By Danielle Limberg
After years of invites, I finally joined my best friend, Julie, and her family at their hunting camp in Beauregard Parish, Louisiana.
I always loved the outdoors and had grown up fishing and mud riding. But the men in my family weren't hunters, so it's something I'd never been exposed to. On the other hand, Julie's family is very hunting-oriented and will chase any animal, anywhere.
The first step was signing up for a Hunter's Safety Course. I was the only girl in the class and was quite intimidated. But after not missing a single question and performing just as well as the guys on the shooting range, I was confident about starting my hunting career.
We arrived at Julie's place a few days before New Year's Eve 2008 but it was too late for an afternoon hunt, so we sat and talked around the bonfire and kidded each other about who'd bag the best buck.
L.J., Julie's dad, took me under his wing. He made sure I had everything I could possibly need and that I was comfortable with the .243 I'd be using for my first-ever hunt. You'd have thought I was his very own child.
I went to bed early so I'd be rested and ready to drag my monster out of the woods the next day.
I closed my eyes planned it all out. At first light, I'd see a huge buck, make the perfect shot and have my picture made hoisting the biggest buck ever taken on Julie's family's land.
I'd soon find out that, in hunting, things don't always go as planned.
By 6:30 a.m. the next morning, I was freezing my butt off. I sat and I sat and I sat, and I sat some more, shivering all the while.
Hours later, I heard a rustle behind me and just knew a beautiful buck with a freakishly big rack was going to step out in front of me!
I thought, here he comes . . . here he comes . . . huh? No! It's only a skunk. Ugh!
Two days later, I hadn't even seen anything brown. Now I was convinced I'd eat a tag sandwich, but at least I'd spent quality time with good friends.
Everything changed on the afternoon of Day Three - New Year's Day - which also happened to be my 28th birthday and the last day of my hunt.
Julie, who was pregnant and fatigued, stayed behind that day.
I'd been skunked again that morning and decided to stay in camp with Julie and enjoy my birthday instead of wasting the afternoon. Luckily, Julie's mom Gloria convinced me to sit in the stand with her.
I reluctantly agreed and took a book with me in case it was another snoozer of an afternoon.
I was into my book when something brown suddenly appeared across the field.
I traded the book for the rifle and looked through the scope.
"Horns!" I whispered to Gloria.
This was it! The adrenaline was really pumping as I eased the gun barrel outside the window.
As I peered through the scope, I kept hearing a sharp "tap, tap, tap, tap" noise. Gloria informed me I was shaking so bad that my gun barrel was bouncing off the shooting rail!
She leaned over and whispered, "Take a deep breath and get it together, kid."
All I could think was, "If I miss this shot I will never live this down."
After a few deep breaths, I somehow collected my nerves, took aim and squeezed the trigger. BOOM!
Four legs suddenly rolled skyward in the place where a buck had stood a millisecond before.
Then the realization hit me, "Oh my God, I just shot my first deer!"
Before Gloria knew it, I grabbed the camera and anxiously descended the ladder to get a picture with my buck. What a rookie mistake!
As I approached the downed buck, it suddenly got to its feet and walked into the woods as if I nothing had happened.
I was flabbergasted.
With dejection in my voice, I said, "I know I made a good shot. I know I hit it."
Gloria advised that we mark where it entered the woods and go back to camp to notify everyone.
We quickly formed a search team and decided to look for a blood trail before dark.
When we reached the field, I pointed to where it disappeared into the woods. Before I could say another word, the entire search team vanished into the darkness, leaving me standing alone without a flashlight. What a lonely feeling!
I listened to the searching, laughing, shouts and sometimes cursing, between the searchers.
Julie, who'd come to help with the search, suddenly announced she'd spotted a downed deer, but thought it looked like a doe.
I started to second guess myself, but I knew full well I'd seen antlers in the scope.
Had I just imagined them? Was I so excited to finally see something that I just shot? Was it even doe season?
But then the other searchers announced they'd seen points, four of them. What a relief!
The 4-pointer wasn't exactly the magazine cover giant I'd planned for, but I couldn't have been happier. What a birthday present!
Julie's brother Derrick dragged my prize out of the woods, and we headed back to camp around midnight.
Before I left the next day, everyone gathered to give me the first blood ritual. That moment really meant something to me, and it's something that will always be a part of me.
Now I go hunting now every chance I get and look forward to the season throughout the year.
You can say I'm hooked on hunting!