Editor's note: This is the first installment in a series of columns about hunting

KEITH WHITCOMB JR., Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- You wouldn't expect to see deer hanging around a shooting range, but a few weeks ago at the Hale Mountain Rod and Gun Club in Shaftsbury one was doing just that. Maybe this deer hunting thing won't be as hard as I thought?

I was at the range on Sept. 21 with local hunter Kevin Hoyt to sight-in my .30-30 Winchester, a gun I had not fired in years. I plan to go deer hunting in November, getting myself back into a hobby I was fond of for many seasons before going to college. Hoyt agreed to be my mentor, as I've forgotten most of what little I knew about hunting.

I shot -- with a camera -- the doe Hoyt spooked while he was setting up a makeshift target. I had left my camera on manual focus and the shots came out blurry. Hoyt said she looked young and would likely learn to be more wary of people. Assuming she survives, of course. Deer don't enjoy long lifespans. Starvation, predators, highways, and nature in general conspire to make their time short.

Hunters will get their first crack at them today, in fact, with the opening of the archery deer season, which runs through Oct. 27. I can't hit the broad side of a barn with a bow and arrow, so I'll wait for the regular rifle season.

I can hit the broad side of a cardboard box with a rifle, though. I never hunted using a scoped rifle, and did not have much, if any, experience sighting one in. For you non-gun types, you can't just attach a scope to a rifle and expect to have the bullet go where you put the crosshairs. To adjust the scope I set the rifle in a plastic cradle to hold it steady, aimed at a red dot on the box Hoyt had set about 50 paces out on the range, and fired three shots.

Hoyt had brought a rifle of his own that he was filming himself use. He produces a show called, "The Future of Hunting," which has run on Catamount Access Television (CAT-TV) for many years and was recently picked up by the Pursuit Network, which airs over national satellite networks. He can shoot straighter than me. While I fiddled with my rifle he spoke to a family that had also come up to the range.

My first shots were about three or four inches high, and maybe two inches to the right. That sounds bad, but they were grouped together so it was just a matter of adjusting some dials on the scope. My next three shots were a little closer, but more adjusting was needed.

Unfortunately, there was no time to do it, as a group of women had booked the range for 11 a.m. Slowing us down was a feature on my gun I wasn't familiar with. It's a lever action, meaning a lever near the handle, over the trigger, controls the moving of bullets from the magazine to the chamber. There's a pin in the gun's handle that the lever has to push for the weapon to fire. I never noticed it before, because when I shoot I squeeze the lever which pushes the pin, but with the gun being set in the cradle that wasn't happening.

After we solved that mystery, I had a few of what I thought were misfires. The bullets I was using were home reloads, meaning my father had likely put them together himself who knows how long ago. As it turned out, they weren't duds, I'd just forgotten to put a bullet in the chamber.

The deer probably don't have much to worry about from me this season.

After we stepped away from the range Hoyt refreshed my memories from Hunter Safety Education course, which I've taken and passed twice, once when I was 11 at the National Guard Armory in Lyndonville, and the other a few years later at the Buck Lake Conservation Camp in Woodbury.

Most of hunter safety is common sense. Don't point guns at things you shouldn't shoot. Assume all guns are loaded. Know what you're shooting at and know what's behind it. That last bit is mainly why I wanted a mentor or guide. Most of my hunting as a kid was done on the hill I grew up on and I knew where all the roads and houses were. The forests of Bennington County are foreign to me and I wouldn't feel confident about where I could go. At least not without a lot of scouting beforehand.

I've never shot a deer. Truth be told, I never put a great amount of effort into the actual hunting aspect of it. It was more about being in the woods, so why not just hike or take pictures?

While I've cut back on the amount of meat I devour for health reasons, I still eat it, and the meat I eat comes from a meat industry, which in the best of cases breeds and feeds large herbivores for the sole purpose of slaughtering them and selling their flesh to portions of the human population, which totals about six billion. For all most of us know about where our meat came from, it was grown in a Petri dish. It was never a living thing that had to be killed, butchered, and packaged.

Not that everyone could, or should, live off deer meat. I'm not telling anyone what they should do or how to live, but I think anyone who's in favor of nature should play some sort of role in it.

Vermont isn't a pristine wilderness. If it weren't for man-made fields and logging operations, white tailed deer would not be as abundant as they are now. It takes a certain level of meddling to keep balance in an ecosystem we've already marred with our presence. The Department of Fish and Wildlife uses hunting regulations to manage deer populations and some of their funding comes from license fees. I'd like to be a part of that again.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.