Big Bucks and Bigger Lessons: A Rookie’s Hunting Success

Getting into hunting in your 40’s can be a challenge. I never really knew anyone who hunted growing up but I remember my dad showing me something from Steve Rinella where he spoke so plainly and convincingly about the absurdity of those of us who consume meat having never harvested any for ourselves. This would have been long before Steve’s show “MeatEater” and, long after my dad passed away from cancer, that memory stuck with me. But where do you start?

I explained to my formerly vegan girlfriend Kristen, now fiancé, this strange “calling” to hunting that had been brewing for so many years. She’s one of those amazing humans who really listens, encourages, and finds ways to make things happen for those she loves. And as it turns out her family’s land in Pfafftown, NC, now in its seventh generation of caretakers, was soon after made available to us. I connected with a friend generous enough to share some of his hunting wisdom and a lot of his hunting enthusiasm. Last year, Kristen and I bought a 6.5mm Creedmoor, took the hunter safety course and got our licenses for deer season. We didn’t know much, if anything, of what to do so we started sitting mornings and evenings in an old brooder barn next to a rusting 1960’s Pontiac LeMans. After a couple of dozen sits, one morning just barely into shooting light, she saw some movement and signaled me over. I took the shot, our first deer was down, and we were hooked. We didn’t see anything else the rest of the season.

Coming into the 2023 season we were ready! We had done our research, got a couple of deer cams set up, and wrestled with getting a ground blind setup down by the meadow. We sighted in the rifle at 100 yards after a few YouTube tutorials. Two weeks later we went to check our camera, we had set it up upside down. Ok, still learning!

Opening day we were blessed with a doe, and the excitement was building. Once we got the cameras figured out, we noticed a lot of activity at the brooder barn but even more down by the meadow. We opened an Excel sheet and started tracking who was where and when. Between hunts one Saturday we yelled with excitement when we saw the one we came to call Tim Riggins cruise in front of the camera… at 3 a.m. of course. And again down by the meadow at 9 a.m. Ok, he does come out during the day. Our goal was three deer in the freezer, enough for us and plenty to share, plus the cameras confirmed there were a lot of deer on this land. Another small buck down and we were now on the hunt for Riggins. We gathered him to be a 10- to 12-point non-typical who followed the group of does around and seemed to be respected by the other two 8-pointers and spikes we were also seeing on the camera.

I had a wild hair to get up one morning in the middle of the week and see if we could spot him before work as temperatures were dropping. We set the alarm for a Tuesday morning, 5 a.m. We slept through it. Wednesday (Dec. 6) morning we would try again, 5 a.m. and we made it up. We made our way down into the woods knowing we would have a small window of time to get something done and make it to work by 9. We knew the does normally came in from the center and around the right side of the meadow. Our eyes were peeled and playing a lot of tricks on us that morning. I said a quick prayer, asking only for an attitude of appreciation for the beautiful morning and for a fiancé who would indulge this whim on a morning with an important work meeting looming a couple of hours away. A few days earlier at the behest of my buddy, I purchased an Extinguisher call and watched a few videos on making the various sounds. I figured since expectations were low for the morning, might as well try them all! I let out a few fawn bleats, a doe in estrus, two buck grunts and a growl. I’m sure they sounded nothing like that in reality.

As first light broke over the hillside Kristen spotted the does to the left – she always spots them first – but it was an unusual place for them to be. They crossed the man-made bridge over the spring-fed creek and were around 80 yards away. I didn’t reach for my rifle. She whispered, “I think I see a buck coming down the hill too.” I still didn’t reach for my rifle. She squeezed my leg and half squealed, “I think it’s Tim Riggins.” It was pretty far and low light so I assumed it was likely one of the 8-points. Worth a look through the scope. I nonchalantly grabbed the rifle and leaned over her lap – a terrible position and angle – to take a look.

I was staring right at our target buck – Tim Riggins – and he was perfectly broadside. I swear the crosshairs were already in the “boiler room” by some chance and all I had to do was gently squeeze. The shot rang out and nearly a dozen deer scattered. I couldn’t keep my eyes on the right one. It was like that scene in “The Thomas Crown Affair” with all the art thieves in bowling caps.

With our time before work waning, we didn’t even wait 5 minutes before setting out to look for him – a huge mistake we now know. We saw countless scuff marks but no blood this side of the creek. We kept looking and our hearts started to sink. Had I missed the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime buck? We were so focused on the ground for 7-8 minutes that it finally occurred to me that maybe I should lift my eyes and scan the hillside. There he was, a 13-point extra main beam stud, 40 yards away and on the ground. Not bad for the fourth deer of my hunting career. We thanked God, the land, each other, and the generations before us. Kristen had to call her mom for a ride and headed to work in her camo – which likely made for an interesting managers meeting. I called in and was graciously given the morning off for the work ahead.

Our story is peppered with a litany of errors and learning moments, evident to any seasoned hunter. Our greatest assets so far are luck and enthusiasm. Our adventure, strewn with rookie mistakes and happy accidents, has taught us that the path to becoming seasoned hunters is filled with both. As I look forward to honing my skills over the next four decades, I’m equally excited about the immediate future: seasoning and savoring the self-harvested deer meat on our table and sharing it with others. This experience has been a profound reminder that life’s most rewarding moments often come from a blend of serendipity and effort, and our freezer full of deer is just the beginning of many more adventures and lessons to come.

–Michael Susong and Kristen Williams

13-point buck


Bag A Buck Contest

Congratulations to Susong, who is now in the running for our monthly prize of a free 1-year subscription to Carolina Sportsman Magazine, a Mini Maglite, an 18-ounce Yeti Rambler, a two-pack of Lowcountry Seasonings, as well as our Grand Prize, which includes a 3-year-subscription to Carolina Sportsman Magazine, a 2-day two-person hunt at Cherokee Run Hunting Lodge in Chesterfield, SC, and other prizes to be determined.

See all the bucks entered so far, and upload yours at, or email photo and detailed info to

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