One hundred yards up from ground level, I spotted the deer blind nestled in the edge of a steep slope. Halfway there, my legs turned jelly-like and my breaths shortened to rapid staccato gasps. Unfazed by the climb, my buddy James Lambert—a hunting guide with Katala Outdoors—stopped to spray a tree with doe urine.
“Take your time,” he said. “These leaves are slick and you don’t wanna slip and tumble. It’s a long way down.”
I wasn’t carrying much. Just a crossbow and a small backpack containing water and a jacket. We’d have only one shot at a whitetail, and James wanted me to take it.
Further ahead, a rope dangled from a tree adjacent to the blind, freefalling down the steepest part of the hill where the grade shifted straight up to the plateau, our final destination. I’d have to pull myself up without losing my crossbow and pack in the process.
Deer survive on their sense of smell with around the same number of nasal receptors as a bloodhound—almost 300 million. Humans possess only 5 million of these receptors. A whitetail’s brain also contains a section for analyzing scent that’s way more sophisticated than a human’s, storing memories of threat-related odors, resulting in olfactory capabilities 500 to 1000 times more powerful than ours. Although there’s no way to mask all of your human scent, you must eliminate as much as possible to have a chance at even seeing a deer.
A week before we met in Bryson City, James gave me the preparation details which mostly involved covering my scent. This required washing my hunting clothes in a special detergent and packing them separately from what I would normally wear. Three days before the hunt, I bathed nightly in scent-killing body wash and relied on a similar deodorant during the day. Three hours from entering the woods, we took showers and aired out our clothes which were sprayed multiple times with another odor-killing substance.
This was my first time using a crossbow. I practiced several shots at James’s place where he used a digital range finder to measure off sixteen yards—the exact distance from the blind to where the deer would step out for a clean shot. Once I got comfortable with the weapon, we suited up and headed out to the blind made of camo netting strung between trees with an incision for shooting.
We settled down behind the cover and waited.
I’m just your average outdoor enthusiast with limited hunting experience. But like most, I’m happy spending time in the woods or floating a river, wading a stream. Even when I get skunked pursuing fish or game, I welcome nature’s nurture and protection from destructive industrial noise and the stultifying routine demands of daily life. I’m at peace in the natural world, enveloped in its beauty, molded into something much more significant than me. I’m awash in the unique, unrivaled comfort of still silences with sudden interruptions of breezes rattling leafy branches or the scampering pitter-patter of wild game.
I barely moved for the first two hours. Tense with anticipation, I didn’t want to ruin our chances of bagging a deer.
“You know, you can stretch your legs if you want,” James chuckled, handing me a candy bar.
We saw falling leaves and acorns. We grooved on hoot-owl sounds. We ate beef jerky and drank ice-cold well water. James occasionally broke the silence with buck and doe calls. Soon, bucks and does appeared in the distance—just mirages, though they seemed authentic at the time.
“We’re in their space,” James noted. “And this breeze isn’t helping us. It’s carrying our scent in the same direction the deer travel.”
When the air stilled, James’s demeanor reflected the wisdom and optimism of the late, great Andy Griffith.
“We’ll get you one soon enough. We just gotta be patient.”
Please come join us soon!
James Lambert’s Venison Backstrap
When it comes to deer meat, venison backstrap is the most prized cut—a bona-fide filet mignon equivalent, no less. There’s a variety of ways to prepare and cook backstrap, but simpler is best so not to override the meat’s inimitable earthiness and tenderness. James had two cuts, so he grilled one and fried the other.
2 venison backstraps
Texas T Bone’s seasoning
Weber’s Montana Steak seasoning
1 cup of flour
½ of a Vidalia sweet onion cut into half-inch chunks
½ teaspoon of black pepper
½ teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
First, cut each steak into slices half an inch thick.
Grilled backstrap: Dust each side of the venison slices with the seasonings. Grill covered, 3 -5 minutes per side without drying out the meat. Serve immediately.
Fried backstrap: Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and sauté the onion until soft.
Add black pepper and salt to the flour. Whisk both eggs in a mixing bowl. Dip each venison slice into the egg wash, then smother in flour. When the onions are ready, fry the venison slices with them until crispy golden-brown. Serve immediately.
We enjoyed our backstraps with a side of Taters made with fried potato and onion chunks, seasoned with salt and black pepper.