I began my career with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as a forest ranger in 1987; a year later I accepted a position with the Wildlife Division. Never a big advocate of hunting, I had learned about wildlife population management in college and understood the sports’ recreational and management values. Still, I had much to learn.

Working in a division primarily funded through federal dollars and hunting license sales, I wanted to see what the excitement was all about. While hunting experience was certainly not a job requirement, I’d noticed that “huntin’ stories” were always a popular topic of conversation.

When I asked my hunting co-workers to take me along on a hunting trip, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. It was quite different than I had expected and I loved it! Spending time in the woods, watching wildlife, anticipating and identifying sounds as you listen for hours – who would have thought I would get hooked?

The first season I hunted, I borrowed a left-handed rifle, a challenge as I am right-handed.  Next, I tried a black powder rifle and after discovering the challenge it offers, black powder season became my favorite. One year, I saw only does but didn’t have the appropriate permit. The next year, I shot at a buck… and missed. Sometimes I shook so badly I could not even take a shot! Still, each year I felt one-step closer, certain that the following season would be the one.

My first official muzzleloader season began on an unusually warm day in mid-October. I had not planned to hunt on the season’s final day, but I could not resist the urge.

Arriving in the woods early afternoon, I wandered to my usual spot, jumping two deer along the way. Was this a sign? I plopped myself down on a log, uphill from my normal stump and sat… and sat...