Dad’s best buck ever was the one taken by his daughter.
The Pennsylvania whitetail rifle season was fast approaching. Once again, my daughter Xaura and I had put in countless hours scouting our hunting grounds in Centre County. Setting out trail cameras, we checked them weekly. After carefully studying the pictures and identifying some very nice bucks, we were once again ready for the seasons hunting excursions. As the first day arrived, Xaura would sit in the two-man stand, with me being an arms-reach away in a one-man stand.
At dawn, I spotted several deer approaching through the clearcut. I could see they were all racked bucks. The elusive animals stopped at 80 yards. Unfortunately, Xaura couldn’t see through the jungle of multi-floral rose bushes. Each buck stepped out and presented the same unmakable shot. The rest of the season raced by with no chance to take a buck.
On the last day of the rifle season, we journeyed north to Cameron County to hunt on my cousin’s farmland. Morning flew by with no luck. We headed back to Grandma’s house for a lunch break and a chance to warm up. When I was sure Xaura was thoroughly warm, I decided it was time for us to head back to the woods — one last hurrah for the season.
On our way up the mountain, we had decided that any buck was fair game. We weren’t hunting for horns anymore.
What happened far outshone anything I could have imagined. We exited our truck on Steve’s corner, just as I had been doing by myself for many years. Deciding that we should change our morning’s approach, Xaura suggested that we head in the opposite direction. She noticed that the wind was blowing at our backs as we stood getting ready. This amazed me, as I would never have noticed that as a 12-year-old.
We put the wind in our faces and headed out. The plan was to spot-and-stalk our way around this tract of land over the next three hours. We stayed patient and true to the plan. After nearly 30 minutes, I had gotten a few steps ahead of Xaura.
As I peered down the hillside into the hemlock patch, I noticed a buck laying in a slight depression. I quickly got Xaura into position, but no trees were within striking distance to steady her shot. Knowing that the buck had already spotted me and that it was getting antsy, I encouraged her to line up a shot.
At the time, it didn’t occur to me that she isn’t nearly as tall as I am, and she couldn’t see the target. At that point, I encouraged her to ease forward a few steps, reminding her that she had to be ready for the shot. After slowly gaining a minimal distance on the animal, she stood up — still no shot!
“Dad, all I can see is its head,” she said.
Not hesitating, she proceeded to elevate herself slightly by standing on her tiptoes aiming the rifle. Just as last season, this would have to be another offhand shot.
Watching her raise the gun, I encouraged her to try to steady herself. Sucking the gun to her shoulder tightly, it steadied in her hands.
At that point, I was in shock as to how calmly she was handling the pressure. The buck lay there, with eyes locked on her. Within a split second I heard the click of the safety, and the .243 roared.
The deer lurched out of its bed, headed for the steep hillside. Then it began tumbling in the fresh, powdery snow. After nearly 400 yards, it came to a halt in a depression on the hillside.
Assuring that her rifle was empty of all cartridges, I scurried down the mountainside to check on her buck. As I neared it, I could see that it was the biggest buck I had seen taken in all my years of hunting. I encouraged her to make her way down the mountainside to admire this awesome animal.
Being careful not to end up sliding down the mountain, she methodically descended. As she approached, she began to count ... “One, two, three — oh my gosh, dad, its an 8-point,” she said.
I told her it was the buck of a lifetime. At 20 inches and with the largest mass that I had ever handled on a fresh kill, I was blown away by its sheer mass and size.
All of the excitement was quickly put on hold, as the realization hit me that the rugged Cameron County mountain and a sprawling pasture stood between us and the truck.
It wasn’t until we got her trophy into the pickup that we took the time to truly celebrate. As I turned to congratulate her, I was met with a bear-hug of an embrace. It was what she said next that made this — and continues to make — all future endeavors worth it.
“Dad, you have no idea what this means to me,” she said. “Thank you for taking the time to show me what hunting is all about.”
For me, this is the essence of hunting with your children. That bond I spoke of in my last article … it only gets stronger with each experience afield.
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