Precious memories forged at deer opener

Saturday was opening day of rifle deer hunting in western Washington, but it was also a day of firsts for two young hunters.

Sarah Taylor, 19, went on her first deer hunt, and 11-year-old Michael Curtiss killed his first deer.

The day was one to remember for both young hunters - and their families.

Taylor, who lives in Olympia, hunts ducks, but Saturday was the first time she's ever been on a deer hunt.

"My boyfriend said I should give it a try, and it's been an amazing experience," Taylor said.

Taylor didn't even take aim at a deer, but she plans to very, very soon.

"It's just about being outside and having the experience of being close to a deer," Taylor said. Anytime you're close to big animals, like deer or elk, it's very cool."

Surveys show that fewer young people are taking up deer hunting ó although more than 150,000 deer hunters live in Washington ó and some hunters worry that video games and other modern pursuits are keeping kids out of the woods.

Some of Taylor's friends don't understand her blossoming love of hunting.

"I stand out, yeah," Taylor said as she stood in a crowd of hunters at a checkpoint inside Weyerhaeuser's sprawling Vail Tree Farm near Rainier. "But people who have never tried it don't have a reason to talk ó it's not always about killing stuff."

Hunting - stalking animals in wild country óoften teaches people a lot about the world - and themselves, said Elee Fairheart, a hunter from Morton who spent the day as a volunteer game checker at a state Department of Fish and Wildlife checkpoint.

Fairheart is a member of Eyes in the Woods - a volunteer group of hunters, anglers and outdoor lovers who help Fish and Wildlife.

Some hunters try to break the rules, but most of them see hunting as way to challenge themselves - and maybe bring home food for the table, Fairheart said.

Most hunters remember their first days in the field with their parents, relatives or family friends, said Bryan Murphy, a Fish and Wildlife biologist who was checking hunters as they entered and left Vail Tree Farm.

"Those are the best days," Murphy said.

Michael Curtiss, who lives in Spanaway, killed his first deer - a spike buck - and he had plenty of challenges and plenty of help from his older brother and father.

"We were going along, and my brother saw some ears behind a bush," Michael said as he fingered his deer's long ears. "We looked through binoculars and the spotting scope, and it was my deer."

Michael set up his .243 rifle on a stump and waited for the deer to come into the clear, said his dad, Dwayne Curtiss - a hunter for 26 of his 39 years.

"Michael has come out hunting with me for five years, but this was his first year as a hunter," Curtiss said. "I'm pretty proud."

Michael got a little buck fever and shot right over the deer on his first shot. But his second shot hit the target, and he ended up with his first deer.

Michael's brother helped him clean the deer and lug it to the truck.

"My dad and brother helped me," Michael said. "I will never forget today."