Daughter surprises with hunting desire, success
Last spring my daughter Bella surprised me when she started telling family members she wanted to start deer hunting. I had never discussed taking her as a mentored youth and she previously showed no interest in hunting.
The then 8-year-old had loved fishing, kayaking and other outdoor activities we do as a family, but I assumed hunting would not be one of the things I would be sharing with her.
After I was informed by a few family members that Bella insisted she was going to hunt, I figured I better address this rumor firsthand. She just smiled and confirmed that she was interested in trying to bag a deer during the upcoming season.
At that point I decided I needed to apply for my first ever doe tag. I have been hunting since 1992, but only harvested four antlerless deer in that time. All four were taken with a bow as a kid when your backtag allowed you to harvest either sex in archery season.
I purchased my license a lot earlier than the usual night before the opening day of goose season, and bought hers as well.
My next purchase would lighten my wallet a little more than her license. Since I did not own a crossbow, I wanted to find a light one with a minimal measurement between the cams. After doing some research, I decided on a Barnett that met my criteria.
Before ordering it, I made her promise me that she would practice shooting until the season rolled around. A week later she was taking her first shots off my dad’s deck just as I did as a kid with my bow.
Despite her never shooting a crossbow before, she was experienced using a scope. She enjoyed shooting her brother’s Cricket and was surprising a good marksman even before that with her pink pellet gun.
Bella put her first shot in the bullseye and always had great practice sessions. I was confident if I could put a deer in front of her, she would do her part.
I decided to try my best to get Bella a deer in archery season when the weather was still relatively nice. Too many kids are dragged into the woods on cold, wet days and do not want to return, especially if they do not see any whitetails.
Instead of making her sit out on opening morning, I planned to wait until a day when I thought conditions would be ideal for her first hunt. I also wanted to check some trail cameras to put her in the best possible location to see deer.
We went out on the second Wednesday of archery season. We sprayed down with scent eliminator and I painted her face. I typically do not paint my face, but I thought it would be funny to see her reaction. She took the new look in stride as we walked up the mountain to the stand.
As predicted, there was very little wind and my hopes for a good hunt were definitely high. By 5 p.m. we were in the stand looking up the mountain patiently waiting for some deer heading to feed in the fields during the evening.
At 5:45 I caught a glimpse of a lone doe and gently nudged the rookie hunter.
“Get your up crossbow, there is a deer coming to our left,” I whispered.
There definitely was not a sense of urgency on her part. Eventually I convinced her to get ready to take a shot. The doe stood where she did not see it and then trotted down the path without stopping for a good shot.
“All I saw was her butt and tail in the scope,” she whispered with a big smile on her face. She then admitted to me that she did not initially believe there was a deer close to us.
Despite not getting a shot, she was genuinely happy to have seen a deer.
Fifteen minutes later I heard deer above us. I once again told her to get ready and explained these deer were on a path to our right. We quickly got situated since we were set up for her to shoot to the left.
It took about five more minutes before the deer finally came into view. Three does popped into an opening, looking around for danger before continuing down the trail.
Unlike her first experience earlier in the night, this time Bella was ready.
I estimated that the deer would be 30 yards from us when they finally hit the opening where the nervous hunter could shoot. I asked if she could put the second crosshair on the deer and make a good shot. I only received an abbreviated, yet positive head nod in return.
When the first deer stepped into the opening I gave her the go ahead to take a shot as I nervously looked on. She was shooting over my lap, so I had to lean back and try to watch with the corner of my eye.
What happened next is when I knew she was definitely ready to be a hunter.
“I can’t shoot because it isn’t broadside,” she quietly informed me.
I told her to take a deep breath and shoot when the deer was in a good position. At the same time, I was a little confused because the big doe in the front looked like it was standing perfectly broadside from my limited view.
When she finally squeezed the trigger of her crossbow I tried to turn my head to get a good look. I was confused when I never saw her bolt. How badly could have she missed that deer?
Then I swung my head to the others and saw one taking off that was definitely hit. I could also tell in that short time that she put a great shot on it.
She started to shake with excitement as I grabbed her crossbow and tried to keep her calm and quiet in the stand. There was no doubt in my mind that we would find that deer, but I used the next few minutes to teach her about waiting to trail a deer after it was hit.
After a few minutes I left her call my wife and father. “I hit one,” she whispered to both. Dad instantly texted me that he was on his way out the mountain to help with the trail job.
Until he arrived, we got down from the stand, went to get the bolt and I showed her the trail we would follow. At that time I actually saw the deer only fifty yards from where she took the shot.
Instead of showing her the deer, I kept the excitement to myself as we waited for her grandfather who had spent many hours scouting and moving stands for her to share in the moment.
After he arrived, they instantly found the deer as we cheered to end the wonderful night on the Shade Mountain. After a few photos, it was time to head home to tell stories from the hunt to eager family members.
Whether or not I shoot a buck this year, that night made my season an overwhelming success.
Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.