By Richard P. Smith
Take a kid hunting, and you’ll both enjoy a life-changing moment.
Not many whitetails in the Midwest are taken by stalking, but that’s how my niece got her first buck.
Melissa and I were in a blind on one end of a large hay field, hoping a buck would come within 100 yards. A spike came out and presented a shot, but Melissa wanted something bigger.
A while later, a larger buck stepped out at the far end of the field, about 350 yards away. I knew it was too far for her single-shot .243. The only way to get within range was to get up and move.
It was a great day for both of us. What’s even more amazing than the stalk we made to get that deer is that Melissa is a deer hunter at all.
We all know how important it is to pass along the deer hunting tradition to the next generation, but Melissa’s mother (one of my wife’s sisters) was an anti-hunter at one time. When Melissa was growing up, I was concerned that her mother would influence her opinion of hunting and might even prohibit her from taking part.
Fortunately, the time I spent with both Melissa and her mother paid off. Over the years, they both got subtle exposure to what deer hunting is all about. Melissa’s mother also got to know other ethical hunters who helped change her perception.
Melissa had been fascinated with my deer mounts ever since she was a baby. She liked to touch them and frequently asked questions.
I took her to photograph deer whenever I could, and it was while on one of those excursions that Melissa announced to my wife and I that she was going to hunt with me when she was old enough.
The matter-of-fact statement took us both by surprise. I took her seriously and, from that day on, planned for the day she would join me in the deer woods.
By the time Melissa was ready to become a hunter, her mother had a much more realistic picture of what it was all about. My sister-in-law was no longer an anti-hunter, and she wasn’t going to stand in Melissa’s way of trying something that so obviously caught her interest.
Before Melissa would be eligible to hunt in Michigan, however, she had to complete a hunter safety course. Fourteen was the minimum age to hunt whitetails with firearms in Michigan at the time, and I attended the sessions with her. That minimum age has since been lowered to 12.
As Melissa’s first year of deer hunting neared, I borrowed a scoped .243 and took her to the range to practice. She was comfortable with it by the time Michigan’s youth hunt opened in late September.
The weather was mild, and there were lots of deer on the Menominee County farm where we hunted, guests of Dean Hulce. Unfortunately, it rained most of the day, and the bucks we saw were too far for a shot.
It was toward the end of the regular firearms season before I got a chance to take Melissa hunting again. More than a foot of snow closed the schools in Marquette County on Nov. 27, creating the perfect opportunity.
That storm provided the first significant snow accumulation across the Upper Peninsula, and I figured deer would be moving when it subsided.
We waited until midday to give plows time to clear the highways and then drove south out of the snow belt, heading to my cousin’s property, where only a few inches of snow had fallen. On the way, I purchased an antlerless permit for my new hunting buddy.
It was 3:30 by the time we got in position. About a half hour later, I saw the legs of a deer approaching from the right. It was an adult doe that was very cautious.
The deer eventually moved into a shooting lane, and my niece asked if she should shoot it. I told her it was up to her. I didn’t want to encourage her to do something she might later regret. I knew that if we waited, there was a good chance we might see a buck, but there was certainly nothing wrong with taking a doe. My first whitetail had been a doe.
Before she could make up her mind, the doe moved into thick cover. A while later, it retraced its steps back into the open lane.
Melissa had made it clear during the drive south that she wanted to shoot a buck. In fact, she said she wanted a 10-pointer. Who doesn’t? But the doe hung around long enough that Melissa finally decided to take it. She waited for a broadside shot and aimed carefully before squeezing the trigger. The deer bolted at the shot, but I was confident of a solid hit.
We found the doe piled up 60 yards away. “Is it dead?” she asked. I told her it was.
The 100-grain bullet from the .243 had connected on the 3½-year-old doe’s heart and lungs. As we walked closer to inspect the animal, she said, “Now I’m sad.”
I told her that was normal and there was nothing wrong with feeling that way. She then asked if she could pet it, and I told her she could.
We unloaded our rifles and leaned them against a tree. I gave Melissa a hug, congratulating her and telling her that she did a great job. I told her the doe didn’t suffer and that it was dead within seconds due to the great shot.
My encouragement, along with all the things she had learned in hunter education, helped make her feel better.
Melissa was sick during the youth hunt the following year, and she failed to fill a tag in the regular gun season.
Heading into her third season of hunting, she was anxious to get her first buck.
We headed out for the youth hunt, once again guests at the Hulce farm. By then, Melissa had her own rifle. Her parents had given her a youth model, single-shot New England Firearms .243 mounted with a 3-9x scope.
We hunted a food plot from a ground blind Saturday afternoon and evening. It rained most of the day, reducing deer activity, but things really picked up when the rain stopped about an hour before dark. Melissa ended up seeing about 10 deer, including a pair of spikes, but she decided to wait for a bigger buck.
Does and turkeys provided the only action on Sunday morning. Sunday evening, we had moved to a large hay field. We saw a spike soon after getting in position, and then the bigger buck stepped out. Binoculars helped us determine it had a rack with at least 6 points.
“I want that one,” Melissa said as soon as she got a good look at it through the glasses. “Can we get that one?”
I told her we could try to sneak closer and she could take a shot if we got within 100 yards. The problem was we had to cross a wide open finger of the field, then get into the woods and maneuver toward the feeding buck, all without spooking it or any other deer. Fortunately, the buck was facing away from us as it fed.
We managed to make it across the field by moving when the buck had its head down and crouching low to the ground. Once we got into the woods, we were out of the deer’s sight, but we had to be as quiet as possible. A brisk breeze helped cover the noise.
Luck was on our side, and we managed to sneak to within 75 yards of the buck. Melissa rested her rifle on a tree limb and dropped the deer in its tracks. We were both pleased when discovering the buck’s antlers had 8 points.
As a novice whitetail hunter, Melissa didn’t realize how much of an accomplishment it was to successfully stalk that buck. It was a real thrill for me to be a part of the hunt on which she got her first buck in such a challenging way.
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This article was published in the August 2010 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.