FAYETTE — When I pulled the trigger for a second time and dropped the big doe I had fatally wounded seconds earlier, my first hunt was over.

But I didn’t celebrate or cheer. I didn’t look to my guide for a high-five. I didn’t cry either, because I wasn’t sad.

I was grateful.

For the first time in three days of hunting around a blueberry farm north of Augusta, I asked my hunting partner to take my rifle. And as he turned away I knelt down, put my hands on the doe and bowed my head to thank nature for sending her into the short range I set for myself during my weeks of practice, a distance within which I felt certain I could assure a quick kill.

Then I thanked the doe for the organic meat she would provide for my boyfriend and me.

And in the growing darkness, as I listened to my guide explain how to prepare the deer for the wild-game butcher, my head swam with an unexpected thought.

How sad for all those deer hit by cars, suffering by the side of the road who knows how long, only to decompose. These deer probably are eaten by other wildlife. But the end may be long and the final purpose uncertain.

I saw a far different ending when the 120-pound doe stepped into my scope’s sights, and again as I stood beside her body.

My deer would not be wasted.

CLOSEST THING TO IRELAND

Because I have covered the outdoors in Maine for 15 years, people often think I’m from Maine. But I’m not, even though I hike, camp, fish and ski as much as life allows.

I grew up outside New York City in a small, affluent town that is beautifully green and perfectly manicured. But unlike so many others drawn to the fast pace of New York City, I was not. The only explanation for this is the Irish immigrant grandparents who helped raise me.

My maternal grandparents came to the United States from farming communities and farming families in Donegal. Stories I heard growing up of the rugged, wild and rural land that my grandparents loved made me long for a similar home. Maine was the closest thing to Ireland I could find in the U.S.

And for the 20 years I’ve lived here, I have wanted to hunt. But in the past several years, this curiosity grew into a greater concern.

Deirdre Fleming, a first-time hunter, wanted to take a deer quickly, with little suffering. She succeeded on a blueberry farm north of Augusta with the help of a seasoned guide.

Deirdre Fleming, a first-time hunter, wanted to take a deer quickly, with little suffering. She succeeded on a blueberry farm north of Augusta with the help of a seasoned guide. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When you have friends who have been crippled by Lyme disease and the people you love the most have fought cancer, it changes your perspective on Maine’s whitetail herd and what truly organic food means.

At the Vector-borne Disease Laboratory at Maine Medical Center, senior scientist Peter Rand said the story of Monhegan Island is the definitive case study proving that if you remove deer from the landscape, the incidence of deer ticks carrying the bacteria that cause Lyme disease all but vanishes.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease continues to soar in Maine, up from 900 reported cases in 2009 to 1,388 last year, and many cases likely go undiagnosed. Moreover, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta now warns that more than half of Maine is a high-risk area for the tick-borne disease.

Add to this concern the fact that so much of the food we eat is treated with chemicals that have been linked to cancer, then suddenly doing the work of a farmer – and killing a wild animal for food – makes sense.

So it was that a Facebook post last year got my attention. The curiosity about hunting had gone on too long.

When one of Maine’s most recognizable hunting advocates shared the story of a hunt he guided last fall, I asked out loud on social media, why doesn’t someone guide this outdoor writer?

George Smith was more than happy to oblige.

HOW TO LISTEN TO THE WOODS

Many people helped me on my first hunt. At every turn, a Mainer offered a shooting lesson, advice on my rifle, or posted land to hunt. Even the doe permit was transferred to me from another hunter when I failed to win one in the state’s annual lottery.

But Smith, the former longtime director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, took on the job of guide. And knowing I was a first-time hunter, he also played the role of instructor, teaching me how to quietly blend into a forest teeming with wildlife, how to walk slowly, stop and wait, how to listen to the woods, and hear them more clearly.

Most of all, knowing my desire to take a deer quickly, with little suffering, he made the hunt as easy as possible. He secured access at a commercial blueberry farm where the crops are overrun with deer and the farmer allows hunting by permission only.

When we met farmers Brenda and George Joseph at Steep Hill Farm, I shook their hands, thanked them for letting me hunt their 150 acres, and took a step closer toward becoming a modern Maine hunter by asking for permission to hunt in a part of the state covered with posted land.

George Joseph asked me to shoot a doe since taking a female meant three fewer deer on his land next summer, because does often give birth to twins. I was happy to pass on a buck. The only thing that mattered to me on my first hunt was a quick kill.

And after two months of target practice with friends, family, even strangers, I knew I was a reliable shot from 60 yards while standing. Any other shooting position was uncertain.

The first opportunity to shoot a whitetail came after two days of walking the woods and highlands around Steep Hill Farm, when two does stepped into the field we hunted on the third day.

The first was small, about 100 yards away from where we sat at the edge of the woods, and when she stepped into the field around 4 p.m., I heard Smith behind me whisper, “deer.” I nodded but held up my hand, because I heard the second coming before Smith saw her. Then he saw her before I did.

By the time I spotted the second doe, she was 60 yards away standing behind a tree that was in front of me. She was within my range, but I was sitting. So I leaned to my right, aimed around the tree at her vital organs, switched the gun’s safety, and for the first time in three days pulled the trigger.

After the blast, the deer merely looked around, walked a few steps toward us and continued scanning the woods where we sat. Smith whispered to get off another shot and wanting a better one, I stood up. Almost at the same time, the deer took off and Smith saw the bullet I fired explode on a tree.

Deirdre Fleming, a Maine resident for 20 years, became a reliable shot after two months of target practice. She sees hunting as a way to help fight deer tick-borne Lyme disease and to provide organic meat for the table.

Deirdre Fleming, a Maine resident for 20 years, became a reliable shot after two months of target practice. She sees hunting as a way to help fight deer tick-borne Lyme disease and to provide organic meat for the table. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

STANDING LIKE A PILLAR

That’s when I took control of my hunt. I told Smith I needed to stand because it was the only good shot I had. He disagreed, saying every deer coming to the field would see me. But I knew my strength.

He went to sit 5 feet behind me wearing a little less enthusiasm. But I was where I knew I belonged: in a place that promised a quick kill.

After I’d been standing like a pillar for a half-hour, a small doe stepped out of the woods, and directly behind me Smith whispered, “deer.” This time I shook my head back and forth. I wanted a large doe to help the farmer thin his herd, and I guess I wanted a deer that had lived some life.

Smith kept repeating, “deer.” So I risked all, slowly turned toward him, and whispered: “too small.” And with a comical shrug I will never forget, he replied, “It’s a good deer.”

She was a very good deer because she proved my standing wasn’t keeping the herd away. There were 20 minutes of legal shooting time left before nightfall. The hunt wasn’t over.

I resumed my post, arms over my rifle, and soon after heard a loud rustling just over the knoll to the left. Slowly I pivoted to face the hill, and saw four large does grazing about 60 yards away: the moment I had asked for.

So I raised the rifle slowly, clicked the safety, looked through the scope and focused on the largest one. Aiming at her vital organs, I thought of all the hunters who said I’d shake in this moment, and the gun wavered. Then I refocused on a quick kill, pulled the rifle against me, and squeezed the trigger.

The light from the discharge revealed dusk had arrived and after the blast, I heard Smith yell: “You hit it!” Then I saw the deer moving toward us, her backside down. And the sight made me will the shot I had wanted from the outset.

With two to three steps toward the deer, I jammed the butt hard against me, aimed at her chest, and pulled the trigger. Almost as I did, her head dropped back and her body fell to the ground.

WHEN AN EAGLE CIRCLES ABOVE

When we tagged the deer at the Fayette Country Store less than an hour later, I stood for the first time at the counter answering questions, where in the past I’d been the one with a notebook asking them. A poster above listed 25 hunters who had tagged deer there. Soon my name would be added.

The gratitude I felt earlier was slowly turning to pride. I had done the work of a farmer. Only one other person apart from me – wild game butcher Brandon Fike in Readfield – would handle my deer before 45 pounds of food went to my family and another 10 to the local soup kitchen.

Then as I opened the small bag that contained my hunting license to register my deer, a small religious medal from my cousin in Ireland fell out. The good luck charm brought to assure a good hunt.

And there may have been one more.

Before Smith and I took our final perch in the last two hours of the hunt, he went to talk to the farmer as I waited beside a wood pile. And when he returned he asked, had I seen the eagle overhead?

An hour and a half later, as I stood next to the deer’s body in the field, farmer Joseph came down the hill after hearing the shots. He listened to my tale, offered a small smile and asked, did I see that eagle fly over earlier?

I’m told the Passamaquoddy Indians believe when an eagle circles above, it’s a sign their ancestors are smiling down.

I like to believe the eagle that flew over us was mine.