An Ice Cold Morning, a Savage 24, and My Very First Deer

John Wayne Taylor's home

JWT for TTAG

It was, as my dad would say, “colder than a well digger’s ass.” There was even a little snow covering the Texas Hill Country grass.

I was probably 8 years old, and scrawny for my age. Shivering underneath an ashe juniper, my outfit consisted of the only jeans I owned, a bright green 4H jacket, and the patchwork quilt my great aunt Lotti made for me. I tucked tight into the base of the tree, hiding under the quilt for warmth, and dozed.

I was deer hunting.

My weapon of choice was no choice at all. It was the gun I had and if there was a better choice for the task at hand, I didn’t know it. In fact, I knew little about the gun. If you had asked me who made it, I would have told you “Savage” because it said so on the barrel.  If you had asked me the caliber, I would have said .22 and .410, for the same reason. At the time, I wouldn’t have known that there were such a thing as “models” or that my constant companion was a Savage Model 24.

That said, I knew what was important.

First, I was rightly terrified of the whipping I would receive if I misused it. Safety was a priority.

I also knew how to clean and maintain the gun. I got it well-used, and I can with surety say that it was better off in my hands. My pride of ownership kept it in ideal condition. It got wiped down and cleaned every time I handled it. My lubricant of choice: Crisco.

I also knew how to load it, aim, and fire it. Back when .22LR cartridges were pennies a round, a kid could actually afford a brick here and there if, for instance, he worked picking up trash at his dad’s construction site. One round at a time, that hard-won brick of ammunition could last a while.

The .410 shells were harder to come by. I don’t ever remember having more than a 20-round box, and never more than a single box of 5 slugs.

I walked the fields every single day with my dog and that Savage. Many a Bobwhite would fall to the smoothbore. I had no idea it was only considered “sporting” to shoot them in flight. Hunting wasn’t then, and isn’t now, a sport. For a poor kid, it was more often than not the meat I’d shoot, clean, cook, and eat for myself. The dog would get some too. He was good dog.

That cold morning the dog would stay in the house, but the Savage came along.

I had some advantages on that first solo hunt, both known and unknown. My caliber “choice” wasn’t one of them.

I don’t remember how I came up with the idea that I could take a deer with a .410 slug. I had seen many deer taken before that day, but all with bolt action or lever action rifles. I knew how it was done. I’d tagged along on previous hunts with my dad and uncles, and had helped clean and butcher many deer.

My gun was not the Winchester Model 70 like my dad’s, but I didn’t know any better. I guess the only real comparison I had to the .410 slug was the .22 shorts and LRs I was used to firing from the same gun. Of course, by that metric, I must have assumed the shotgun slug was capable of anything.

The biggest advantage I had was that I knew exactly where the deer would be, and when they’d be there.  My entire life revolved around the land we lived on. I roamed thousands of acres freely, and my days would be filled following the game trails through the fields and the brush.

I knew where the does bedded down, inside a small clearing ringed tightly by brush on the south side of a limestone hill nearby. I had followed their trails many times, over the rocky hill and down to the long field and under the big oak trees where they fed. I often sat and watched them eat. I don’t know how far away they were, but I remember listening to the acorns crunch in their mouths, and the sounds their hooves made when they scraped the ground.

The other advantage I had was that I was small. I could tuck under a tree or bush and be so little and so still that nothing or nobody would find me. Well, except for Max. My dog always eventually sniffed me out.

And finally, although I didn’t know it at the time, my choice of “gear” would also help me out.  That patchwork quilt aunt Lotti made? It’s primary color was pink, which deer see as another shade of grey.  Wrapped around my skinny frame, it was likely ideal camouflage underneath the brush.

It was the sound of her hooves on the rock that woke me up.

The bush I snuggled under was in a spot that overlooked the field where I had watched them feed. In hindsight, my choice of hide-site was ridiculous. It was 90 yards down to the field from my perch, and although I had shot many cans at that distance with the .22 barrel, it was an impossible distance for an ethical shot with a 2 1/2″ .410 slug.

.410 rifled slugs vintage

Courtesy Zeppy.io

It wouldn’t matter, the doe hadn’t made it down to the field yet. She was pawing hard at the ground on a ridge below my position.

As I slept, she must have walked right by me, within just a few feet of where I was laying. She had walked by me, actually around the very bush I was under, to a spot just below. I had never been that close to a deer before. I could see her eye lashes.

I remember two things. First, I had to pee really badly. Second, I’d need to shoot that deer first.

Moving as little as possible, I slid the Savage from underneath the quilt, and aimed at the top of her shoulder. It took forever. I remember my heart pounding, waiting for an ear to turn, her head to pick up, a nostril to flair, find me, and bolt. She didn’t.

I remember holding my breath. I remember what her hair looked like under my front sight. I remember the gun going off. I assume I pulled the trigger.

Her head was still down when the slug hit her, knocking her from the ledge she was standing on. I had been watching her all that time, and now she disappeared from sight.

I laid there, shaking from the excitement rather than shivering from the cold. Like I was taught, I waited for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably all of three minutes.

Crawling out from underneath the bush, I finally relieved myself and was reminded of how cold it was. I wrapped the quilt back around me and walked to ridgeline to find the doe.

I didn’t have to look far. She had fallen just below the ridge and never took another step. I would return to the spot as an adult and see that she was no more than 15 yards from the muzzle when I shot her. Likely much less.

At the downward angle I shot her from, the round passed through her entirely. As I struggled to drag her down the hill to a small dirt road between it and the field below, one of her shoulders felt squishy and weird.

With the excitement of the shot wearing off, and the struggle of dragging her in the cold already wearing on me, I got to the next task at hand. I had helped field dress deer before, but had never tried it all by myself.  I got it done with my Uncle Henry pocket knife.

Whereas I was now a successful big game hunter, I was still not much of a planner.

As small as our does are and field dressed, she still probably weighed 70 pounds.  I hadn’t yet hit 50lbs. That math didn’t quite make it into my figuring, and dragging the deer down the mile long dirt road to my house wasn’t working out at all.

I was still struggling at it when I heard the truck.

We lived way out on a small piece of property surrounded by a large goat ranch. The two old men driving up the road were the fourth generation Texans who owned the ranch and the hand that had worked it his entire life. They were in fact old men, and not just old in a child’s eyes. They lived long lives blessed with the honors of family and the respect of a community. I was a grown man by the time Mr. Bennet died, and I still cried when I heard the news.

They stopped the truck and no doubt marveled at what they saw.  I was grateful when they offered to put the deer in the truck and bring it to my house, and beamed with pride when they remarked on the shot.  I know I did an acceptable job field dressing the deer, because they told me so. I still remember how big that made me feel.

They hung the deer in a Live Oak near our house and then helped me butcher it up and put the meat in our freezer. The crafty old men kept the backstraps. Heck, they’d earned ’em.

deer butcher guide venison

Bigstock

That afternoon I cooked a steak with peppers and onions wrapped in foil stuck in the red coals of our fire pit. The next morning, my mom made buttered biscuits with slices of tenderloin between them. She wasn’t one bit surprised, but she was proud. That’s still my favorite breakfast.

As an epilogue, fast forward about 30 years, to my young son watching the deer have a time with his grandmother’s garden. I sat next to him on Christmas eve, and pulled the screen off one of the open windows of her sun room as he slid that very same old Model 24 out the window and aimed it at the nearest doe.

Fifteen yards at most, and we butchered her together.

comments

  1. avatar Porridgeweasel says:

    That was a quality story that brought me back to a time that I often feel is gone forever. Thanks for sharing that one.

  2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Huh, I never thought of .410 shotgun slugs being very good for taking even small does since the slugs only weigh 95 grains.

    Will they kill a deer? Of course. My concern is that the deer runs a half mile away or more before it keels over and dies. I suppose that doesn’t matter if you are hunting on thousands of acres. Where I hunt on small parcels (some as small as five acres), I want the maximum possible probability that a deer will not run more than 80 yards after a good heart/lung shot. And for that case, .410 shotgun slugs seem to be inadequate.

    Excellent story Mr. Taylor. I sure wish someone would have taken me out hunting when I was young and shone me the ropes. Instead, I had to wait until I was 16 years old (the minimum age to hunt alone in my state) to strike out on my own without any mentoring whatsoever. Needless to say, I wasn’t successful until my brother-in-law and his father mentored me at the age of 19 years old. Unfortunately, I only hunted for the next two seasons and would not return to deer hunting until about 20 years later.

    Fast forward 20 years and I was still striking out on my own without hardly any mentoring. Persistence then comes into play: if you stick with it, you will learn and become a successful hunter (which is like pretty much everything else).

  3. avatar Manny A says:

    My wife bought me a 24-v as a Christmas present. 357 mag over 20 gauge. Have kept it for years broken down into its 3 components in a backpack with a telescoping pole, some loads I make up with 2400, some wad cutters, a few assorted shothells, slugs, lures and tackle. Would be the only thing I would grab in a bug out besides my revolver if I had to live in the Bush and walk there.

  4. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

    “I sat next to him on Christmas eve, and pulled the screen off one of the open windows of her sun room as he slid that very same old Model 24 out the window and aimed it at the nearest doe.”

    How did you manage to pull a screen from a window with a doe 15 yards away and the doe not bolt?

    1. avatar jwm says:

      I’ve had to shoo deer off the trail in front of me with my hat. Deer, like people, have some smart alert ones and then, as my son likes to call them, there’s the slow uncle joe type.

      He looked puzzled when I asked him if he liked Petticoat Junction. There really is a generation gap.

    2. avatar jwtaylor says:

      I’m not sure I understand the question. I just reached up unpined it and slowly pulled it down.

      1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

        Opening a window and manipulating the screen makes *noise* that a game animal like deer uses to warn it of danger.

        So, that deer just didn’t care?

        if so, I guess it deserved what it got…

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          Ah, yeah, she lived pretty rural but still, those deer were pretty used to someone being there. I was careful but doubt they were particularly skiddish.

  5. avatar jwm says:

    Prior to the gca of 68 we had a little country store near my grandparents in KY. If you were local or known by the locals the gentleman behind the counter would sell even us kids ammo. In addition to the various calibers and gauges that he sold by the box there was always an open box of .22s and .410s that he would sell you as many shells as you could afford out of.

    Lot of summer days I would go in there and buy a dozen .22s or 5 .410s. A lot of us kids did that. I would rather buy ammo than soda pop or candy.

    1. avatar Geoff "Guns. LOTS of guns..." PR says:

      In the late 60s in North Carolina, the corner store had boxes of 25 .22lr cartridges for a quarter right next to the register…

  6. avatar Wedge259 says:

    The first deer I shot was with a Mosin M44 carbine. I paid $55 for it back in the early or mid 2000’s, it was as much as 13 year old me could afford! I don’t say it was MY first deer as my uncle and I were both shooting at it, so we called it a “team effort”. At the time I was plagued with the Mosin “sticky bolt”, the bolt would jam up after every shot and I had to put it butt down on the ground and stomp down on the bolt to get it to open. The doe stood there and looked at us while this was going on. It was a bizarre situation as it didn’t seem to react to being shot. Once it was down it had about ten holes in it, 7.62x54r for me and 30-30 from my uncle, and it was still alive! A few years after I got my first deer that was my own with a borrowed 243. Most of the shots we made in the area we hunted were within 50 yards and on running targets. I remember thinking that I had to lead a running target, so my first two shots missed. The third shot I put the scope crosshairs right on the front edge of its chest and it fell instantly. I remember my dad being an excellent shot and rarely needing more than one shot at almost any distance. I’ve only been out a couple times since he died 11 years ago, hoping to go out with my brothers this year and get back into it.

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      my dad often referred to my cousins that I often hunted with as “meat -hunters”….single-barreled shotgun with an extra round in their teeth, and all that…they honed their skills and scored because they had to….needed some meat to go with that free govt. cheese!….

  7. avatar Jeff the Griz says:

    Thanks JWT. Reminds me of all the deer I missed as a youth, before I learned how to fill the freezer.

    I wish I had the property to roam like I did as a teen. Our 20 was nice but the three 80’s of neighbors that were summer homes to the South of ours and the 180 acres of land to the West I had permission to be on from Sept to March made for some amazing memories.

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      lots of stories…some hunt for years before finally getting the knack of it…others go out and score in their initial effort..and say: “what’s the big deal?”….go figure….

      1. avatar frank speak says:

        ….remember our sgt. on the morning shift in a downtown Pittsburgh office building lecturing us on the difficulties of turkey hunting…as he did so, a small flock walked past the glass doors and up the sidewalk behind him…too funny!…and a true story….

        1. avatar jwm says:

          I live in the bay area of CA. Millions of people, hiways the whole magilla. I’ve had flocks of wild turkeys on my lawn.

          I shit you not. The last flock I saw was in the drive thru for a Taco Bell. I see them all the time in the areas I hunt and hike.

          Until the opening day. Then they vanish. I think there is a super secret underground bunker they all go to on the night before opening day. Only possible explanation.

        2. avatar jwtaylor says:

          JWM, ain’t that the truth. There is a gobbler near our house that raises hell yelling all day long, right until season. I’ve never seen that SOB within a hundred yards.

  8. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Great hunting story. I remember every detail of the first deer I killed. A three point. My mom sewed a black velvet cover for the skull cap. Dad bought a walnut plaque that we sanded an finished. Topped it off with a small brass plate with my name and date of the hunt engraved. I still have it today.

    1. avatar frank speak says:

      ….seemed like I always got whoever I was hunting with to gut whatever I shot…rabbits, birds, etc…but when I shot that first deer,..a nice eight-pointer…everybody gathered around, but nobody lifted a finger….that was quite an initiation!…..

    2. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Nice. I’ve done skull cap mounts for a few people who’ve hunted with me as their first deer. I cover the skull cap with red velvet and then ring the base of the antlers and the cap with some gold braided thick cloth yarn and then mount it on an acorn shaped plaque. Any time I visit any of their houses, it is always displayed. Makes me pretty happy to see the pride they have in it.

  9. avatar Matt in Oklahoma says:

    Awesome story. I like hearing these

  10. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Fun story.

    I was rarely successful deer hunting as it was might easy to nod off.

    I killed my first at 14 with my 357 Highway Patrolman at ……about 15 yards.

    I imagine a 410 slug is pretty similar (ballistically) to a 357 .

    Mine was a 158 JHP that did not slow down much in the south MS whitetail. (We called them goats).

    My previous deer gun was a Springfield single shot 20 gauge. Couldnt hunt with a rifle in our game mgt area. Didnt matter anyway….we didnt have a centerfire rifle.

    I asked them game Warden if I could use my 357 and he had to noodle it. Decided it wasnt a rifle and didnt have the range, so it was fine.

    I didnt kill a deer with a rifle until I was in my 20s. And it was a Marlin 1894 in 357.

    Whatever it takes to get it done.

  11. avatar jackalope says:

    In 1971, 12 year old me wanted nothing as much as a Savage Model 24C, 22lr/20ga
    No amount of begging and pleading caused it to happen. After a while, I moved on. By the time I was 18 I was buying my own rifles. Fast forward to 2012, a non-shooting friend of mine was clearing out his deceased father-in-law’s gun collection. My friend wasn’t anti-gun but his wife sure was. I helped him go through the collection. Lots of cool stuff that I didn’t have the money for. But I did get a pristine Savage Model 24C, at last! My friend sold it to me for $120, a nice 10/22 for $80, and a Colt 1903 32ACP for another $120. The Savage is a great little gun and well worth the wait. What I didn’t buy from my friend would break the heart of everyone reading this. I’m barely over it myself.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      I finally got my 24 again just a couple of months ago. .22/20 gauge.
      Made me giddy to see it on the used rack!

  12. avatar jackalope says:

    In 1971, 12 year old me wanted nothing as much as a Savage Model 24C, 22lr/20ga. No amount of begging and pleading caused it to happen. After a while, I moved on. By the time I was 18 I was buying my own rifles. Fast forward to 2012, a non-shooting friend of mine was clearing out his deceased father-in-law’s gun collection. My friend wasn’t anti-gun but his wife sure was. I helped him go through the collection. Lots of cool stuff that I didn’t have the money for. But I did get a pristine Savage Model 24C, at last! My friend sold it to me for $120, a nice 10/22 for $80, and a Colt 1903 32ACP for another $120. The Savage is a great little gun and well worth the wait. What I didn’t buy from my friend would break the heart of everyone reading this. I’m barely over it myself.

  13. avatar conrad says:

    My dad used to say it was colder than a witches’ tit.

    1. avatar SouthernShooter says:

      My maternal grandmother would add …in a brass bra 😄

      1. avatar Specialist38 says:

        Yup.

  14. avatar enuf says:

    A very good story and an enjoyable read, thank you.

    Always wanted a Savage 24 as a kid. What I wanted tho they never made, which was a .308 and 12ga combo. That was available briefly in some guns made in Finland and Italy, but I was an adult by that time and didn’t want an imported gun.

    There was a Savage 24 in .30-30/12ga. Turns up in GunBroker auctions now and then.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Look for the BRNO version.

  15. avatar Tsay Nguyen says:

    My first kill was a bad shot. Hit a little buck in the ass from too far away. Iron sights, standing straight up with my great grandpa’s brush gun (an old Winchester lever action 32 special). Didn’t really know what I was doing. I F’d up the whole put him out of his misery part too. Still, it was probably better for the baby buck than a “natural” death.

  16. avatar Garrison Hall says:

    When the songs are sung and the stories are told . . . This was a worthy story, Jon. It’s events like this that shape our lives.

  17. avatar JoeV says:

    That was a great story. It was a high note to end a night of reading on.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Thanks

  18. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Jon,
    I saved reading this for this morning.
    A chill in the air, a cup of coffee, watching the sun rise.

    Great story. What a great memory to have. Thanks for sharing that.

    I’ll bet eating that over the next few months made you sit a little straighter and the smile a little bigger.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Thank you sir.

  19. avatar ChoseDeath says:

    Brother, you are an amazing storyteller! Thank you so much for sharing. Do you have anything published?

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Not unless you’re into Emergency War Surgery. I have written for and edited a few medical journals and manuals, but all technical stuff.
      This story, like most of my hunting stories, was going to be in a dead tree journal, but they weren’t going to publish for months, so I put it up here instead.
      Print magazines pay about 10X what TTAG does for articles, but they take forever, edit too much, and then provide no way to interact with the reader. If this was my job, I would definitely be focused on print. But it’s not. It’s a mission.

  20. avatar Kap says:

    This Story brought back many Memory’s, being dirt ass poor, Dad was a war Vet with PTSD so imbibed a lot of the paycheck, my Step Mother was a Spar in WW2 and a great shot, we would set on the porch and shoot clothes pins off the clothesline for a dime apiece! we had 3 weapons in the House, Dads rifle was a .32 Marlin Lever action and no one touched that gun ever.; a pump action Remington .22 with missing charge tube, and the model 24 was the only shotgun we had in the House, I have taken many an animal with this nifty gun including Deer, Grouse, Ducks, Goose, Squirrel, Rabbit! also used it one night when an escaped work farm guy came looking for my sister!

  21. avatar SpeedBump says:

    Great story indeed!

    Kind of like my first kill in the deep woods of East Texas.

    Wish I had a Nickle for every deer that has sneaked by me while I was dozing.

    Somehow it seems, they always know when it’s safe to get by us, then they humiliate us by waving good by with that tail wave…

    These days I’ve grown too soft hearted to hunt deer any longer. I guess im not as hungry as use to be, yet will still take pigs, tree rats, and all variety of flying Fast Food when opportunity presents itself.

    I still have the original model 24 Savage that was in my hands in the womb!

    Seems that is where it came from. Have had it all my life of 60 years, and never could get an answer from family where it came from.

    Don’t guess it matters anymore, I’m going to try to take it with me at trails end.

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      I tip my hat to you.

      1. avatar SpeedBump says:

        Graciously returned Tom,,

  22. avatar James A."Jim" Farmer says:

         I can definitely relate to this. For for the farm, plantation, homestead, ranch, tree farm, trap line, camp, mining claim,desert, mountains, woods, wilderness (foraging and outdoor survival, or whatever), one of these chambered in .22 Long Rifle with a .410 or 20 gauge shotgun bottom barrel is very *versatile. It’s ashamed way too many gun writers today, with few exceptions, dwell too  much on “tactical”. The historical nostalgia from our rural past certainly comes to mind. How times and values in America have changed over the last several generation.  It’s  taking great granddad’s  .300 Savage rifle: Model 99 lever action into the woods during fall hunting season to fill the family freezer with fresh venison  (deer) and elk meat. Or decades back   where there was a 12 gauge Winchester Model 97 “hammer” pump-action shotgun inside the closet or propped behind the door of a rural farmhouse vs. today. And a food pantry of canned goods and fruits stored inside a cool pantry off the kitchen. And a Bible kept by the chair in the living room off the bedroom.  I know, because  I have witnessed and experienced such myself. 

    Sentiments of Jim Farmer, Merrill, Oregon (Klamath County) Long Live The State of Jefferson!

     “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” —– 1 Thessalonians 5:17

    *For an all around versatile handgun for the triple purpose of “self defense/house protection/concealed carry”, including outdoor and wilderness survival, for the 21st century, It would be hard to improve upon Ruger’s SP-101 .357 Magnum revolver with 4.2″ barrel,(double-action, stainless steel, and five shot swing out cylinder). Especially when retrofitted with hand filling grips and a decent lined holster. Next to a .22 or .32 the .38 Special 148 grain lead target wad-cutter loading is highly useful for hunting small game: rabbit,squirrel, and grouse, or likewise for dispatching vermin such as skunk, possum, raccoon, etc. Even for butchering livestock such as cattle, with a head shot. For rattlesnakes up close CCI’s classic .38 Special shot or “snake load” of No. 9 shot. This handgun would also be ideal as a companion for fishing, hiking, backpacking, picking wild berries and mushrooms, bird watching, or simply keep accessible inside a dresser, bureau drawer, or nightstand, or next to a sleeping bag at night. Remember .357 Magnum revolvers will chamber and fire .38 Special ammo, but not the reverse.

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