me.

At about 40 yards distance, he paused for just a moment, and the big flat-nosed slug was sent on its way. He was hit on the left side, about midway up, near the back ribs. I was hoping the slug would diagonal forward and out his far shoulder, and that is exactly what happened. He barely walked ten steps, and fell over without a quiver. It was a very quick and humane kill, as I had prayed for. I was elated beyond belief, but reloaded the fired barrel in case he got up and started to run off. I knew no better, as this was my very first deer, and only went by what I had read in magazines. Since I would see no one in my party for at least another 3 or 4 hours, I climbed down to approach my buck.

Chapter 7: Field Dressing 101

It was far scarier to me, than assembling complex toys late at night on Christmas Eve.

Picture this: you are 32 years old, have just taken you very first deer, and are all alone. How do you field dress a deer? Well I was prepared. In my pocket were two folded up pages cut from a popular hunting and fishing magazine. In anticipation of the deer season opener, they had printed step-by-step instructions on field dressing. Imagine my uncertainty- holding a knife I had never used, kneeling before a deer I had never taken before, about to open it and remove all of the organs, no one else around, with only some photos in a two page spread of how to field dress a deer. It was far scarier to me, than assembling complex toys late at night on Christmas Eve!

It “only” took me about forty-five minutes to dress my game, which I thought was pretty good, all things considered. From a cap gun, Bulldog tank, and everything in-between, to my first ever deer, I had come full circle. Days afterwards, as I cooked my first skillet of venison and proudly served it to my family, I understood just a little more of what hunting was all about.



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